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China Change, March 31, 2019
Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原) stands prominent among China’s human rights lawyers. In 2004, he came to Beijing to practice at the age of 40. In the roughly one decade up to mid-2015, he represented countless rights cases. Some of the more notable of these include the appeal of a death sentence by farmer Li Zhiping (李志平) in Dingzhou, Hebei Province; the Yang Jia (杨佳) police murder case in Shanghai; the case of the three netizens in Fujian (福建三网民); the case of journalist Qi Chonghuai (齐崇淮) in Shandong; and the case of Ji Zhongxing (冀中星), the migrant worker who threw a homemade bomb at the Beijing Capital Airport in 2013. Cases Liu Xiaoyuan has taken on in recent years include the “separatist” case of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木▪土赫提), as well as numerous dissidents and activists charged with offenses like incitement, subversion, picking quarrels, or disturbing public order and obstructing official business. Among his clients, the artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) is probably the most well-known.
But from July 2015 till now, Liu Xiaoyuan has been out of work for three and a half years. In 40 days, he stands to lose his practicing license. At least two other lawyers of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, Zhou Lixin (周立新) and Wang Yu (王宇), are facing the same deadline. Lawyer Huang Liqun (黄力群), a government official before becoming a lawyer, possibly faces the same situation. This is obviously due to the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party.
On July 9, 2015, the Chinese government carried out mass arrests of human rights lawyers in what became known as the 709 incident. At the center of this crackdown was the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所). That night, the firm’s lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) was taken away from her home; the next morning, on the 10th, Fengrui director Zhou Shifeng (周世锋) was detained at a hotel in Songzhuang Town of Beijing’s Tongzhou District. More than 10 other Fengrui lawyers and staff were also rounded up. Over the following two weeks, up to 300 lawyers around China were interrogated, held in short-term detention, or given warnings. The 709 Incident is regarded as a movement by the authorities to stamp out human rights lawyers. Official mouthpieces played their part in this effort, labelling the Fengrui Law Firm and the community of rights lawyers as “horses bringing trouble to the herd” (害群之马) and representatives of overseas anti-China forces bent on engineering a color revolution.
Liu Xiaoyuan is one of Fengrui Law Firm’s three partners. During the 709 crackdown (Liu himself doesn’t approve of and avoids using this term), at the time he was out of town and was placed under control for three days. Following the incident, around 50 lawyers employed by Fengrui who were not implicated left to work with other law firms. A manager with the Beijing Justice Bureau’s oversight office (监管处), which deals with lawyers, told Liu that being a partner to Fengrui, he could not transfer to another law firm until the cases involving those arrested in connection with the 709 incident were settled and the matter of Fengrui Law Firm resolved. Only then would the office let Liu transfer to a new firm.
Lawyer Zhou Shifeng, after being put under six months of residential surveillance, was formally arrested on January 8, 2016. On August 4, he stood trial and was sentenced to seven years in prison and five years of deprivation of political rights for the crime of subversion of state power. In March 2018, the Beijing Justice Bureau suspended Fengrui Law Firm’s law license. On November 9, after the firm’s sub-branch in Nanchong, Sichuan, was closed down, Fengrui’s business permit was revoked. Since that point, Feirui has ceased to exist.
According to the Ministry of Justice’s “Regulations on Law Firm Management” (《律师事务所管理办法》) and the “Beijing Municipal Guidelines for Implementing the Management Regulations of Law Firm Operation” (《北京市律师执业管理办法实施细则》), after a law firm is closed, its partner lawyers are allowed to transfer out. Starting from November 9, 2018, Liu Xiaoyuan and another partner lawyer, Zhou Lixin, as well as lawyer Wang Yu who is the first 709 detainee and released without charges, have six months —or until May 9, 2019 — to transfer to a new law firm. If, by the six-month deadline, they have not transferred to another firm, the lawyers will have their practicing licenses cancelled.
It isn’t the first time that Liu Xiaoyuan has had to deal with firm shutdowns and transfers. On April 3, 2011, artist Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Airport and charged with tax evasion. As a friend and lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan gave interviews with the media voicing his opinion about the legality of the matter. Afterward he himself was taken away with his head covered under a black hood and detained for five days, during which he was subjected to a strip search and interrogation, then released after writing statements of repentance (悔过书) and guarantee (保证书). In 2011 and 2012, the Beijing Justice Bureau found excuses to obstruct the annual inspection of his firm Qijian Law Firm (旗舰律师事务所), forcing the firm’s several lawyers to transfer. Liu Xiaoyuan was compelled to close the firm, but allowed to transfer to a new firm and continue his practice. On November 28, 2012, Liu officially transferred to the Fengrui Law Firm, and became a partner attorney in 2013.
By regulation, when lawyers transfer from one firm to another, they must first apply for two documents from the Beijing Lawyers Association (BLA). One is the certificate showing which firms they have worked at, and the other is a certificate confirming that they have not violated lawyer codes. Under normal circumstances, a lawyer can use a member’s login to access the BLA’s website and submit an application. The check will be done using the information on the website and the two documents will be sent to the lawyer, who can then take them to the new law firm that accepts him or her. A proof of employment will be issued by the firm, the local Lawyers Association will issue a certificate. These documents can be submitted online and the transferral process can be completed. The process is fairly easy if it involves just a regular transfer.
But in November 2018, around the time Fengrui Law Firm had its business license cancelled, Liu Xiaoyuan found that his information had been deleted from the lawyer management system on the Beijing Justice Bureau’s official site. Entering his name, ID number, or practicing license number produced no results. This meant that the new firm that had accepted him was unable to apply for a transfer number. As this was happening, the BLA’s website updated the status of his practice to “unregistered,” preventing him from logging into the website and retrieving the two documents he needed for transfer.
Lawyers Zhou Lixin, also a partner of Fengrui, and lawyer Wang Yu, find themselves in the same situation as Liu Xiaoyuan: they are also facing the possibility of their practice licenses being revoked if they do not transfer by May 9. It would seem that this is precisely what the Beijing Justice Bureau and the BLA is aiming for.
(On March 27 Wang Yu was stopped by Chinese police checking IDs outside the U.S. Embassy as she tried to enter the embassy for an event marking Women’s History Month. She was handcuffed with her hands behind her back and detained for 20 hours for questioning the legality of random ID check.)
Last year, on November 12, Liu Xiaoyuan signed the cancellation documents for the business license of Fengrui Law Firm in the certification branch of Beijing’s Chaoyang District Justice Bureau (朝阳区司法局证照科). The next day, he went to the Beijing Justice Bureau to discuss his transfer. The staff who received him said they had to make a report to their higher-ups and the discussion ended there. The subsequent talks turned into small talk. One of the staff said: “most of the cases you’ve taken on are in other provinces, you can go somewhere else to practice.” Another said: “Why don’t you develop in a new direction and handle economic cases instead?” Liu Xiaoyuan responded: “As a lawyer, the clients come to me. No matter what type of case it is, as long as I think I can take it, I will take the case. I don’t have defined boundaries.” However, he told the three staff members, some cases he took on involved people from vulnerable groups whose human rights had been infringed upon, such as those expropriated of their land and victims of forced demolition. When he went to court, many people would come to attend the hearings and express their approval of his argumentation. That led to similar cases coming his way.
