Chen Youxi hopes to push forward China’s legal development. Photo: Li Hao/GT
His supporters praise him for pushing forward China's legal advancement. His opponents criticize him for being a "fence-sitter" who curries favor with the government. Chen Youxi is probably the country's most controversial and divisive lawyer.
Chen, founder of China's leading legal firm The Capital Equity Legal Group, has recently found himself in the national spotlight.
In the most recent controversy, he has been accused of being a toady by "diehard" lawyers, named for their willingness to take cases that oppose the government. These diehard lawyers dubbed him with the slur "a lawyer assigned by officials" for his role representing diehard lawyer Wang Quanzhang in a case brought against Wang by the government.
According to Chen, Wang asked Chen to represent Wang in court. But later Wang's wife said in a statement that Chen had been assigned by "officials." Wang had been detained for allegedly organizing illicit activities disruptive of social order.
"I harbor strong antipathy for lawyers assigned by officials. Lawyers should have independent thinking and conduct independent defenses. We're only responsible for the facts, evidence and law," Chen told the Global Times.
Chen said he only decided to offer Wang his assistance after seeing his personal signature on the letter of attorney.
"One of the biggest differences between me and those diehard lawyers lies in the fact that I would never demand to be someone's lawyer, but always wait for the accused to find me," he said.
Chen admitted that he doesn't think much of those so-called "diehard" lawyers, believing they only "shout slogans" and oppose the government in every matter just to garner attention. They are not seeking truth from facts, he said.
Unlike most lawyers in China, Chen has 16 years' experience holding important positions in several provincial-level judicial organs in Zhejiang, including in the public security department and the province's higher people's court. Now as a lawyer, he said he tries to survive between the cracks. "On the one hand, I stand up to injustice and corruption within judicial system. On the other hand, when cases of judicial injustice happen, ordinary people like to blame me and believe that it's my fault for these bad results," he said.
From politics to law
Chen, 62, graduated from Zhejiang University in 1982. Upon graduation, he was chosen as one of 200 talented young people to be given government positions.
In his early days, Chen showed promise as a politician, rising rapidly through the ranks. In his second year after graduation, he become the vice director of the Ninghai county police department. Several years later, he became the secretary for the director of Zhejiang Province's higher people's court.
"In today's environment, people tend to think that I had to have connections to be promoted so quickly, but I'm just the son of a farmer," he said.
Chen had set himself the goal of becoming a provincial-level cadre by the age of 40, but the 1989 political turmoil upset his plans. "I was relegated to limbo afterwards," he said.
Unable to see any future for his career path in government, Chen became a lawyer in 1999. "I did not expect to become so successful as a lawyer. I only wanted to support my family back then," he said.
Chen himself is now a billionaire and his law firm has revenues of billions of yuan.
Sticking to his road
Chen has four rules he follows when choosing his cases. The first is that the case has to have social impact and can help push forward China's legal development. The second is that he must believe the client has been wrongly accused. The third rule is it must be lucrative. The fourth rule is that the case must be challenging.
He said that at this stage, the biggest obstacle for him is a lack of time, lamenting the number of goals he has yet to accomplish.
"I want to use a single case to push forward the country's legal development and also I want to put down my personal wisdom and experiences into systematic works for the country's legal construction," he said.
Last year, he represented Lei Yang, a Beijing citizen, in a case which was believed to be a milestone in judicial history. Lei was accidentally killed during a police raid on a Beijing massage parlor last May, arousing nationwide attention on the law enforcement tactics of police.
Chen told the Global Times that Lei's case was significant in restricting the abuse of power by some policemen, even though he didn't achieve the ideal result. "The relative gave up the lawsuit. As a lawyer, I can do nothing more," he said.
Lei's family members dropped their case after being given an undisclosed amount in compensation.
During interviews, he made clear that he battles injustice and undesirable elements within the judicial system, but there are still many positive aspects which should be endorsed.
"What I do is resonate with the righteous people within the system to make a change," he said.
Chen believes this is a useful weapon for him in his various cases. "Compared with most lawyers, I have a better understanding of how the judicial system works in government. Therefore, I can deal with them better," he said.
Chen used to provide such suggestions for those diehard lawyers, but only succeeded in incurring their criticism. Now he says he tries to keep his distance from them.
However, he is still attacked by them for being a "royalist," "fencesitter" and a "lawyer assigned by officials."
Chen has more than 6 million followers on Sina Weibo. On the days he isn't banned from posting, he posts retorts to people who have attacked him.
"I think the Internet is an important public opinion platform. We don't have time to make incidents on the Internet. But if I am misunderstood, slandered or attacked, it's necessary for me to clarify things and fight back," he said.
However, he does have some degree of understanding of the people who attack him.
"Due to my posts being deleted and my inability to make my voice heard on some sensitive questions in the cases I have defended and to reveal more inside stories, many people can't know about the truth and attack me as a result," he said.