BEIJING — A Chinese businessman who supports a grassroots group to promote civil society was taken away by police from his Beijing home Friday, his friends said, in a sign Beijing is stepping up its crackdown on the loosely organized movement.
Xiao Shu, a family friend, said that police officers took away venture capitalist Wang Gongquan for investigation on suspicion of gathering crowds to disturb public order. Wang has not been formally detained.
It followed detentions of two leading members of the New Citizens movement – Xu Zhiyong and Yang Maodong.
The group's members have done little more than lobby for rights of rural children and public disclosure of officials' assets, although they have urged people to meet for dinner to discuss such issues and Beijing is wary of anything it sees as having potential to develop into a force that can pose a challenge to Communist Party rule.
Wang, who is a close friend of Xu, is believed to be the first supporter – rather than active participant – of the group to be targeted. Beijing police did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on the case.
"This is an important sign that Beijing wants to nip the New Citizens movement in the bud," Xiao Shu said. "In the past, the authorities were ambivalent toward civil society, but now how they are treating Wang will send a clear signal that they consider the New Citizens movement as a hostile force that should be suppressed."
In a sign of public attention to the case, Wang was in the sixth-most searched person on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Friday, behind a list of five entertainment celebrities.
Guo Yushan, a Beijing scholar, also said Wang has been targeted for his association with Xu. "In essence, this is political suppression," Guo said. "It is consistent with the political style of the new administration."
Wang is among a group of Chinese businesspeople who have been pushing for gradual social changes in China. Wang has been an advocate for building a civil society and always identifies himself as a "citizen." He has lobbied for equal rights for students and urged more public involvement in social events.
"His speech is very mild, but his stance is firm, and that gives him power," Guo said.