He didn’t know that the 40-minute chat he had with these three Justice Bureau staff would be his last time of being received at the Bureau. After that he has had no more such good luck, even though the chat didn’t resolve any of his problems.
Liu has spent most of his three years in unemployment in his hometown in Jiangxi. On November 16, he called the Beijing Justice Bureau supervisory office in charge of managing lawyers, as well as the deputy branch chief, but got no response. Calling mobile numbers didn’t work either. On Twitter, he said: “It can’t be that there’s no one at the supervisory office during working hours.”
The same day, he wrote: “during my career as a lawyer, I’ve received warnings, threats on my life, been evicted from my rental home, had my right to travel restricted, summoned by the authorities, made to wear a black hood, disappeared, had my annual lawyer’s inspection delayed, and forced to stop operating my law firm. In conjunction with the ‘Fengrui issue,’ I’ve been put under control, made to sign repentance and guarantee statements, and forced out of work for three years and four months [to the current month]. Now it may come to me having my lawyer’s license ‘gotten rid of.’”
Over the past few months, he has called the Beijing Justice Bureau’s supervision office practically every day or every other day. No one has ever picked up. He called Xiao Lizhu (萧骊珠), secretary-general of the BLA, and got no response either. His calls to the deputy director of the Chaoyang District Justice Bureau didn’t get through. Looking through Liu’s Twitter posts from the past months, you get the impression of a neverending string of unanswered phone calls. One time a miracle occured: Liu got through to a Justice Bureau deputy director, who listened to him long enough to realize who was calling, then said he had a meeting to attend and immediately hung up.
Apart from making phone calls, he wrote to all the relevant addresses he could think of. This included four letters to Justice Bureau chief Li Chunying (李春莹), one to the bureau’s Communist Party secretary Miao Lin (苗林), two to Beijing Mayor Chen Jining (陈吉宁), and one to Yuan Shuhong (袁曙宏), Party secretary of the Ministry of Justice. He sent multiple inquiries to the online box of civil-administrative relations of the Beijing Justice Bureau, and also petitioned at the Bureau’s Letter and Visit office.
One day in December 2018, Liu was on the website of the Beijing Justice Bureau again browsing replies by the leaders to the mail in their inboxes, and unexpectedly found a response to his letter to the bureau chief. Using the password he set when sending the letter, he quickly opened it and found the following:
“Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan is urged to follow proper procedure according to the law in completing his transfer process.”
Faced with this sort of non-answer, Liu didn’t know whether to react with laughter or tears.
His letter to the Beijing mayor got a response in February saying that “given the content of your complaint, it will be handed over to the responsible party, the Justice Bureau, to be dealt with.” Liu tweeted bitterly: “[This is] petitioning with Chinese characteristics: my letters of complaint come full circle, back to the hands of the accused.”
Already in late November last year, Liu expressed doubt as to whether he would be able to transfer, thus continue his career as a lawyer. Indeed, in the course of the past year, he has seen how many of his fellow human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked: In January 2018 it was Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and Yu Wensheng (余文生); Zhou Shifeng (周世锋) in February; Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) and Li Heping (李和平) in April; Huang Simin (黄思敏), Wen Donghai (文东海), and Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), and Qin Yongpei (覃永沛) in May; Cheng Hai (程海) in August; Chen Keyun (陈科云) in October; and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) that December. Lawyer Zhang Kai (张凯) faces the same problem with his transfer.
Lawyers arrested during the 709 Crackdown were subjected to secret detention and brutal torture. Aside from Zhou Shifeng, Fengrui lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) was sentenced to four and a half years in prison after being held for three and a half years without trial.
On the eve of China’s annual National People’s Congress that began on March 5, Liu Xiaoyuan launched a countdown on Twitter: 67 days until May 9, the day when he will lose his license if the stonewalling continues. He tweeted the phone number of the Beijing Justice Bureau’s supervisory office: 010-55578662. He knew that the bureau must have put him on a no-call list, but others could call and ask why lawyers like him, Zhou Lixin, Wang Yu, or Zhang Kai were being treated so maliciously and prevented from practicing. Liu asked the media to pay attention to the situation they faced.
As the National People’s Congress convened, many human rights lawyers, dissidents, activists, and liberal scholars were given warnings, placed under house arrest, or even made to take “vacations” away from Beijing. Liu Xiaoyuan said jokingly that every day, he expected a call to appear in the Beijing Justice Bureau. But no such a call came. Instead, one day, his wife, a surgeon, was summoned to the local public security bureau, where she was asked to persuade Liu Xiaoyuan not to spread “negative energy” online. Because of this disturbance, she had to postpone the surgeries of several patients. When she got home, she was very angry and the couple had a fight. Liu Xiaoyuan was incensed: “I am doing chores and cooking at home every day. They don’t come for me, but harass my wife.”
On March 18, Liu Xiaoyuan dialed the mobile number of Gao Zicheng (高子程), president of the BLA. Gao said that he was aware of the situation, and that he had already told the Secretariat four times and would continue to ask about the matter. The reader may wonder: how is it that the president of the lawyers association asks his subordinates repeatedly to solve this matter, and still with nothing to show for it?
This is the lawyers association with Chinese characteristics, not the bar association that you know. Lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田), disbarred in 2010, explains it: After the Cultural Revolution, the lawyer system was restored with lawyers being state officials. Beginning in the early 1990s, the profession of lawyer was gradually separated from the state system, and became private, yet remained under the supervision of the Justice Bureau and the Lawyers Association. For years, the president of the Lawyers Association had been held concurrently by the head of the Justice Bureau. It was the same throughout the hierarchy of the Justice Bureaus. By the early 2000s, though lawyers began to serves as presidents, vice presidents, and supervisors of many lawyers associations, the secretariat held real authority, and the staff of the Secretariat were appointed by the the Justice Bureau. These personnel, especially the secretary-general, are actually cadres of the Justice Bureau. Some lawyer associations also have such a position as Party secretary. In these cases, the position was held concurrently by a deputy director in the Justice Bureau office that supervises lawyers. Therefore, actual control over the Lawyers Association lies with the secretariat — that is to say, the Justice Bureau.
This is why, though BLA chief Gao Zicheng is aware of Liu Xiaoyuan’s situation, he can do nothing to help even if he answers his phone calls. The current BLA secretary-general, Xiao Lizhu, has been in this position for at least ten years and has a long record of suppressing human rights lawyers.
“A lawyer’s right to practice is a human rights, and obstructing my ability to transfer to a new firm and continue practicing is a violation of my basic human rights,” wrote Liu Xiaoyuan on Twitter over and over again. Who says it is not? But this is a normal, rational and modern concept, and the Chinese regime operates neither normally nor rationally; it is still a barbaric rogue state in terms of human rights and the rule of law, the world’s second largest economy though it may be.
There are few persons more aware of this painful truth than a Chinese human rights lawyer.
As of March 31, there are 40 days until Liu reaches the May 9 deadline to transfer to a new firm. He said he has written (unclear whether it’s filed) a complaint with the Beijing Municipal Political and Legal Affairs Commission, in which he accused the Beijing Justice Bureau of abusing its power.
Hope may or may not be on the horizon, but this short-statured lawyer isn’t about to give up just yet.
