Persistence under the Political Winter: Xiangzi and Heart Sanitation
The founder of “Heart Sanitation”, Chen Weixiang (better known as Xiangzi), and two staff members were arrested by the Guangzhou Police on December 17, 2019. Friends of Xiang Zi released news on December 23 stating that they had been subjected to fifteenth days of "administrative detention" on charges of " Picking quarrels and provoking trouble." After the administrative detention period expired, Xiangzi was released on January 2, 2020.
Heart Sanitation is an online platform that focuses on the labour situation of cleaners in Guangzhou. “Heart Sanitation” published the resistance stories of the grassroots sanitation workers in China. Guangzhou's cleaning workers often complained about the strict points deduction practice of the management. A worker who had been a cleaner for eight years, was penalized by the management for answering questions from the public when he was at work on September 2019, referred to as "chat while at work". The worker known as "fatty" refused to accept the point and wage deduction and deliberate with his boss the next day. But the boss did not withdraw the penalty and sent him back. Fatty refused to give up and asked the management to provide a " proof of deduction” that indicated the reasons for the penalty. He took the deduction proof to his superior and complained, and the foreman finally withdrew the decision and withhold the deduction.
At the end of 2019, “Heart Sanitation” recorded a case of wage arrears among cleaners in Guangzhou University City. After more than a year of struggle, more than a hundred cleaners eventually paid back more than a million yuan in wages. This is how the "Heart Sanitation" platform, operated by Xiangzi, recorded labour struggles in Southern China, while educating labour rights at the same time. Xiangzi’s concern for the conditions of the cleaners can be dated back to his days as a college student. In 2014, the cleaners in Guangzhou University Town went on strike for 30 days. While studying at Sun Yat-sen University, Xiangzi was one of the students who supported the workers. Since then, he has not forgotten to fight for the cleaners.
In 2015, the Chinese government arrested human rights defenders in various fields, including human rights lawyers, feminists, and labour rights activists; the civil society in China had fallen to a new low. According to the "Report on the Survey of the Situation of Chinese Young Actors", China’s young activists generally encountered multiple sources of stress after 2015, suffered from varying degrees of depression. With the intensification of official suppression, no matter how "moderate" the actions of young activists, the risks for such actions continues to escalate. Meanwhile, the government's strict censorship on information also made it difficult for activists to assess how many people were supporting their work, making them feel alienated and anxious at times. The report points out that under such political suppression, many young activists often seek opportunities to study abroad and increase their knowledge in order to cope with the difficulties of the movement, including Xiangzi. In 2017, Xiangzi went to Pennsylvania State University to study labour studies.
Since 2018, the Chinese government's suppression of the labour movement has intensified. From the Jasic workers struggle in mid-2018 to early-2019, the Chinese government has already criminally detained more than 100 labour rights activists, including workers, students, social workers, and so on. Despite seeing fellow comrades from “iLabour”, Wei Zhili, Ke Chengbing, and Yang Zhengjun arrested and criminally detained by the Chinese government since March 2019, Xiangzi remains undeterred and adheres to the work of “Heart Sanitation” since his return to China. In the winter of 2019, it was Xiangzi’s turn to find himself confined in a cell and spent his New Year's Eve in prison.