On May 28, human rights activist Wang Aizhong (王爱忠) was detained by police in the city of Guangzhou, in southern China.

In the afternoon of Friday, Wang Aizhong reportedly received a phone call from someone who claimed that his car had been damaged. When Wang left his apartment to check on his car, he was taken away by police.

Later, nine policemen went to search his home. They seized books, two laptops and a mobile phone. Wang’s wife was summoned to a police station and asked about Wang’s contacts and personal views.

Wang Aizhong was one of the initiators of the so-called “Southern Street Movement” (南方街头运动), a pro-democracy reform movement originating in southern China’s Guangdong province. In a 2013 interview, he explained:

At the beginning, around August, 2011, we felt that we had only been staying online to voice our opinions and expressed our concerns on various issues, and the actual impact of online expression had been very small. Later, several people in Guangzhou, including myself, Liu Yuandong (刘远东), Ou Longgui (欧龙贵) and Yang Chong (杨崇), worked on the idea of ‘Moving from the Internet to the Public Square.’ We initiated a monthly gathering at the Huanghuagang Memorial Park (黄花岗烈士陵园) where we met on the last Sunday of each month at two o’clock in the afternoon.  You could say that this was the start of the Southern Street Movement. Pretty soon a dozen more people joined us, including attorney Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) and Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华). Later on, we not only had native Guangzhou participants, but also people from Shenzhen, Zhongshan, Zhuhai and Huizhou. Further along, we even had people from neighboring Hunan and Guangxi provinces. As the number of participants grew, it didn’t take long before the authorities cracked down on us.


At that time, although the authorities stifled popular movements, there was greater freedom to organize than in the more repressive Xi Jinping era that was just beginning in 2013.

Yu Gang (余刚), another leader of the Southern Street Movement, said in an interview that year:

In 2011, we held four demonstrations, all in Guangzhou, demanding general elections, promoting World Human Rights Day, and supporting Wukan’s fight against local corruption. In 2012, we took to the streets seven or eight times, promoting democracy, criticizing the government, or calling for asset disclosure by officials. This year we have already held 40 demonstrations in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Yu Gang claimed that such a movement was possible because Guangdong, a province close to Hong Kong, had always been China’s frontier for openness, and people enjoyed relatively free thinking.

But under Xi Jinping, the crackdown on free speech and citizens’ political engagement has intensified, shutting down most avenues for free expression. Even Hong Kong, once a beacon of freedom, has been turned into an authoritarian regime controlled by Beijing.

Read: The deterioration of China’s media freedom in the Xi Jinping era

On 29 May 2014, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Wang Aizhong was detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

The Chinese regime also targeted Wang’s Twitter account in one of its crackdowns. Despite being blocked in China, dissidents nevertheless circumvented censorship for years and used the platform to express their ideas. Wang was told by police to delete tweets critical of the Chinese government, which he refused to do. In December 2018 his account was hacked and a number of tweets were deleted.

“All of the tweets that I posted disappeared, and more than 1,000 users I followed on Twitter disappeared as well,” Wang told ABC.

However, Wang continued to use Twitter. His account was active until May 27.

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