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January 25, 2017
Lawyer Li Heping (李和平) is one of China’s earliest human rights lawyers and no stranger to torture. In an interview with the artist Ai Weiwei in 2010, he recounted how he was abducted one day in 2007 by Chinese domestic security police, beaten savagely, and thrown onto a hill outside Beijing in the middle of the night. In recent years he ran an anti-torture education program in Beijing, which was likely the reason for his arrest, along with scores of other lawyers, in July 2015, in what is now known as the “709 Incident.” Last week, lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) published his interviews with lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) detailed horrific torture the latter was subjected to during a period of “residential surveillance at a designated place” and at the detention center, yesterday the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Concern Group said that it learned from sources that Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) were tortured by being shocked with electricity. Both have been in custody for over 500 days without access to family or their lawyers. We asked a colleague of lawyer Li Heping to tell us more about the anti-torture work Li engaged in, which has now likely brought torture upon Li himself. The author of the article wishes to remain anonymous. — The Editors
China, among all countries, has one of the longest histories of the use of torture. In contemporary China, torture is most often understood as merely a part of the interrogation process in criminal cases. This is directly related to the fact that the concept of “torture” as defined in the international criminal context has no clear domestic legal definition in China. In fact, the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which China ratified in 1986, defines torture broadly: it includes the application of physical or psychological torture by public officials for the purpose of gaining information or confessions, and it also includes torture for the purpose of threatening, menacing, or discriminating against victims. All these forms of torture can have severely negative impacts on the body and minds of victims. So in China, many people — including lawyers who are steeped in the law — have a limited understanding of torture.
In recent years it has become known to the public that torture has been employed in many criminal cases to procure confessions. Public reports of exonerations — including in the Hugjiltu case in Inner Mongolia, the Nie Shubin case in Hebei, the Yang Ming case in Guizhou — show that in every single case of this kind, torture was used. Clearly, the use of torture is one of the key reasons for these false convictions and grave injustices. If torture is reduced, then the number of unjust and false convictions is also likely to decrease commensurately.
As a way of helping more lawyers better understand torture and equip them with more information about torture, Li Heping and a number of criminal defense lawyers took a leading role in promoting the idea of “Prohibition of Torture” (禁止酷刑). From around 2009, Li and a few other Beijing-based lawyers, began to work with the UK-based NGO The Rights Practice, advocating and promoting inside China the idea of prohibiting torture. This work included organizing small-scale legal salons, large-scale law symposiums, drafting anti-torture handbooks, raising the profile of specific cases of torture, and more.
We began at a fundamental level, discussing the definition of torture in small group setting, then the key articles of The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We compared the clauses in the convention to China’s own laws, and in doing so, discovered the problems with Chinese law, and proposed means and strategies for dealing with them.
Through a few years of work, many lawyers who attended these discussions gained a much deeper understanding on the prohibition of torture. The lawyers were able to provide numerous ideas for judicial reforms that would prohibit torture, including changes to the detention center system, the right for lawyers to be present at interrogations of their client, exclusion of illegally-obtained evidence, audio-visual recording of suspect interrogations, and many other institutional safeguards and reforms. Some of these suggestions for reform have already been implemented, while others — like the right for lawyers to be present at interrogation, or the exclusion of illegally-obtained evidence — still require a lot of work at the procedural and practical levels.
Lawyers need to pay constant attention to these issues and continue to promote them. What is gratifying, however, is that many individual cases of convictions obtained via torture in custody ultimately resulted in a commutations or amended, non-guilty judgements, after lawyers began advocating around them.
Of course, the project has not been entirely smooth going. Li Heping and other main participants were subject to long-term pressure from the authorities, and the police regularly called them in for “drinking tea,” threatening and intimidating them. Sometimes the police would warn the lawyers off attending a particular event, or prohibit them from meeting a visiting foreign dignitary, among other demands.
In early 2011, a number of lawyers were among scores of activists who had been forcibly disappeared across the country, and when they were released a few months later, they exposed how they were tortured during their disappearance.
In July 2015, a nationwide campaign targeted human rights lawyers, and Li Heping was among those taken into custody. To this day he still has not been tried. According to publicly available information, a number of lawyers, after being arrested, were put under residential surveillance at a designated location (指定居所监视居住), during which time they were subjected to extremely severe torture. The Hunan lawyer Xie Yang, for instance, was beaten by police and put through exhausting interrogations and sleep deprivation. Li Heping’s younger brother, Li Chunfu (李春富), was detained for 530 days, during which time he suffered severe psychological damage. These cases make clear that torture remains an extremely serious problem. Everyone needs to pay attention to the issue, including, of course, the international community.“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We believe that while advocacy for the prohibition of torture will remain full of risks, more and more lawyers will stand up and say “no” to torture. Through the efforts of lawyers, torture in China will occur less and less, and those who have carried out the torture will receive the punishment they’re due.
Punches, Kicks and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China, New York Times, January 20, 2017.
Document of Torture: One Chinese Lawyer’s Story From Jail, WSJ China Real Time, January 20, 2017.
A broken lawyer and a hawkish judge cast deep pall over China’s legal system, Washington Post, January 21, 2017.
Beijing Breaks Lawyers, Wall Street Journal editorial, January 22, 2017.
‘Your only right is to obey’: lawyer describes torture in China’s secret jails, the Guardian, January 23, 2017.
In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham, Washington Post editorial, January 27, 2017.
Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016
This is a translation of an Ai Weiwei interview of lawyer Li Heping (李和平) in July 2010 (here, here, here, and here) that was released only recently. Beginning from his first involvement in “sensitive” cases around 2002, Li Heping went through the trajectory of his years as one of China’s earliest rights lawyers, including police brutality against him in 2007. Over the past decade or so, many early rights lawyers have withdrawn from the scene under duress, but Li Heping is one of the few who have persevered. He was arrested in July, 2015, as one of dozens of rights lawyers in what is known as the “709 Crackdown” of human rights lawyers and activists. After a year of secret detention with no access to legal counsel or to family, his case has recently been sent to prosecutors for indictment, but earlier this month, Chinese state media seemed to have already charged him with “using funds from a certain overseas NGO to engage in subversion of state power.” If the spectacle of the four show trials in early August is any indication, the entire 709 crackdown is spurred by unfounded fears and is a mockery of the rule of law. – The Editors
My name is Li Heping (李和平), and I love being a lawyer. I’ve served as counsel in many cases that have met with success, and that feeling of accomplishment makes me really happy.
Starting in 2002 I started getting involved in cases that were deemed sensitive — for example, cases involving Article 105 of the Criminal Law, “subversion of state power.” The first case I took at that time was the “New Youth Study Group” (新青年学会) where the Procuratorate had charged Yang Zili (杨子立) and three others of “subverting state power.” The first time I defended them was when I came to understand issues associated with politics and prisoners of conscience, and I was really shocked. At first, I was really at a loss as to how to defend them. Back then I didn’t know much about politics, democracy, republicanism, constitutionalism — I only knew how to mount a defense from the perspective of criminal law and the criminal process. But I later found that this sort of criminal procedure defense is simply useless.
