It is the second year for Co-China Forum to launch its Summer Camp—an offline meet-up event in Hong Kong organized by concerned Chinese intellectuals for students aged between 18 and 25 from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to share thoughts on social issues.
Co-China Forum, an non-governmental and non-profit organization that carries the mission of “providing independent, objective and rational opinions and narratives as well as paying attention to issues or discussions that are overlooked by mainstream media”, has been receiving increasing attention through its 1510 E-Magazine, offline salons on social issues and its summer camps.
Last year, with the conflict between mainland China and Hong Kong at its peak, Campers focused on figuring out what “a good public life” meant. Now, they directed their discussion on “Confrontations and Negotiations among the Local, National and Global”.
Yet, the discussion might be one that never comes. On June 7, organizers and sponsors of the Camp sent an open letter (see above) to its applicants, saying that they were warned to call of the seven-day activity immediately; otherwise, they might bear “a more sever consequence”.
Instead of aiming at the organizers who are well-known media practitioners or university professors, the consequence is more likely to be faced by student applicants and volunteers.
“…some applicants were called to ‘have a talk’; verified Weibo accounts of mainland universities which re-tweeted relevant information about the Summer Camp were asked to write reports”, said in the open letter, a situation that Weibo user @苏黎世逆光而来 once encountered:
“A younger student was summoned to have a talk with her counselor last year when we were applying (for the Summer Camp), probably because her schoolmates or professors leaked her application to the counselor. I spared it because my counselor did not know I had applied. ”
Co-China Forum is not the only non-governmental organization that strike to promote social discussion, to prompt the younger generation to think critically and to advocate regular online and offline events in recent China. Nor is it alone in facing alike warnings from Beijing. Two years before Co-China Forum was set up, China Rural Library (CRL), an alike education-oriented non-governmental organization, was kick-started in Beijing.
Unlike Co-China Forum that hosts salons mainly in metropolis, the CRL exerts itself on promoting education, popularizing knowledge and strengthening people’s reading behaviors at the county level. Both organizations came up with meaningful study camps to actualize their missions. A year ago, when Co-China Forum’s debut summer camp drew hundreds of young people’s attention and won applauds, the CRL’s project—Liren University—was faced with what Co-China was facing today—with a more direct confrontations with local authorities.
In the CRL’s Douban (a IMDB-like Chinese website allowing users to record information and create content related to film, books and music) chatting group, user @Ma pasted a “emergency notice” issued by his/her college, “Students are prohibited to take part in any activities in the name of ‘China Rural Library’; any related activity should be reported once spotted.”
Liu Junliang, one of the student applicants for the Liren University project, recalled similar experience in his Renren (a Facebook-like service) homepage:
“The day before we registered and started the courses, police and officials from the Ministry of State Security came to us, saying that Liren University is too sensitive to be hold. They were not asking us to switch a holding place but to cancel the whole event.”
Ironically enough, just as what Li Yingqiang, founder of CRL, wanted his Liren University to be—“a new type of university that is based on the Internet and takes advantage of the power of technology to create opportunities for people that are excluded by the education system to receive genuine higher education”—the project, though killed by local authorities at the last minute, was known by many netizens through social media platforms such as Sina Weibo and Renren. The fact that ordinary netizens got to know the project and that it was called off without reasonable grounds by the government is enough to fulfill its educational purposes.
In a similar tune, in the case of the forced cancellation of Co-China’s Camp, Chinese netizens has again get to learn about how their government and current political system were affecting, if not suppressing, their ordinary lives as well as the necessity to participate in public lives and to care for public issues. Weibo user @透明度观察 considered the pressure from the government as “a special recognition of Co-China’s efforts to cultivate people’s independent thinking ability”. User @焦正墨 went a step further, saying that:
“They think this is an ideological war against young elites. Quite a clever way, but they just cannot stop the wave. Civil society will sprout with individuals’ self-awareness of their rights. You can ward off Co-China, but how about other similar organizations?”
It is indeed the case as user @Zfer林嘉丽要好好的, one of the applicants for the 2013 Summer Camp observed:
“I feel regret about such ending. In the past April, I have been inviting professors and friends to write me recommendation letters and trying my best to writing articles, hoping to get the opportunity to expand my knowledge and thinking in the Chinese University of Hong Kong (where the Camp was expected to be held). We do not want to see such ending. But no matter what, being concerned about local issues as well as urban planning and construction is a citizen duty that no one should evade. ”