On Monday, the Chengdu-based blogger Huang Qi was put on trial for leaking sensitive state documents to the public. In this short piece for the New York Times, I report the news.

What I couldn’t do in this news piece was reflect on how saddening this is to me, especially in the wake of recent pieces I’ve also had to write on the detention of another prominent person from Chengdu, the pastor Wang Yi.

From 2011 to 2013 I spent quite a bit of time in this southwestern Chinese city to research my book, The Souls of China. It was a great time because many people who were challenging authority were still free and the crackdown–which has now become such a prominent part of daily life in China–was only just gearing up. Its scope wasn’t yet clear and it was still possible to believe, or at least hope, that the silencing of critical voices in the capital might not spread all the way to China’s far-flung provinces.

During this time, I interviewed Huang Qi for the New York Review of Books, as well as another prominent critic in Chengdu, Ran Yunfei, and of course spent much time with Wang Yi for my book. Unfortunately, Wang and Huang are in prison, while Ran apparently is back under house arrest. This once-vibrant scene is dead–or is it?

Time and again we’ve seen crackdowns and over the decades we’ve also seen that when the temperature thaws, that people come back. Perhaps this is a deep freeze but at the Chinese saying goes 物極必反 — when things reach their extreme, they must move in the opposite direction. We can only hope that this pendulum is now at its extreme and beginning to swing in the opposite direction.

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