When the young migrant worker, new college graduate Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) was beaten to death in police custody in 2003, we also paid close attention. Back then Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Teng Biao (滕彪), and Yu Jiang (俞江), the three PhDs in Law from Peking University, wrote a citizen petition demanding that the National People’s Congress abolish the draconian “Custody and Repatriation Regulations” (《收容审查条例》). And later, Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao, who had just assumed office, did abolish these regulations. We were really happy. In 2004 and 2005 it seemed that the internet was so dynamic and active, lots of people and cases would be exploding online, and we’d always be following them. Although, at the time the number of cases I actually participated in was quite few. I heard that there was a Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) who’d written three open letters about Falun Gong cases. He’d written a letter to Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), head of the NPC, demanding that the NPC examine Article 300 of the Criminal Law, about “using a heretical religious organization to undermine the implementation of the law.” He also demanded that they stop this sort of campaign-style persecution against Falun Gong. The impact of these three letters was huge. In 2004 there was also the lawyer Guo Guoting (郭国汀), who was punished by the judicial organs for representing sensitive cases — they threatened him with shutting down his legal practice. I was rather baffled: He’s a lawyer defending a client, and you’re going to shut down his firm? I really didn’t get it back then.
The Yang Zili Case and the Northern Shaanxi Oilfield Case
In 2005 when Yang Zili appealed, his wife Lu Kun (路坤) also asked Gao Zhisheng for help, who then notified me. That’s how I came to know Gao Zhisheng, and we got involved in Yang Zili’s appeal together. While that was underway, I also came across the Northern Shaanxi Oilfield case (陕北油田案), which is where the Shaanxi provincial government attempted to nationalize privately-run oil wells, and the owners of those wells didn’t agree. There was a lawyer, Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), who went and offered legal services to those well owners and was arrested by the local government. At that point myself and Gao Zhisheng, as well as some other lawyers who also got involved, went to represent Zhu Jiuhu. We had all the paperwork in order to visit Zhu, but were denied visitation by the local officials. A lot of interesting things happened — for example right outside the door of the police station, the armed police came and surrounded us. But thankfully six months later they released Zhu.
The ‘Dongyang, Huashui’ Case
Afterwards there were a series of similar cases — for instance, the incident in Huashui township, Dongyang city, Zhejiang (浙江东阳画水). On April 4, 2005, in Huashui the authorities mobilized over 3,000 police in order to expel villagers who had come to petition in defense of their rights. The villagers let off firecrackers, and before long about 30,000 more villagers materialized, completely surrounding the police. The police then began firing canisters of tear gas, but the wind was blowing it right back at them. In the end they simply fled under the blows of the citizens. A lot of police were injured, including a deputy mayor who was seriously hurt. The police later arrested and sentenced nine people, and we defended them.
The Chen Guangcheng Case
AI WEIWEI: Was it you who took on the Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) case?
LI HEPING: At the beginning it was me who represented him.
Let me explain how the Chen Guangcheng case happened. Linyi Township in Shandong Province (山东临沂) is a well-known “old revolutionary base” of the Communist Party, and they were extremely horrible in carrying out the birth control policies. For example if there was one person in a village who had already given birth, hadn’t been sterilized, and got pregnant again with the second child, then the authorities would take away not just the family of the woman’s husband who didn’t submit to sterilization, but even arrest everyone in the entire village — collective punishment (连坐). Only after the woman was handed over would they let everyone else go. And when they arrested villagers, it was not a simple detention — there were beatings, and they also fined them 100 yuan ($15) a day. For peasants, 100 yuan a day is no mean sum. They also beat several people to death.
At this point Chen Guangcheng, a blind man, thought that this was wrong. He looked for a lawyer, and right away found me, and I asked Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Li Chunfu (李春富) and a few other lawyers to go and investigate. The investigation found that the problem was indeed extremely severe. Later, Teng Biao and some other people also went, and also there was Guo Yushan (郭玉闪). Everyone wrote articles about it, and then foreign journalists also went, turning it into a big deal. The local government thought that they were just losing too much face, so they shut Chen Guangcheng up in his home, surrounded him with a large number of guards, and made sure he was under watch.
But Chen Guangcheng was really an amazing person. Despite his blindness, he scaled the wall in his courtyard, made his way to Shanghai by himself, and then came to Beijing. In Beijing he hid out in our home for quite a while. The Shandong authorities came to Beijing looking for him, and they figured that he’d have come to Beijing to stay with one of us. They found him hiding out in our compound, and abducted him back to Shandong.
After he was taken back they put him under even stronger guard, and Chen Guangcheng could no longer escape. At one point a lot of friends traveled to see him, and he wanted to go outside. On that occasion, I don’t know exactly what happened, but the police let him leave the house. Right outside was an intercity highway, and when he got to road the police blocked it off. Cars kept coming, and the road was blocked. So the police charged Chen Guangcheng with obstructing traffic and destroying public property. The latter charge was because they said that someone had smashed a police car. So we lawyers also defended that case at the time.
A lot of lawyers have been beaten in an attempt to visit Chen Guangcheng. We were the first batch, and later there was Li Jingsong (李劲松), Li Fangping (李方平), also Zhang Lihui (张立辉) — a group would go and be beaten and repelled before another batch going again. A lot of lawyers went. At that time the Ministry of Justice started exerting pressure on us, saying that if you still try to represent Chen’s case, you might not pass your annual lawyers’ qualification review. I thought that since there were new people getting involved, I’d just recuse myself from the case.
Later Li Jingsong, Li Fangping, Zhang Lihui, and Xu Zhiyong took on the case. The whole case was really interesting — Shandong police ended up complaining about us to authorities in Beijing. In the end when this case went to court, I didn’t go.
The “Three Grades of Servants” Case
There was a similar kind of case up in northeastern China, the “Three Grades of Servants” case. The Ministry of Public Security made this a “top priority” case for 2004, what’s known as a “thunderbolt case.” The police said this house church was a cult and grabbed more than 300 people. Eventually, they convicted 64 people, 22 of them sentenced to death and 10 executed. So it was a really big case. But at the time, the authorities placed extremely tight restrictions on any information about the case. They’d make sure to grab anyone who dared contact a lawyer. No information could get out.
I remember my first interaction with the case was February 9, 2006. They told me the trial would start in just over 20 days and asked me if I could be a defense lawyer. As soon as they found me, I went and found four other lawyers and we headed to the Northeast. When we got to the court, they refused to give us access to the case files. So we sent two formal letters to the court saying that if they weren’t going to let us read the case files we wouldn’t act as defense lawyers. There was nothing else to do. Then they said okay and let us selectively photocopy parts of the files. Before we got involved, no other lawyer had been able to photocopy documents from the files in that case.
We worked on the “Three Grades of Servants” case for all of 2006, representing the top two defendants in the case, Xu Shengguang (徐圣光) and Li Maoxing (李毛兴). Both of them were executed. We all felt that this was a miscarriage of justice and that there was no basis to sentence them to death. We worked the case, but we had huge doubts about so many issues.
AI WEIWEI: Where did this case take place?
LI HEPING: This was a case with national scope. Including Heilongjiang there were probably eight provincial high courts involved, all handing down verdicts. It was quite a big deal!
AI WEIWEI: Why?
