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To Build a Free China: A Citizen’s Journey

Xu Zhiyong, translated by Joshua Rosenzweig and Yaxue Cao, with an Introduction by Andrew Nathan
To Build a Free China: A Citizen’s Journey
ISBN: 978-1-62637-584-0
ISBN: 978-1-62637-591-8
2017/297 pages/LC: 2016028547
"Xu's personal journey perfectly captures the trajectory of the weiquan movement.... Indispensable for understanding the ideals that drive the entire movement."—Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books

"Highly recommended."—Choice

"Accomplished [and] engaging.... Provides fascinating details about Xu's life, his ideas, and his civic campaigns and sheds light on the experience of the disadvantaged and exploited in China."—Eva Pils, Foreign Affairs

"A moving book by a brilliant and idealistic Chinese lawyer working within China's legal system to advance the rule of law and justice, describing his bold successes, harsh setbacks, and enduring optimism."— Paul Gewirtz, Yale Law School

"For more than a decade, Xu Zhiyong has been working hard to bring about a free society in China.... His documentation of this hard work and his achievements ... are a great and timely contribution."—Yu Ying-shih, Princeton University

"Through his actions and his driven sense of responsibility to pursue justice, Xu Zhiyong demonstrates the ideals of public life and constitutional government presented in this book."—Xiao Han, Chinese University of Politics and Law

"This stimulating and informative book traces the thoughtful development of one of China's greatest and most sincere human rights advocates. One can only hope that China's current leaders might read it, and that Xu Zhiyong might some day succeed them."—Jerome Cohen, New York University School of Law


Xu Zhiyong Won the 2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award!

The story of China's rights movement—a struggle for basic human rights and democracy that, despite harsh repression, has endured for more than a decade—unfolds in Xu Zhiyong's compelling personal memoir.

In recognition of his work as an activist, lawyer, and founder of the New Citizen Movement, Dr. Xu was named one of Asia Weekly's People of the Year in 2005 and one of the Southern People’s Weekly’s Top Ten Young Leaders of China in 2006. His efforts have been considerably less well received, however, by the government of the PRC, and he has been arrested numerous times.

In 2023, Dr. Xu was sentenced to 12 years in prison for “subversion.” He previously served a four-year prison sentence (2013‒2017) for "gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place," his moving statement at the end of that trial, hailed as the "China Manifesto," is included in To Build a Free China.


  • Introduction—Andrew J. Nathan.
  • Preface: Being a True Citizen.
  • One Life for One Dream.
  • Village Travels: My Days at the Rural Edition of China Reform.
  • The Death of Sun Zhigang and the Citizen Recommendation to Appeal "Custody and Repatriation."
  • The "Illegal" Life of a Private Enterprise: Defending Sun Dawu.
  • Be True to the Law: Campaigning for a Seat as a People's Congress Delegate.
  • On Behalf of Free Expression: The Southern Metropolis Daily Case.
  • We're in This Together: Life in "Petitioner Village."
  • The Citizens' Alliance, or Gongmeng
  • Returning to China.
  • What's Your Motive?
  • The Prayers of Poshang Village: For Cai Zhuohua and the House of Churches of China.
  • Experience and Reflection: The Gongmeng Tax Case.
  • In This World.
  • Practice Love on the Road to Justice.
  • The Critic: For My Brother, Teng Biao.
  • Cherish Your Ballots!
  • Our 2011.
  • The Idealists.
  • China's New Citizen Movement: A Manifesto.
  • I am A Free Citizen.
  • Hearts Filled with Justice.
  • Ngaba.
  • The New Citizen Movement 2012.
  • The Last Ten Years.
  • China's Path.
  • Love Along China's Borders.
  • For Freedom, Justice, and Love: My Closing Statement to the Court.