Chinese government arrest prominent activists two weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympics begin

William Yang
4 min readJan 19, 2022


After being reportedly taken away by police for a while, Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang and Chinese activist Guo Feixiong’s families have received notifications, confirming that both have been arrested under the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Xie was also given the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Xie’s wife said Beijing’s move may be an attempt to cover up unfavorable things for them.

After Chinese police reportedly took him away for almost a week, Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang’s family members received the detention notification from police in China’s Changsha City on Monday. The notification specified that Xie has been arrested under the charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” He is now detained at Changsha City’s first detention center.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Xie’s wife Chen Guiqiu said she thinks Xie’s arrest is related to a series of activism that he’s been engaged in. On Dec. 24 last year, Xie protested in front of a local police station in Hunan Province, demanding the police to release a female teacher named Li Tiantian, who was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital after expressing sympathy for views questioning Beijing’s narrative over the 1937 Nanjing Massacre. Li was pregnant at the time.

At the time, Xie took a picture of himself raising a red banner with the text: “I’m coming to take Li Tiantian and her baby home.” “It is law-abiding for Xie to go visit Li but the authorities couldn’t tolerate Xie’s behavior,” his wife said. “Right now, authorities don’t have to follow any law or give any specific reason for arresting anyone. They can trump up any charges to arrest anyone who they view as a threat.”

Prior to the confirmation of his arrest, Chen said Xie’s family members went to his residence and found things in the house scattered all over the place. His pillows, two computers and several things were all taken away by the police.

Additionally, Chen said the police even warned Xie’s family members not to try to look for him in Changsha. “They even drove Xie’s car away and took whatever that they wanted to take with them,” she wrote on Twitter on Jan. 15. “The car has been returned to his residence.”

In fact, this is not the first time that Xie was arrested under the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” In 2015, he was taken away by police amid the “709 Mass Arrest,” and after being detained for nearly one year and a half, he was finally allowed to meet with his lawyer. His lawyers later revealed details about the torture that Xie reportedly went through during interrogation.

On Dec. 26, 2017, Xie was found guilty under the charge of “inciting subversion of state power,” but the court exempted him from his punishment after claiming that Xie had pleaded guilty.

According to his wife, she worries about his situation in the detention center, as Xie had previously been deprived of the right to eat his meals or use the money saved for him by his family members. “We are urgently looking for a lawyer to go to the detention center and initiate the legal process,’ she said.

Chinese activist Guo Feixiong arrested after his wife’s death in the US

On the same day, Chinese activist Li Way shared an image of the arrest notification for Chinese activist Guo Feixiong, who was also charged with “inciting subversion of state power” and who was arrested on Jan. 12. He is now detained at the Guangzhou First Detention Center.

Guo has been missing since Dec. 5, after he sent a text to his friend saying “I’ve been caught.” His wife Zhang Qing, who was suffering from a late-stage colon cancer, passed out on Jan. 10 and later died in the United States. Before she passed away, Zhang wrote an open letter, urging the Chinese government to let Guo to fly to the United States and reunite with her.

However, Guo went missing on Dec. 5. A source familiar with Guo’s case said he thinks the arrest is related to the amount of attention that Guo had attracted after repeatedly begging the Chinese authorities to let him go visit his wife in the United States.

After Zhang passed away, the US State Department issued a statement on Jan. 14, urging Chinese authorities to let Guo go to the United States and be reunited with his children. In the statement, Ned Price, the spokesperson of the US State Department, urged Beijing to “end its use of arbitrary detentions and politically motivated exit bans.”

Xie Yang’s wife criticized the Chinese government’s decision to arrest Xie Yang and Guo Feixiong, saying the two were only arrested because Chinese authorities thought what they were doing might be detrimental to the Chinese government.

“If a country is well governed and its people live and work in peace and happiness, what does the Chinese government have to fear?” she said. “If a country is well governed and its people live and work in peace, what does the Chinese government have to fear?”

Xie and Guo’s arrests come at a time when the Beijing Winter Olympics are about to begin. Previously, a number of democratic countries, including the United States, had announced diplomatic boycott against Beijing for its human rights violations. The Chinese government has vowed to launch firm countermeasures against these countries.

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.



William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.