LI HEPING: The authorities considered them to be an underground church, very well organized, and the government was scared. On top of that, there were conflicts between this church and the “Eastern Lightning” church, which was always trying to recruit and even kidnap their followers. Occasionally, members of “Eastern Lightning” would infiltrate their church and “Three Grades” people would detain them. One of these detentions led to a person dying, but there’s no proof that church leaders Li Maoxing or Xu Shengguang were responsible for that. There was no evidence, not a shred. But they put bullets in their heads anyway.
AI WEIWEI: So they used this incident to wipe out this church.
LI HEPING: That’s right. And they said that all the funds church members had contributed to the church had been obtained through fraud and confiscated more than 30 million yuan. That itself was also a pretty big deal.
2007 Kidnapping and Beating
In 2006 Gao Zhisheng’s law firm was given a one-year suspension. I was an attorney at that firm at the time and took part in his hearing. That probably upset folks from the judicial administration bureau and the guobao (domestic security police). I wanted to act as Gao’s defense lawyer in 2007, but the police had started following me in 2006 so that whenever I returned to Beijing there would be police at my door. Wherever I went, I’d be surrounded on all sides by eight policemen who never left my side.
I was living in the Lido Employees Apartments on Jiangtai Road in Chaoyang District. When I went to work, they’d sit across from the office and keep watch. It was quite a deployment! They never said anything, only “We just do what the higher-ups tell us to do,” that kind of thing. When they arrested Gao Zhisheng, they were afraid that there’d be a chain reaction so they started following all of Gao’s friends around like that.
It was September 29, 2007, just before the National Day holiday. Just like they now do whenever a “sensitive period” comes around, all of the guobao started taking their posts outside our homes and putting us under 24-hour surveillance. One guobao, two police officers from the local station, and two security guards—five men in all.
AI WEIWEI: Did you know any of their names?
LI HEPING: Sure, I knew their names. That night there was Liang Jiu, a guobao from the Chaoyang Precinct. The two officers from the local station were new, and I didn’t know them. One of the security guards was named Zhang Qing. I don’t recall the other guard’s name.
Ordinarily, the cops from the local station would change shifts around 8 p.m. To make things easier for them, they would change shifts after I got off work. But on that particular day, Liang Jiu sent the local cops away a little after 3 p.m., leaving only himself. I guess they must have sent Liang some sort of notice.
When I got off work, Liang Jiu said I didn’t need to drive and that I should ride with him. At the time, I thought I got along reasonably well with Liang so I got in his car. Outside my office building there was a newsstand. Liang told me to go over there and wait for him to pull up. Then he left and never came back.
Suddenly, another guy ran up to me. He was over six feet tall and had a scar on his face. He grabbed my right hand and asked: “Are you Li Heping?”
I said: “Yes.”
“Come with me. You’re just the scumbag I’m looking for.”
After he grabbed me, he tried to push me out in front of him but I refused to move. So up comes another guy and grabs my other hand, and soon I had what I guess was a cloth hood placed over my head. Then they forced me into a waiting car that I happened to glimpse had no license plates.
They sat on either side of me, and I sensed that there was another guy in the passenger seat up front. When they grabbed me, they searched through my pockets and took away my briefcase and computer. There were probably two cars. I feel like we probably drove for an hour. They had my hands pinned behind my back and forced my head down almost to my crotch so it was difficult to breathe.
It was the evening rush hour. I couldn’t figure out where they were taking me, but I sensed that we were on the highway and went through a toll station. Later, I sensed that we had gone up into the hills or something like that, probably to a site of theirs. They had to sign in at the gate, so we stopped for a bit before entering. After entering, I felt like we were going underground, perhaps to a basement. Inside the basement, I remember there were between 6 and 10 men, who all started taking turns beating me.
AI WEIWEI: What did they say to you in the car? How did you get out of the car? How did you get into the basement? Did they remove the hood?
LI HEPING: They never said anything in the car, only: “Behave yourself. Move and we’ll beat you to death.” They raised my hands up very high, putting pressure on the blood vessels inside. My legs went completely numb. They removed the hood only after I got in the basement. What color it was, I never really noticed.
AI WEIWEI: What kind of room was it?
LI HEPING: It was like a room in a guesthouse, but without a bed. The floor was tiled, and there was a table with a tablecloth and a leather baton and an electric prod. They took turns beating me—first three would take a turn and then the next three. It was like that.
AI WEIWEI: What do you mean by “took turns”? How did they beat you? Were you sitting or standing? What was it like?
LI HEPING: When I got there, they tried to strip off all my clothes, but I wouldn’t let them. Several of them got together to strip off my clothes, leaving me in my underwear. Then they took the electric prod and “ZAP”—they started giving me shocks! The day after I got out, Li Fangping saw a bunch of marks from where they’d zapped me.
AI WEIWEI: How many times? What did it feel like?
LI HEPING: They zapped me many times. For six hours, they mostly hit me with the electric prod. They also hit me in the head with full water bottles and slapped me. One slap to my left ear pierced my eardrum. They also kicked me and stomped on me. I collapsed on the floor and they were surrounding me, kicking and stomping.
AI WEIWEI: You collapsed?
LI HEPING: Yes, I fell to the floor. I was rolling around and they chased after me to beat me some more. They were even laughing, they seemed perversely happy.
AI WEIWEI: Could you tell what sort of people they were?
LI HEPING: They were pros at this sort of thing. They said they were from state security, but I think they were probably guobao.
AI WEIWEI: Why would they say they were state security?
LI HEPING: I have no idea.
AI WEIWEI: Were there any other conversations?
LI HEPING: Yeah. The first thing they did was interrogating me: “What’s your name? Where are you from?” I said they knew who I was already and I wasn’t going to answer. They grabbed me by the head and said: “Are you going to talk or not?” Then—“POW”—they started slapping me.
They said: “You’re in our hands now, so don’t even think about when you’re going to get out. You are lucky if you ever see a courtroom, but there’s no way we’re sending you to prison. We’ll just say you’ve disapppeared without a trace.” That sort of thing.
AI WEIWEI: You said that they kept taking turns beating you in groups of three. How did you keep track of time?
LI HEPING: I know that it was around one in the morning when they let me go.
AI WEIWEI: You were beaten non-stop up to that point?
LI HEPING: Yeah. I’d gotten off work at 5 p.m. Once I got there, they beat me and kicked me without a break.
AI WEIWEI: When they were beating you like that, was there any point when you couldn’t stand it or you fainted? I mean, what did it feel like?
LI HEPING: Let me put it this way. Of course it hurt a lot, and it was humiliating. But I also thought: “You’re already in their hands, and there’s nowhere to run. So there’s no use in being afraid.” That’s all I was thinking at the time. “Even if they beat you to death, what can you do about it? Nothing.” That was what I was thinking, because I figured there was nothing I could do, right? When you’re getting beat up in a place like that, it doesn’t matter what sort of skills you might have—what can you do? You can only put yourself at their mercy.”
AI WEIWEI: Did you ever think to yourself: “I’m a lawyer. I ought to give them a piece of my mind for the way they’re violating the law”?
LI HEPING: Are they interested in talking with you about law at that moment? They’re already acting like the mafia. If you’re going to talk about the law it ought to be in an open setting, where everyone acts according to the law and the facts. Of course that would be great, but at that moment that’s not the way things were going.
