Xu Zhangrun, outspoken critic of Xi Jinping, detained by police in Beijing

Chinese professor Xu Zhangrun, known for his scathing and public criticisms of China’s leader Xi Jinping, has been detained, according to friends of the scholar.

Two friends of Xu, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals, told the Guardian that he had been detained on Monday morning. According to one, around 20 police officers and 10 vehicles arrived at his home in Beijing and took Xu away.

According to a statement online, also by a friend of Xu’s, a dozen officers entered his residence, seizing his computer and other items before detaining him.

After publishing several public attacks on the Chinese leadership, Xu was placed under house arrest early this year and barred from social media with his internet cut off.

According to friends of Xu, he had been confined at home since 30 June, ahead of anniversary of the founding of the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist party, as well as Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese control when protests erupted in the city over a newly passed security law. Xu was released from house arrest on Saturday.

“He is the intellectual who has criticised the authorities and questioned their legitimacy most severely over the past few years … I think he was detained because he has been very influential,” the friend said.

Xu, one of the a rare voices of dissent from a liberal intellectual camp under an increasingly repressive environment, has continued to publish essays lambasting the Chinese leadership.

In February, his essay, Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear, had lambasted Xi over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In another recent essay on the demolition of an artist’s village on the outskirts of Beijing, Xu accused the ruling communist party of “fascist aesthetics” moving to stifle any independent ideas or art.

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Xu, who calls for China to implement constitutional democracy, also represents a window into dissent within the opaque Chinese political system. When he published his essay in February, he knew he was likely to be punished.

He wrote in the essay: “I can now all too easily predict that I will be subjected to new punishments; indeed, this may well even be the last piece I write.”


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