An Account of My Recent Disappearance

By Xu Zhiyong

Dr. Xu Zhiyong is a lecturer of law at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and one of the founders of Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) that offers legal assistance to petitioners and rights defenders, and has been repeatedly harassed, shut down and persecuted. In 2010 it changed its name to simply “Citizen”. Just weeks ago in May 29, Dr. Xu posted a blog post titled China’s New Civil Movement to renew his call for a “new civic movement are a free China with democracy and the rule of law, a civil society of justice and happiness, and a new national spirit of freedom, fairness and love.” The post has since been deleted by the authorities, and he himself was taken away by security police to answer questions. With Dr. Xu’s permission, Yaxue translated his account of the recent disappearance.

Xu Zhiyong

Going downstairs around ten o’clock in the morning of June 7th, I was met by seven men. Two of them were security officers from Security for Cultural Institutions, Beijing Public Security Bureau, others I had never met before. Lieutenant Cao walked up to me, said he needed to talk to me, and proposed that we find a place to have a question-and-answer session with a written record (笔录).

With me in it, their car drove towards north in the direction of Changping (昌平, an outlaying district of Beijing). A few minutes later, they took out a black cloth and covered my head with it, telling me that they wanted me to rest. Knowing that many of my friends had gone through this before me, I did nothing to resist. No use to resist anyway.

Having traveled for about half an hour, first on highway and then over a bumpy road, we arrived and got out of the car. Intuitively I tried to remove the black cover over my head when a man huffed, “Don’t!” and two men seized me by the arms.

We got into a room, as I sensed, and I was pressed down into what seemed to me like the corner of a sofa. I was stripped of my belt, my shoe laces and everything I had with me. People were shuffling in and out of the room. One voice said to me, “For now, think what you have done lately. Think hard! We’ll ask you questions in the afternoon!” I sat still and said nothing.

Many friends of mine, such as Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Teng Biao (滕彪), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), Li Fangping (李方平) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), had gone through this before [all of them rights lawyers–Yaxue]. I waited for insults, fists and feet that could rain on me at any moment now. I waited.

About one hour passed when a man came in and asked me whether I had done my thinking. I said nothing. Someone came over and removed the cloth over my eyes. Now I saw I had been sitting at the corner of a bed in a hotel room.

Lieutenant Cao came in. He said this wasn’t a big matter, and all he wanted was to ask me about the activities of Citizen and keep a written record of the inquiry. I said, “You don’t have to employ such method to just have a talk, and, to protest against the use of the black hood and illegal detention, I will not answer any questions.” I asked them for their understanding.

For most of the time thereafter, there would be silence except for brief exchanges here and there. Two of them are worth mentioning.

At one point when I was going to the bathroom, a thirty-something man by the last name Wen (温), who had probably also guarded Teng Biao before, insisted on keeping the door open and watching me. I said, when I came out, “You don’t have to be so keen on me.” He said, “I’m not keen on you; people like you must be guarded with extra care.” I said, “‘People like me’… Do you know what you are doing?” He said, “I don’t care what I am doing.”

Then there was another man by the last name Zhao (赵) who was in his 50s and rather straightforward. He was convinced that “people like me” believe China is up to no good at all while foreign countries are flawless. He was sure I don’t watch CCTV’s Evening News, and I said I often do. Then he said, “Since the West is so great in your eyes, why don’t you go there?” Upon this I raised my voice, “This is my country, my own motherland! Of course I will stay here! And I have a responsibility to make her better! At least I would not allow that –ism of the West to destroy my country!” He asked me what “-ism of the West” I was talking about, and I replied, “Didn’t your Communism come from the West?”

In the evening they gave me a carry-out meal. I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t eat during illegal detention.” This is a decision I made a year ago. If no room is left for me to do things to improve the society, I can at least protest against illegal detention with hunger strike—that’s the least I can do.

Last June when I was taken to a hotel in a hot-spring resort because of a relatively large-scale petition for equal rights for education. The security police said to me, “We are taking you here to have a good time and to relax. Now that you refuse to eat, we can’t have fun anymore.” They repeatedly said to me, “Take it easy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all go out and have fun? To wherever you want to go.” But for me, of course, there is no such “tourism.” I said to them, “When you are no longer in this profession, we could go and travel together, but illegal detention is what it is, and as a free citizen, I oppose it.”

Because of the wide attention I was receiving, I was treated humanely. But that was not the case with many, many anonymous people in China who suffered horrendous brutality. One day in March, 2009, a 16-year-old high school student from Henan province (河南) was beaten so badly that he sustained concussions in a black jail in a youth guesthouse near Tao Ran Pavilion Park in Beijing (陶然亭公园). During Mid-Autumn Festival of the same year, petitioner Li Shulian (李淑莲) from Shandong province died in a basement black jail in Longkou (龙口), and her relatives were tracked down by police for demanding justice. In a black jail in Beijing maintained by the municipal government of Xiangfan, Hubei (湖北襄樊), an old man became ill during the Two Meetings in March, 2012, was not allowed to see doctors, and died ten days later. When his family demanded compensation, they too were detained. These are cases I have witnessed myself. There have been many religious believers who have been detained illegally for years on end, some of them tortured to death. Over the last ten years or so, so many Chinese have died in all sorts of black jails as a result of torture; what I was going through was nothing.

