Wednesday, December 14, 2005
On this day:

A profile in courage

Gao Zhisheng is "founder and star litigator" of one of China's most prestigious law firms. He is also a hunted man. Today's New York Times tells his fascinating story here. Here's a taste:

BEIJING, Dec. 12 - One November morning, the Beijing Judicial Bureau convened a hearing on its decree that one of China's best-known law firms must shut down for a year because it failed to file a change of address form when it moved offices.

The same morning, Gao Zhisheng, the firm's founder and star litigator, was 1,800 miles away in Xinjiang, in the remote west. He skipped what he called the "absurd and corrupt" hearing so he could rally members of an underground Christian church to sue China's secret police.

"I can't guarantee that you will win the lawsuit - in fact you will almost certainly lose," Mr. Gao told one church member who had been detained in a raid. "But I warn you that if you are too timid to confront their barbaric behavior, you will be completely defeated."

The advice could well summarize Mr. Gao's own fateful clash with the authorities. Bold, brusque and often roused to fiery indignation, Mr. Gao, 41, is one of a handful of self-proclaimed legal "rights defenders."

He travels the country filing lawsuits over corruption, land seizures, police abuses and religious freedom. His opponent is usually the same: the ruling Communist Party. ...

His fevered assaults have a messianic ring. But although he became a Christian this fall and began attending services in an underground church, the motivation to pursue the most sensitive cases - and put his practice and possibly his freedom at risk - began a couple of years earlier. It was then that his idealistic beginnings as a peasant boy turned big-city lawyer gave way to simmering rage. ...

"I'm not sure how much time I have left to conduct my work," Mr. Gao said. "But I will use every minute to expose the barbaric tactics of our leadership."

There is great hope that one day, the Chinese people - all of them - will finally be able to breathe the air of freedom; it is the courage and inspiration of people like Mr. Gao that will make that happen.