But on Wednesday, the group’s director, Lu Jun, found himself squaring off against four security officials who were trying to cart away stacks of literature they claimed had been printed without official permission.
In the end, Mr. Lu scored a partial victory. After eight hours looking through drawers and photographing volunteers, the inspectors walked off with 90 pamphlets, but Mr. Lu prevented them from delving into the group’s computer files. “I fear this is not the end of it,” he said Thursday.
The raid on Mr. Lu’s organization, the Yi Ren Ping Center, comes at a precarious time for China’s nongovernmental organizations, many of which operate in a kind of legal gray zone. Two weeks ago, officials used a bureaucratic infraction as the reason to shut down the country’s pre-eminent legal rights center, Gongmeng, or Open Constitution Initiative. The closing followed a separate disbarment of 53 lawyers known for taking on civil rights and corruption cases. Just before dawn on Wednesday, the founder of Gongmeng, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into police custody, and he has not been heard from since.
“The permissible space in which civil society groups can operate was already small, but right now that circle is getting smaller and smaller,” said Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York. “If an organization is creating an independent voice, putting together a newsletter or organizing people in any way, it’s going to feel the full brunt of the authorities.”
Although it is unclear exactly why the government is tightening its grip on such organizations, legal experts and rights activists generally agree that it may be related to the celebrations, three months from now, of the 60th anniversary of China’s Communist revolution. A similar clampdown took place in the months before the 2008 Summer Olympics, when security officials in Beijing stepped up the harassment of dissidents and encouraged thousands of migrant workers to return to the countryside.
“It’s basically a foolish attempt to make the year as peaceful and uneventful as possible,” said Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer who was among those blocked from renewing their licenses.
Another explanation, Mr. Jiang and others say, is that some powerful segments of China’s leadership feel threatened by the rise of independent entities working to advance causes like labor rights or clean water, or in the case of the Yi Ren Ping Center, protection for people with hepatitis B.
There is widespread trepidation over hepatitis B in China, a fear that has been intensified by an explosion in advertising for medical testing services and sham cures. Even though it is preventable with a vaccine — and most of those infected will not become ill — state-owned companies, medical schools and food-processing plants have come to believe that it is sensible policy to bar the infected.
Under Chinese law, carriers of hepatitis B cannot work as teachers, elevator operators, barbers or supermarket cashiers. In a recent survey of 113 colleges and universities, conducted by the Yi Ren Ping Center, 94 acknowledged that infected applicants, required to take blood tests, would be summarily rejected.
Many of the 120 million carriers in China got the virus in the 1970s and 1980s, when a single contaminated syringe was sometimes used to inoculate hundreds of people at a time against diseases. The second-biggest group of carriers, about 40 percent of the total, according to the government, got virus from their mothers during childbirth.
An online bulletin board maintained by Mr. Lu’s group is a heart-rending clearinghouse for stories of people fired from jobs, or students denied college educations, after mandatory blood tests revealed their statuses. There are also scores of tales about the ashamed and the distraught who killed themselves.
“People are so afraid of this virus, they don’t act responsibly,” said Wang Li, an engineer who just graduated from a prestigious Beijing university and saw two job offers evaporate this year when blood tests showed that he had the virus. “The only thing they told me was, ‘You are not suitable for work.’ ”
Founded in 2006 by Mr. Lu, who is also infected, Yi Ren Ping Center provides up-to-date medical information and tries to arrange legal help for those it considers wrongly dismissed from jobs. It also encourages its 300,000 members to press for antidiscrimination laws. Last summer the center was forced to move its Web site to an overseas server after it mysteriously vanished from the Internet.
Although his organization does not seek to challenge the government’s authority, Mr. Lu recognizes that its mission can stir discomfort among the powerful and mighty. “After all, it is these people who are maintaining the status quo of discrimination,” he said in his office on Thursday. “And of course, according to the government, there is no such thing as discrimination in China. There are only misunderstandings.”