Xu Yan's cell phone seems to never stop beeping. ,,Another message from Liu Ping'', the 27-year-old independent candidate in Hangzhou says apologetic. ,,She says everything is under control now, but she cannot go on. The lawyers who were helping her to get on the ballot are being harassed as well. They have run out of options.''
Xu's campaign is still running, but he has problems as well. His employer, an advertising agency, has been given a rough time by the government with threats that fiscal inspectors will pay a visit and will without doubt find some abnormalities in the company's books.
,,I quit my job to protect the company from further harassment'', says Xu in a coffee bar in the district where he is running for office. ,,All investigations into the company have suddenly stopped, but my family and friends are still being bothered. They will get phone calls from strangers who ask questions about me. Every time the caller will warn something bad might happen if I don't quit the race. It's always anonymous, so it is difficult to prove a direct relation between these phone calls and my position as an independent candidate. But one plus one equals two.''
Xu continues: ,,I am not opposed to the Party at all. I am running as an independent, because I feel local people should fill the seats in the local People's Congress, representing a local interest instead of their own Party careers. I want the government to build more affordable homes and to better inform its citizens. We have the right to check what the authorities are doing, but currently we are being denied that right. Even with everyday topics, like the number of parking spaces in the streets or how many parks we should have in the district, ordinary citizens have no say whatsoever.''
Xu publishes a weekly online video message. You have to sit through a KFC-commercial before you can see it, but then he starts explaining his platform. Before, he went door to door to introduce himself to the constituency. He had to suspend campaigning in the streets after pressure from higher up.
None of the independent candidates seem to actively campaign against the Communist Party. None of them call for a radical and immediate end to the Party's decades old grip on power. Yet that Party reacts to the candidates as if its position is being threatened directly.
Twelve independent candidates wanted to get together on 21 September in the Beijing house of one of them, the 65-year old Wang Xiuzhen. They found police and guards and, absurd, a dozen old ladies on their way. They were 'coincidentally' blocking the small alley towards Wang's front door, making it impossible for the group to convene in the house.
,,Disgusting'', is how candidate Zhang Wei (55) qualifies the government tactics. She doesn't understand what the authorities are afraid of. ,,We are running for office to provide normal folks with a voice, to get their everyday problems under the attention of the authorities. That's all.''
Zhang's platform with which she hopes to win the election: it has to be made easier to switch energy provider and there should be better care for elderly people who are lonely.
Another candidate, Yang Lingyun (40), is running because she wants the local government to do a better job cleaning rubbish from the streets. Liu Ping (47) in Jiangxi was campaigning to get local employers to respect the existing labor laws.
He Peng from Changzhou wonders out loud if he can keep up his fight. ,,It means risking everything. If one message is clear from those cups of tea with my boss it is this: if I continue running, I will loose my job and no employer in town will hire me ever again. My wife is pregnant. How am I supposed to care for my family if I'm unemployed?''
He continues: ,,I feel sorry for many Chinese, including my wife and friends. They know something is wrong in China, but they choose to do nothing. The elections in this province are not until next year. I am not sure if I can keep fighting the increasing pressure to drop out. Maybe I will quit. I really don't feel like drinking another cup of tea with my boss.''