Democracy activist Ji Xiaolong was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in Shanghai on Monday for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
Ji did most of his trouble-stirring in public toilets, where he scribbled “sensitive phrases” such as “Down with the Communist Party!” on the walls.
According to a courtroom observer quoted by Radio Free Asia, the court originally planned to give Ji a light sentence because he readily admitted to writing slogans on the wall of a public toilet in Shanghai but grew exasperated when he gave a 20-minute speech during the six minutes he was granted to speak in his own defense. The speech, described by RFA’s source as “passionate,” convinced the court Ji had “bad motives” and lacked remorse for his actions.
His graffiti was a satirical response to Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s 2015 call for Chinese dominance in the $6 billion sanitation technology market, an initiative often described as the “Toilet Revolution” because Xi felt clean, convenient toilets are a “barometer of civilization,” and Chinese toilets were coming up short of the mark, particularly in rural areas.
The Toilet Revolution is a major agenda item for local governments such as Jiangxi province, which made headlines by pledging to build or renovate over a million pubic restaurants in the next three years.
Ji Xiaolong staged his own toilet revolution with graffiti such as, “I don’t have money to cure my bowel movements, Fatty Xi is chucking money around, changing the constitution to make himself king. When will this suffering end? Down with the Communist Party!” He encouraged other people online to write similar slogans in toilets.
The authoritarian Chinese president is very sensitive to both accusations of tyranny and mockery of his weight to the point where a certain plump cartoon character has been banished from China because he has been likened to Xi Jinping.
Furthermore, democracy activists told Radio Free Asia the authorities have been looking for an excuse to make a cautionary example out of someone like Ji, a danger he seems to have been fully cognizant of. Another Shanghai rights activist named Xu Peiling said harsh sentences are becoming more common as the government seeks to intimidate dissidents.
“But I think that we, as human beings, should say what we need to say, and speak the truth, even if that means going to jail,” Xu added.