Really good interview with Huang Qi over here. Background:
The forty-nine-year-old Huang launched his site in 1999, at first concentrating on human trafficking and abuses of workers. Initially lauded by government media, he was detained in 2000 when he broadened his scope to include the plight of people still suffering from their participation in the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen protests. He also documented abuse by the authorities of members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong. In 2000 his site was blocked by authorities in China so he moved it to US-based servers. A few months later, he was detained and imprisoned for five years on charges of “subversion.”
Since being released from his second prison stint a year and a half ago, Huang has lived in a series of apartments in the southwestern city of Chengdu. All are lent by supporters, and are near hospitals so he can have dialysis for his ruined kidneys. Most recently, he has been living on the sixteenth floor of a high-rise, and when I went to see him in January, he was sitting out on the balcony in the early spring air, fielding a string of calls from China’s farmers and lower middle class—the people driving the country’s slow-motion revolution to make the government more accountable. Fueled by cigarettes and green tea, he listens to their stories, cuts them off when he has to, gives curt advice, and types out a few lines for his website on the latest protests and beatings.
Anyway, read on for a day in the life of a rights defender. he's not the only one using this format. the labour activist Han Dongfang set up his Hong Kong based radio show in the same way in the 90's, in that case actually broadcasting calls he got from people involved in mass incidents, strikes and so on from within China. Meanwhile:
I think it has to start with protecting ordinary people’s rights to petition and oppose corruption without being arrested. If that can happen then it’s really a significant improvement. You can oppose the Communist Party, but someone will rule the country—and even if they call themselves the “Democracy Party,” without a change in structures it’ll be the same. So it’s only if people take control of their lives and monitor officials that there will be an improvement.
The bet is that there's enough room within the system for pressure to be able to operate in this way without spilling over into formal dissent and therefore formal repression. This is where Huang differs from people like Liu Xiaobo, Hu Jia etc. Extra-party reformism was also the approach of the original human rights defenders from a decade ago; where that failed was that lack of overt hostility from the centre did nothing to prevent power centres at sub-Beijing level within the Party from mobilising state resources to silence their critics. Huang seems to think its different this time, though it's notable that he thinks the state surveillance he's under may protect him from more informal goon squads.