Chen Zijuan, April 14, 2021
Today is Chang Weiping’s 37th birthday. He practiced law in Shaanxi province from 2013 to late 2018, when his license was suspended, as part of China’s continuous disbarment of human rights lawyers in recent years. His career as a lawyer began from defending the New Citizens Movement activists in 2013, and over the next five years, he defended dissidents, petitioners, believers, victims of discrimination in work place. He enjoyed what he did, and has never considered himself a radical. He was detained for 10 days in January, 2020, for attending an informal gathering of lawyers and dissidents in Xiamen in late 2019. He was again taken into custody under “residential surveillance at a designated location” in October, 2020, on a charge of “inciting subversion.”
Dr. Chen Zijuan (陈紫娟) is a microbiologist working in Shenzhen. This piece was originally published in Chinese on April 9, 2021. Slight revisions were made by the author for the translation. — The Editors
On March 24, 2021, I left Shenzhen for Baoji (陕西宝鸡市), the hometown of both Chang Weiping (常玮平) and I. The northern springtime air was mildly dry, with peach blossoms and winter jasmines in full bloom along the roadside. I travelled through a picturesque landscape of lush green wheat fields complimented by the gentler colors of budding willow trees. If it were not for my mood at the time, this would have been a most delightful excursion.
I arrived at Baoji that afternoon, and headed straight for the Baoji Hi-Tech Development Zone Public Security Bureau branch (高新分局) to look for Deputy Director Xiang Xianhong (向贤宏), the head of the local Guobao (国保, domestic security police) and also the one in charge of Weiping’s case. It appeared that he had stepped out for the moment, and we were told to wait. He showed up well past 4 p.m., only to brush us off with the old excuse, “the case is being handled in accordance with the law.” Our lawyers inquired about why the criminal charge in the visitation denial document was modified to “subverting state power,” but Deputy Director Xiang refused to disclose anything as always, claiming that it was confidential.
Throughout the entire meeting, the deputy director repeatedly “educated” and threatened our lawyers not to post anything about the case on the internet. At 5:30 p.m. a policeman came in to say that Xiang needed to attend a meeting, and so we left.
We picked a hotel at random for the night.
The next morning, I suddenly had the idea of visiting Baotai Hotel (宝钛宾馆), the place where Chang Weiping was tortured. Even though Baoji was my hometown, I had never lived in the city proper and didn’t know where Baotai Hotel was. So I called a Didi ride to take me there and, after about ten minutes, the words “Baotai Hotel” came to view. Contrary to what I had thought, it turns out that Baotai Hotel was in a busy city area rather than a remote location. In fact, the hotel was situated right next to Baoti Group and across from the Baoji Cigarette Factory, both large state owned enterprises of Baoji city. The surrounding area consisted of numerous high-rises and residential areas.
Baotai Hotel sat on relatively high ground. I stood before the steps to the entrance and scanned upwards to take in the impressive architecture. Tears welled up in my eyes. Who could have ever imagined this place, in the midst of bright sunshine and bustling activities, was for 10 days a prison for my husband?
In January, 2020, he was held here under what they call “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) in a windowless basement room furnished with padded walls. For those 10 consecutive days, 24 hours a day, he was chained to a tiger bench. He wailed in desperation when he could no longer bear the pain from his grossly swollen legs. All sensation was lost in his hand and feet. In the 10 months following his release, two of his right fingers remain without feeling. Those employed to watch him around the clock by the local authorities were probably neighborhood thugs. He was harassed to stay awake and given just enough food so as to keep him on the brink of starvation. Knowing that he was a non-smoker, his custodians deliberately smoked in the room, making him nauseous from the smell.
Sixteen confessions were extracted from him over those 10 days of interrogation.
Deputy Director Xiang, is this “in accordance with the law” that you speak of? The Baoji City People’s Procuratorate, on the other hand, told me, replying to my inquiry, that they looked into Chang Weiping’s case, and found that “the public security organs are still handling it according to law.” If all is done “in accordance with the law,” do you dare show me the footage of the interrogations?
Standing at the entrance to Baotai Hotel, I decided I would stay here tonight. I wanted to place myself at the closest possible proximity to the evil acts they committed against my husband.
