SHANGHAI — A Chinese human rights lawyer knew it was time to put his battles with the government and state enterprises on hold when he saw his young son waiting for the “bad guys” to come.
“My son was looking out the window at night with a stick in his hand, like he was keeping watch,” the lawyer said. “And he said, ‘I’m going to beat up the bad guys if they try to take dad away.'”
The lawyer, who is in his late 40s, has handled cases involving land expropriations, arbitrary decisions by authorities and commitments broken by state-owned enterprises. His clients have included both individuals and businesses. But he fears the effects on his son’s psyche, not to mention the risk that the increasingly oppressive government might retaliate against his family.
The tide started to change in 2012 and 2013, coinciding with President Xi Jinping’s rise to power. “I had this scope where I could feel safe,” he said, “but I felt it start narrowing fast.”
In July 2015, the government turned more aggressive, detaining over 300 activists, lawyers and other individuals. The lawyer said there was little he could do to help his comrades; he is still not sure why he was not taken in, too.
Today, the lawyer speaks out little and avoids participating in overseas protests like he used to. Inaction, for him, is a survival strategy.