Last December as soon as I started tweeting and getting to know Twitter’s Chinese community, I was shaken by the news of two men—Chen Wei (陈卫) and Chen Xi (陈西) –being sentenced for nine and ten years in prison, respectively, for writing pro-democracy articles. Even though I was no fan of the Chinese communist party, it seemed to me utterly preposterous that in the 21st century China was still locking people up for thought crimes while it postured itself on world stage as a great power and tried to exert influence. All of a sudden, I was guilt-stricken by everything I enjoyed and took for granted, such as the sunlight slanting across my dining table and the morning peace enveloping me. Then again, shouldn’t there be a few things in life that we take for granted?
A few days ago, I came across the Weibo account of Chen Wei’s wife. Between work, their daughter and prison visits, she keeps a “diary” to share information, mostly, having to do with her husband. With her permission, I translated a few recent entries for our English readers. But first, let me briefly introduce Chen Wei:
Chen Wei entered Beijing Industrial College (北京工业学院, now Beijing Institute of Technology) to study physics in 1988. In 1989 he witnessed June 4th movement as a student leader. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced for a year and a half and expelled from college. In 1992 he was sentenced five years in prison for organizing the Chinese Freedom and Democracy Party (中国自民党). Between 1997 and 2011, he participated in organizing the Sichuan Democratic Party, signed 08 Charter, and was an important coordinator of non-violent rights activism. He was charged with “inciting to subvert state power” in March, 2011. In December 23 of the same year, he was sentenced to nine years in prison. Among the evidence presented by prosecutors were four articles he authored: Constitutional Democracy as Medicine for a Sick System, Growth of an Opposition Key to China’s Democracy, The Trap of “Harmony” and the Absence of Justice, and Thoughts during Human Rights Day Fast. –Yaxue
April 10, Day 416. 2869 days remaining. We took high-speed train early this morning and arrived in Nanchong at 10. Then we took a taxi to Jiangling Prison. It passed 10:30 already when we got there. Inside we were told to wait for approval of the person in charge. When word came back shortly that we had to wait until the afternoon, I protested. “How can you do this to me? Our high speed train leaves at 12:50pm and we already bought tickets! We have jobs to go to; you can’t give us a hard time every time we are here!” After some wrangling, they finally allowed us to meet him. The meeting ended at 11:30am.
April 10, second post, 8:20pm. Over our meeting today, he told me he didn’t wash dishes anymore, but he still had to do training every day. His skin darkened considerably from sunburn. His left hand and right hand are very different from one another: his right hand was dark and rough after washing dishes for a month, while his left hand was quite pale. Pretty soon, though, he was going to be assigned to labor teams. [New prisoners in Chinese jails go through a period of harsh “training” and labor, after that they are assigned to labor teams where life is more or less routine.—Yaxue ] I hope everything will go well and he could breathe a little easier in less harsh circumstances. We brought greetings from many friends. Thank you all!
April 22, 8:16pm, Day 428. 2857 days remaining. On my way home I dropped by the management desk. His letter was there. Turned out it had arrived yesterday, but I got home too late last night. Opened it eagerly in the elevator. Between us, it feels like when we fell in love the first time. He actually mentioned that our love is able to stay “fresh.” He said he has a good wife, a lovely and smart daughter, and there is nothing more for him to want in life!
May 4, 7:47pm, Day 440. 2845 days remaining. Good heaven. Today is May 4th Youth Day. I called the prison around 11am to find out where he was sent to. I was told they hadn’t grouped them yet and I was told to call back on Monday. So I have to wait until next week before I can decide a time to visit him….
May 7, 1:42pm, Day 443. 2842 days remaining. Called the prison today. He was grouped to 3rd prison zone, and I can visit any day from Monday to Friday. I will be going the day after tomorrow. I look forward to it.
May 8, noon, Day 444. 2841 days remaining. Got ticket. Leave tomorrow.
May 9, 8:34pm, Day 445. 2840 days remaining. Visited him today. Everything went all right. Took the high speed train to Nanchong and then a taxi to him. The meeting began at 10:50am. His skin was dark, and we chatted about family and friends. I was sad looking at him. The good thing is he cannot drink or smoke anymore. Now that he’s in the 3rd zone, I can go to see him any day Monday through Friday, and it will be more flexible for me to arrange my visits.
May 15, 11:17pm, Day 456. 2833 days remaining. Today I came home early. I let our daughter ride by herself and I went to the management desk again to see if there was a letter. There was. He said on the 9th that he had submitted his letter for mailing, and I have been checking it every day since I was back. Finally, it’s here.
May 18, 1:06pm, Mailed a letter to him. Also his sandals and bed sheets. Hopefully he will have them soon!
May 28, 9:11pm, Day 468. 2821 days remaining. Days are passing by quickly. I haven’t had time to get online lately, and, in a blink of the eyes, it’s the end of the month. Day in and day out, time flies like a shuttle, as the saying has it.
June 6, 9:30pm, Day 477, 2812 days remaining. Each year I prepared saline water for him on that day. [Chen Wei had fasted on June 4th since 1992.] I don’t know how he spent it last year and this year. Each day I count the days and look forward to the day when I visit him. I miss him.
June 10, midnight, Day 481. 2808 days remaining. Yesterday I attended the hundred-day banquet for little Jasmine [celebrating 100 days since birth]. It was a big party. I just got home now and am so tired. At the party I saw a lot of friends, and I couldn’t help feeling lost. I don’t know what to say…..but I sincerely wish the little beauty will be healthy and happy forever!
June 18, midnight, Day 490. 2799 days remaining. Yesterday was Father’s Day. My daughter and I visited his father and mother. We spent a pleasant weekend together. Tomorrow I will be going to Nanchong.
June 19, 1:22pm, Today I visited Nanchong and met him. I missed him so much. To my surprise he has put on some weight since his training stopped. 150 jin [75kg]. His brother [who went with me] said my dress was too “sexy” as if I were having a holiday. I said, but this is my holiday. He [Chen Wei] was very happy to see me in my new dress. Here is a picture for you all to take a look.
June 19, second post, 22:56pm, He asked me if I had gotten his letter yesterday. I said I hadn’t. He said he’d already send it. So I went to the management desk to look for it as soon as I was back. It had arrived two days ago, and the desk saved it for me in their cabinet. That’s why I didn’t get it the last couple of days. I am so happy that I got the letter and saw him in person on the same day. Tomorrow is his mother’s birthday, and we are going over to her’s to celebrate, and I have the card he sent to give to her. She will be so happy.