I did say to them at the time: “I’ve got no beef with you, so why are you doing this to me?”
They said to me: “It’s you bunch of outsider lawyers that’s giving us no peace in Beijing! Go back and sell your apartment, sell your firm, and get the hell out of Beijing! We say whether you can practice law, and there’s no way you’re going to practice law without our say-so!”
Afterwards, they took away my lawyer’s license and my passport. They also took my portable hard drive and my laptop hard drive. When I got home, I couldn’t turn on my laptop. I thought maybe they’d reformatted my laptop. When I went to the computer mall to get it fixed, the guy said: “Is this your computer? How come it doesn’t have a hard drive?” It’s like they’re trying to burrow into your head to check out what you’re thinking, they’re so afraid.
AI WEIWEI: What could they find out by looking inside your head?
LI HEPING: They couldn’t find out anything. What can a single lawyer do? It’s just that they took my case files and destroyed the fruit of 10 years of work.
AI WEIWEI: I wonder what was going through your mind as they were beating you. When they beat you over and over, did you ever feel despondent? What was going through your mind? Or was there nothing to think in that moment?
LI HEPING: I really wasn’t thinking anything at the time. I recall telling them that I wasn’t going to hate them, no matter what they did to me. “It’s okay,” I said. “After I get out, the next time I see you I’ll treat you to a meal.” Those guys just laughed and said: “You’ll treat us? A pauper like you?!” That’s because at the time I truly had very little cash on me, so they called me a “pauper.”
AI WEIWEI: Were you poor?
LI HEPING: I can’t say one way or the other. In any case, once I began taking on public interest cases my income dropped dramatically. I had to spend my own money in case after case. If you’re going to put your heart and soul into public-interest lawyering in China, it’s pretty much a dead-end road as far as profit is concerned. If you don’t take on a few commercial cases to make up the difference, then you’re definitely done for. I’m a little better off, because I handle a lot of commercial cases and can use that money to fill the gaps. Overall, I’m doing all right. I may not have had a lot of cash in my pocket, but I had money on my bank card.
AI WEIWEI: How did they finally let you go? Did they get tired of beating you?
LI HEPING: I don’t know. In any case, one of them was in charge, a guy in his forties who was wearing a suit. He was the one giving out the orders. When he said “move,” they moved. When he said “stop,” they stopped. When he told someone to beat me, they beat me.
AI WEIWEI: What kind of a person was he?
LI HEPING: He looked like a nice, gentle sort of guy. He wore a linen suit. I don’t remember whether or not he wore glasses. When they had beaten me to a certain point, he said: “Let’s take him out.” I had no idea where they were taking me, but they put the hood over my head again and bundled me into the car. We drove quite a ways. I thought they were taking me to a new location. Then the car stopped somewhere and they told me to get out. Back at the basement, they’d said: “Let’s go. We’re going to search your place.” At the time, I thought: “Even if you kill my entire family, there’s nothing I can do about it, right? What options do you have living in this kind of society? They will do whatever they will do to you.”
Getting out of the car, they said: “Just wait and see what we’ll do to you if you go back and hold a press conference.” They meant that they didn’t want me to reveal that I’d been beaten and wanted me to keep it a secret. They dropped me off in a wooded area—I don’t know where, but it was still quite far from the city. I thought: “I have no clue where I am, so I guess I’ll just walk in the direction of wherever I see the most light.” I saw lights way off in the distance, in the Beijing suburbs. So, I started walking towards the lights of Beijing.
I walked for a few kilometers before I got to a road, where I saw a sign that read “Xiaotangshan” (小汤山). I found a taxi there and took it back to my home. I remember that the fare was more than 80 yuan, something like 89 yuan. I had just enough in my pockets to cover it.
AI WEIWEI: What time did you get home?
LI HEPING: Probably between 1 and 2 in the morning. My wife was already asleep when I got home, and I didn’t wake her.
I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. I’d lost a lot of hair. I’d been zapped here [points to neck], my face was swollen, and I had marks all over my body from the electric baton. But I didn’t say anything to my wife. The next day, I told Jiang Tianyong and Li Fangping, and they came over to see me.
On September 30, I wrote everything down. I was really nervous when I published my account of what happened. I remember it was October 1 when it got posted online. That day, Jiang Tianyong and several other lawyers accompanied me to the “Ladies Street” Police Station (女人街派出所) next to my office to file a report. When we filed the report, the police officer said: “Eh, you mean this kind of thing can happen in Beijing? Such a vicious and serious case ought to be fully investigated.” But nothing ever came of it.
Another thing happened when we were at the police station. Jiang Tianyong called Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵) to tell him what had happened to me. As they were talking, there was a click, and the call was routed somewhere else. Li Xiongbing couldn’t hear anything and Jiang Tianyong could hear someone on the other end laughing and saying that Li Heping got what he deserved. Our mobiles, email, and telephones are all being monitored.
AI WEIWEI: How do you know for sure?
LI HEPING: There’s noise on the mobiles, you can hear it clearly. There are times when we’re unable to send text messages, especially when we’re working on big cases. Sometimes we can’t make calls, our phones are specifically targeted. Then, when the moment has past, they unfreeze the phones.
There are even stranger things. Back when Li Jinsong (李劲松) and Cheng Hai (程海) were in Shandong working on Chen Guangcheng’s case, the police detained Li Jinsong. A few of us lawyers back in Beijing were discussing how we should respond, and the discussion got pretty heated. Suddenly, I got a text message from my wife. It was probably 2006, but the message was one that my wife had sent me in 2004 or 2005—the same exact text! It read: “Dear, you’re always working on these public interest cases! Not only do they pay less, but they bring danger to our family and there are threats to your physical safety. What’s a wife supposed to do? If you won’t think of yourself, think of your wife and child! If something were to happen to you, what will become of the two of us?” My wife rarely uses that tone of voice with me, so I remember this text very clearly. But one year later, the people that monitor us sent it out again with the exact same timestamp. It’s really incredible!
[Ai Weiwei asking about more examples of kidnapping and brutality and Li Heping’s answer are abbreviated.]
Only Institutional Protections Can Prevent Torture
Under the current Chinese system, no citizen can fight back once he falls into their hands. If you resist, you become a target for torture. They have cameras at the Pingfang Police Station in Beijing, but they decide whether or not to save the footage or make it public. The way to prevent use of torture to coerce confessions is the right to have a lawyer present during questioning and the right to remain silent.
Without the right to remain silent, no one can hold out. Take Guo Feixiong, for example. He’s a real tough guy, but faced with electric shocks to his genitals he had no choice but to confess. Gao Zhisheng is another really tough guy, but was forced under torture to write a statement of regret. Then there’s Li Zhuang, a guy with a military background. When he was thrown into that Chongqing jail, he had no choice but to admit to crimes. What can you do? Humans are made of flesh and blood. When you’re being tortured, you don’t want to go on living. There’s no protection for human rights under this system.
After I went public about being beaten, that sort of thing happened much less frequently. For instance, when they kidnapped Teng Biao for three days, they didn’t harm him physically—they just held him for three days. Torture certainly needs to be made public, because publicity is a deterrent. If no one ever went public about what happened to them, then who knows how arrogant with power the authorities would become. So, I think that the film you’re making here is very important.