During the day, I went to file complaints at the Baoji City People’s Procuratorate, the Baoji City Public Security Bureau, and the Baoji City Discipline Inspection Commission regarding torture. They took my forms and documents, but refused to make any statement one way or the other. At the Baoji Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision, I wasn’t even allowed to enter the building.
I wrapped up my day and returned to Baotai Hotel. Although it was open to the public, there were very few people in the lobby. 168 yuan a night for the room placed the hotel at a medium price point for accommodation in Baoji. Inside, the hotel furnishing and facilities were dated, which, in this day and age of free market competition, meant that it probably attracted little in the way of customers. I was given a room on the third floor. When I exited the elevator into the corridor, I noticed a couple of overhead security cameras as well as a room with its door wide open. Inside were three or four men and women in dark uniform. It looked like an office with desktop computers sitting on two large conjoined office desks. Upon noticing my approach, one middle-aged man moved to close the door.
I made it to my room and closed the door, struggling to control my nervousness. Now free of my luggage, I wanted to explore the building and I wanted to see if I could take a look at the basement area. As it turned out, the elevator didn’t provide service beyond the first floor, nor did taking the stairs reveal any kind of access to the basement. In the end, I could only guess that the basement level was a sealed-off area with a dedicated entrance somewhere else.
It was only during my search that I noticed how eerily empty the hotel was. The feeling that I could be the one and only guest staying at this hotel gave me the chills and I dared not explore further.
Back to the third floor, to my surprise I saw that the door to the room opposite mine was ajar. It was yet another office space with desktop computers sitting on an oversized desk. Inside, a somewhat elderly man was working on something.
I tried to order food delivery, but the front desk staff informed me that, due to Covid restrictions it could not be delivered to my room. However, at the hotel I stayed the night the day prior, I saw multiple food deliveries entering and exiting the elevator.
Due to its elevated location, Baotai Hotel distanced itself from the main road with no other buildings in the immediate area, making it a relatively quiet area away from the bustle of the city. Mid-sized parking lots marked the front and rear of the hotel and the signs say it’s for internal use only.
That night, I heard people entering and exiting the office rooms. Aside from their footsteps and conversations, as well as that of hotel staff, no other sounds emerged from the hallway. I grew tenser with each closing and opening of the doors, my nerves set on edge.
Who are these people working in a hotel and after hours?
Eventually, I managed to calm my anxiety by taking a long, hot shower. Too scared to turn the light off, I left it on and fell into a fitful slumber. I woke up abruptly in the middle of the night thinking that it was morning, but when I checked my phone, I saw that it was only 4 a.m. My attempts to fall asleep again didn’t work. For someone who falls asleep easily, this was a glaring abnormality.
Fear can drive people to mental breakdown. I can’t help but wonder how Weiping is surviving his ordeal, living and breathing an unimaginable terror with every passing second, not knowing when and if it would end. I then also wondered about the location of his current RSDL — could he be held right here in the same basement?
Years ago when I went to see a circus for the first time in my life, there was an act with four elderly lions. Under the fierce discipline of the beast trainer, they obediently sat together on a tiny stool like four docile little kittens. One of the tricks involved jumping through a ring of fire. At first, the lion refused to jump through the hoop and turned to protest at the trainer with an angry roar. In response, the trainer began to lash at the lion with his leather whip. It didn’t take many lashes to convince the lion to swallow his instinctive fear of fire and make the jump. What I saw during the show was probably just the tip of the iceberg, who knows what terrors the lion had to face to make him fear the whip more than he feared fire. After this, I never again attended another circus show or visited a zoo. It derives no entertainment for me to watch cold cruelty.
The torture of Chang Weiping by the Baoji High-Tech Development Zone Public Security Bureau branch is no different from a circus show. However, I do not believe Chang Weiping to have anywhere near the strength of a lion. I want to question the Baoji branch on the legal validity of a confession obtained via torture. I want to tell them, “Don’t bother putting up a show of ‘investigating’; just wave that whip around to get what you want. As for the ‘confessions,” you may as well write them yourselves on behalf of Chang Weiping!”
Mowing Down, Yaxue Cao, December 22, 2020.
‘He Committed Ideological Crimes’: Wife Recounts How Chinese Police Suppress the Family, Preventing Them From Speaking Out and Threatening Her Job After Human Rights Lawyer Chang Weiping’s Detention, Chen Zijuan, February 15, 2021.