I didn’t sleep well that night. Guards who took turns to watch me chatted. Some snorted later on. At 8 o’clock in the morning, Lieutenant Cao woke me up, telling me his boss was coming over to speak to me. Now I understood the black-hood strategy. It was a ritual leading up to this talk with the boss. I was to be intimidated first, a “mild” boss would then come forth. Stockholm syndrome is a common psychological phenomenon in which one captor plays rough while the other plays nice. You would have the induced illusion that the mild man is nice and you would want to pour out to him. It’s a common tactic of the police, and of dictators in general.

Minutes later Deputy Captain Hao (郝) came in. We met once two years ago. He said, “This time all we want is to have a good communication.” I said, “Sure, but to do that, there is no need to use something as ridiculous as a black hood.”

With three of his subordinates present, he started the “talk”. He said that it was a very serious matter that Citizen was organizing, and I could be charged according to Article 105. “This time it won’t be ‘tax evasion,’” he said. So on and so forth. [Article 105 is “Inciting subversion of state power.” As director of Citizen, Dr. Xu was arrested with “tax evasion” charges in August, 2009. The case was withdrawn ten days later after much protest from intellectuals and activists.]

I said, “All of our efforts are to protect the liberty and human rights of each and every Chinese, including everyone here, and I hope we understand and respect each other’s position and role. No one will be able to reverse the historical tide, so don’t over do it.” I gave the example of Wang Lijun (王立军), but he cut me short. “Wait here for our deliberation,” he said and left the room.

I felt I had made a mistake. During a Haidian District People’s Representatives Meeting [Dr. Xu had been a two-term district people’s representative until earlier this year when the university he works for warned the students not to vote for him.], an elder once reminded me to pay attention to the way I delivered my criticism and that I should give “face” to others. So I said to Lieutenant Cao that I had been too straightforward and I would like to have a few words with Captain Hao again to explain myself.

Half an hour later, Captain Hao returned. He said he wasn’t upset. I said “I am glad you were not.” We went off, just the two of us, to the courtyard to chat. We talked about equal rights for education, about corruption, and whatnot. All in all, he continued to warn me that I was courting danger; I must restrain myself and be more cooperative with them. I thanked him for reminding me that, but I said I didn’t mean to create trouble for them. The country needed change, I said, and I was willing to pay a price for the freedom of the people. I said, “You may not believe me, but for me, life is very simple, which is to use wisdom bestowed on humans to make the society better.”

The new civil movement calls individual citizens to spread the principles of democracy and rule of law, to abide a civil code of actions, to reject privileges and corruption. And we advocate liberty, justice and love, which is the spirit of the new civic movement. Our mission is to end, from the root, the cycle of regime change through violence and give freedom back to each and every Chinese. This is the reason for which I lost my own freedom for the time being.

Lieutenant Cao motioned me to renew the interrogation session. I said, “I am sorry, but you have stepped way over the boundaries. I have a responsibility to reject the black hood treatment and illegal detention. I won’t answer any questions, nor will I sign anything. Your transcript will have nothing to do with me.” He asked me about the “Citizen” pins. I replied, “Ask no more.”

The “Citizen” pin Dr. Xu’s NGO Citizen has been distributing.

He wrote a few lines and left.

Another group of men came in. All in all I had seen 12 of them. I knew these newcomers; one of them was in poor health. I said, “What a fuss to have this many people dealing with me. Besides, it’s such a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Then we argued some more about equal rights for education.

3 o’clock passed in the afternoon, they began to gather their stuff and, finally, returned me my belt and shoe laces. Before getting into the car, Lieutenant Cao asked me, “Do you have things to do this afternoon?” “Of course I do,” I said. When he asked what things, I said “I’m a free citizen, and I am free to do whatever.”

He made a call. Then he said things seemed to have changed and he was taking me home.

So they took me home, but didn’t leave [and stayed outside Dr. Xu’s apartment building].

I know that, for some years to come, my freedom will be more and more restricted, but the free China I have dreamed of will be closer and closer. More and more people are emerging as new citizens, and with their actions, they are heralding a beautiful future for the Chinese people. I am grateful.

Citizen Xu Zhiyong

June 10, 2012

(The Original is widely circulated online. Here is a link:

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7 responses to “An Account of My Recent Disappearance”

  1. KalanStar says:

    A very interesting account of illegal detention. We need more stories like this to come to light. Most people in China and outside China have no idea how often and routinely people are whisked away to secret locations in black hoods for doing things that if ever noticed in the west are categorized as “civic duty”.

  2. […] civic movement” in China. He was released over night and published a blog post explaining his “account of disappearance”. In this article, he mentions that the security officers covered his head with a black cloth and […]

  3. Someone thinks this story is hao-tastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  4. Chopstik says:

    How long before this vocal minority becomes the vocal majority? And will their peaceful means continue until fruition or will they become more violent in response to the oppression upon them?

  5. […] Yaxue from Seeing Red in China has translated civil rights activist Xu Zhiyong's account of his recent disappearance – a more than 24 hours interrogation and illegal detention. Tweet […]

  6. […] site Seeing Red In China a traduit en anglais le récit qu’a fait de son arrestation le 7 juin Xu Zhiyong, l’une des […]

  7. […] this has not received attention in the international press. Yaxue translated his account of the first disappearance (Xu has been disappeared several times over his career as an outspoken human rights lawyer, […]

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