AI WEIWEI: When we heard what happened, we were very angry and felt it was all so hard to believe. What we can do is give a clear and factual account. Once it’s made public, then it becomes part of history. There’s no other way.
LI HEPING: In some religious cases in the Northeast, they soak you to the bone and then throw you in a freezing cell in the middle of winter. Torture is everywhere in China.
AI WEIWEI: You’re a lawyer working on behalf of justice who has experienced this kind of thing yourself. You still have some compassion and a capacity to act, and you’re willing to do this kind of work as a lawyer. But do you ever feel desperation or fear?
LI HEPING: Speaking of fear, one of the guys who beat me put it very clearly: “I’m going to give you nightmares.” They want to make it impossible for me to sleep, to have nightmares when I think of them. That’s their goal. But fortunately, I’m the kind of person who thinks that you have to sleep, even in hell.
It’s not so easy for them to give me nightmares. But it’s caused much more harm as far as my family is concerned. I can bear it, but how about my family or my wife? They’re under considerable pressure. When I would turn my phone off, my wife would go crazy with worry if she wasn’t able to reach me, searching all over thinking that I’d been taken away by the police. My friends are like this, too, worrying that if they can’t reach me by phone I must’ve been taken away by the guobao. They get really worried!
AI WEIWEI: How many times have you been detained, in all?
LI HEPING: The first time was the time I was beaten up. Later there were a number of temporary “conflicts.” For example, the Pingfang Police Station called me in to give a statement. It lasted four or five hours. They wanted me to stick around, but I refused. So there was trouble. “You have to remain here!” They grabbed my arm and made me stay. Then they put a chair in front of me and said, “Sit there!” I refused to sit. But all of them insist that I sit, so what could I do? Are you going to fight them? For this kind of official business, why do I have to sit there? But if you don’t sit, those guys will lift you up and carry you over there and your arms will get hurt.
So, individual protest isn’t enough: without institutional protections, there’s no way that China will prevent torture.
AI WEIWEI: Why does the system allow them to act this way? What are they trying to achieve? The regime is supposed to be a public good, but they control all of the resources. What are they trying to do?
LI HEPING: These days, many police will say: “We just follow orders. We do what our superiors tell us to do. We’re just trying to put food on our tables.” The time I was beaten up, the leader of the police said something really funny: “Now that you’re in my hands, you just watch how I’m going to torment you and fix you! When you guys take charge in the future, however you want to take your revenge is up to you!”
I said: “What are you talking about, ‘take charge’? Aren’t I just a lawyer?” They have no confidence in their own system, that’s the truth.
[Discussion about how to fight back police’s denial of brutality is abbreviated.]
Citizens’ On-the-Scene Support and Social Media
AI WEIWEI: Is it useful for citizen activists to gather at the scene to voice their support?
LI HEPING: Of course, it’s extremely important. When someone does something wrong, he worries that others will remember. Don’t you see how police hide their badges and serial numbers when they’re doing bad things? They’re afraid.
AI WEIWEI: What do you think of the public discussion taking place on blogs and Twitter? What impact will that have on China?
LI HEPING: I think that instant communication tools like Twitter and Skype are extremely important for China, because China completely lacks any civil society. It’s like a plate of loose sand, without any platforms for formation of any general will. In a certain sense, Twitter helps citizens create a kind of public opinion by gathering and expressing people’s views. When it reaches a certain point, it can lead to action. I think that in the future these will truly change our society.
Only when citizens are able to make contact with and trust one another can they work together to build their own country. Moreover, consensus is ultimately achieved through people’s exchange of ideas, through agreement and compromise with each other. This needs time. Twitter and other Internet tools provide citizens with a convenient platform for communication. But you know what the limitation is? At present, only some elites are on Twitter, but many elites within the system don’t use it. But I think this is only a matter of time.
[Editors’ Note: This was when Sina Weibo, launch in the fall of 2009, was yet to take off.]
I believe the Internet can break down the iron curtain of China’s totalitarian regime, so still have some confidence in China.
AI WEIWEI: What religion are you?
LI HEPING: I’m a Christian.
AI WEIWEI: Are you devout?
LI HEPING: I’m— . . . My wife is extremely devout. I’d like to be a bit more devout, but I’ve still got a ways to go, still have some doubts. I think it would be a lot easier for me if I were a devout Christian.
AI WEIWEI: When did you start being religious?
LI HEPING: I was baptized in 2003. Religion really helps make humanity stronger, braver, and wiser. It gives you a much greater capacity to withstand pressure. Otherwise, you just have the strength of an individual—it’s not enough.
AI WEIWEI: So, on that day when you were rolling on the ground and they were beating you, did you think of Christianity?
LI HEPING: I really did—and I also prayed. It’s like when Teng Biao was detained—he hadn’t even been baptized yet—he prayed: “Lord, hurry up and rescue me.” It’s different when you’re religious. At the time when they were beating me, I even laughed. I truly laughed, I kid you not.
AI WEIWEI: That must have frightened them, no?
LI HEPING: That I don’t know. I suspect it didn’t frighten them—after all, there were a lot of them. I felt that I hadn’t done anything wrong. They can do what they want, I’m still going to be me. What they did was really foolish, but that foolishness has its origins in the system. They committed heinous sins but don’t have to take any responsibility, because they have the Communist Party to protect them. It’s foolish because it’s the reputation of the party and the government that gets damaged.
AI WEIWEI: I’ve said the same thing, too. If you allow a minority to damage the interests and reputation of the state through their unlawful behavior, there’s no way that ordinary people will continue to have any faith in it. You’re just like the mafia, I said to them.
LI HEPING: Yeah, their actions certainly do call into question the legitimacy of their rule. But these days access to information is blocked and many people know nothing about these kinds of incidents. But if you go online or have access to more channels of information, you’ll soon become aware of these things. Especially petitioning. After trying it a few times, everything will become clear. When they hear stories about houses being demolished, many people still think: “There’s no way the government could be this evil, like a bunch of gangsters!” But when it happens to them, they finally realize the government’s brutality.
China Is a Foxcomm Regime
AI WEIWEI: When it comes to certain fundamental questions of principle, the government acts with a kind of primitive brutality and can’t be reasoned with.
LI HEPING: I feel that they currently lack the ability to make necessary distinctions when it comes to these kinds of things. They lump a bunch of things from different areas together without any distinction. If they were to make clearer distinctions, I think they’d have no need to do things this way.
There are some matters where they ought to loosen up. There are some areas where, even loosening up quite a bit wouldn’t cause any problems. But in other areas where there are fears of social problems, it’s understandable to want a bit of control. But I think that they’re unable perform this kind of analysis.
They take some of the most fundamental issues and give the greatest power to the most idiotic people. Think of citizens’ rights to liberty or property—these are big issues. But they give the police control over people’s personal liberty. Police can detain and lock you up however they please and even send you away for a few years. Where else in the world do you see that? If you’re going to punish someone by taking away their freedom, you at least have to bring them before a court! This is a stupid, stupid way of doing things. [The editors can’t help pointing out how ironic this is!]
There’s another way they do things: they put the courts under the control of the party out of a belief that this helps preserve social stability. They never imagine that allowing courts to rule on cases independently would make society seem a bit fairer and that the courts would be able to resolve conflicts when they arise. But because the Communist Party manipulates the courts, by linking the entire system together you push conflict into other areas until it fills the whole system. I think there’s a problem with their way of thinking on this. . . .
AI WEIWEI: So, you’ve arrived at the subject of judicial independence.
LI HEPING: Judicial independence. Now whenever I see them, I make another suggestion: China should adopt a system of citizen juries and let citizens decide as to whether or not a crime has been committed. When you try to control and take charge of everything yourself, can you really have control?
To put it bluntly, China is currently a Foxcomm regime. China is like Foxcomm—it looks awesome from the outside, but too many restrictions are put on people’s freedoms and it’s like living in a prison. It’s unsustainable.
AI WEIWEI: Are you worried for this country?
LI HEPING: I think for sure that no good will come of continuing on like this.
AI WEIWEI: How old are you?
LI HEPING: Forty.
AI WEIWEI: What year were you born? What’s your birthdate?
LI HEPING: October 26, 1970. We Chinese say, “At 40, I had no more doubts.” Since I turned 40, my doubts have only just begun. Everything that you once thought was correct turns out to be mistaken. Now that I’m 40, I’ve slowly come to realize: “Oh, so many things turn out to be false.” I’m only starting to extract my mind out of the pit that my past education’s dug for me. “Oh, see—it turns out that this is the way the world is!” It’s different. The pit they dug for you is so huge, it takes you 40 years to crawl out. So at 40, I’ve just begun to have doubts [laughs]. Slowly but surely!
AI WEIWEI: You’re a real optimist!
LI HEPING: I guess I’m more-or-less optimistic [chuckles]. There’s no way to do this sort of work if you don’t have this kind of personality. The police are always coming to find you. Since 2005, they’ve been following me now for five years. I’d reckon that for more than a year of that time the police were following me around the clock, come rain or shine. When they follow you like that, what can you do?
AI WEIWEI: It’s such a waste of money!
LI HEPING: Yeah. I calculated it for them once. At first there were eight police watching me—how much do eight police make a day? A hundred yuan a day, per person, so at least 800 yuan. Those eight police use three cars, at 300 yuan per day that’s 900. What about meals? To follow me, they have to spend at least 3000 yuan a day.
AI WEIWEI: That means the state spends more than a million to follow you for a year.
LI HEPING: That’s right! And that doesn’t include the cost of monitoring my phone or my Internet! Then there’s all the secret stuff—who knows how they’re doing this stuff?
I consider myself to be this kind of person: no matter what I do, I do it in accordance with the law. There’s no need for all this stuff! It’s like a guobao from the Beijing Public Security Bureau said to me during the Beijing Olympics: “Lawyer Li, the Olympics is very important to us. Security standards during the Olympics are very high, so you mustn’t go out of bounds!”
I said: “Who’s drawing those boundaries, you or me? Why do you need to draw boundaries for me? What gives you the right? How about you observe the boundaries, too? Don’t bother drawing boundaries for me. You respect the law and I respect the law, then there’ll be no problems. Don’t mess around!”
He replied: “It’s like having sand in your shoes. Just put up with it for a while and it’ll be gone. We have orders from above.”
So what can you do? They do these things without any plan. It’s truly unwise to treat lawyers this way. I’ve spoken to people at the judicial administration bureau about this. I tell them I’d like to be able to communicate with you guys, including the police. I’d like to communicate, because we have so many suggestions about how to solve many of society’s problems. We’re on the front lines. We’re not radicals. We can give you solutions for how to solve these kinds of problems. If you follow our suggestions, the problems will be resolved. Isn’t that great? So why must you send security guards, police officers, guobao to watch us? Are guobao necessarily better at solving these problems than lawyers? In what way are guobao better?
[The interview is interrupted by a woman passerby . . . ]
Passerby: Excuse me, what are you filming here?
AI WEIWEI: This is a private film. I’m interviewing him.
Passerby: What do you mean, “private”?
AI WEIWEI: It’s for my personal use.
Passerby: For personal use? Do you have a permit for this activity?
AI WEIWEI: Personal use. Hey, you must be from Beijing TV.
Passerby: Did you contact anyone before doing this?
AI WEIWEI: No, we’re just individuals. We came here for an interview—it’s like having a chat.
Passerby: But this . . . individuals?
AI WEIWEI: Yeah. Don’t you see people carrying cameras all the time and filming each other? We’re interviewing him. He’s my friend.
By Yaqiu Wang, published: August 2, 2015
During the recent sweeping crackdown on rights lawyers, Chinese authorities placed lawyers Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and Xie Yang (谢阳), as well as activist Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), under “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定居所监视居住), according to official reports. Some observers of China’s human rights practices were relieved upon hearing this. The literal meaning of this coercive measure gives the impression that, compared with formal detention, there must be relatively fewer restrictions on movement under residential surveillance. Gou Guoping’s wife, upon learning that her husband was to be placed under residential surveillance, was, in her own words, “ecstatic.” But after calling the public security bureau to obtain more information, she was told: “The case is under investigation. The whereabouts of the person is a secret.”
There are two kinds of “residential surveillance” in China: enforced at the domicile of the suspect, or enforced at a designated place. Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law (刑事诉讼法) stipulates: “Where, for a crime suspected to endanger State security, a crime involving terrorist activities and a crime involving a significant amount of bribes, residential surveillance at the domicile of the criminal suspect or defendant may impede the investigation, it may…be enforced at a designated place of residence.”
The Criminal Procedure Law further stipulates: “Where a criminal suspect or defendant is placed under residential surveillance at a designated place of residence, his/her family shall be informed of the information related thereto within 24 hours upon enforcement of residential surveillance, unless notification cannot be processed.”
But the reality is that authorities usually refuse to tell the individual’s family or lawyer where they’re being held. As a result, the suspect’s lawyer goes from detention center to detention center, from police station to police station, as well as to the Office of Letters and Calls, in a vain attempt to find out where they are.
As Teng Biao (滕彪), a visiting fellow at US-Asia Law Institute, New York University, points out: “The essence of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is pre-trial custody in a place outside of legally designated places of custody. Because it does not need to be subject to the rules of formal detention centers, in reality ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is often a more severe form of detention. When a detainee is tortured, it is difficult to obtain evidence.” Furthermore, authorities are allowed to detain “suspects” under this law for six months—no other legal process required.
The best known case of “residential surveillance at a designated place” is probably artist Ai Weiwei’s (艾未未) 81-day secret detention in the spring of 2011 in Beijing. At Venice Art Biennale 2013, the artist exhibited a set of six installations called S.A.C.R.E.D. that depicts the scenes of his forced disappearance.
During the pro-democracy protests, or “Jasmine Revolution,” in 2011, the Chinese government placed a large number of political dissidents under “residential surveillance at a designated place,” including rights lawyers Liu Shihui (刘士辉) and Tang Jingling (唐荆陵). Liu recalled: “The agents beat me. I had to get stitches. My ribs were in severe pain. I was deprived of sleep for five days and five nights. To be taken to a detention center actually became my highest hope at that time.” Tang Jingling was deprived of sleep for 10 days. It was not until “his entire body started to shiver, his hands became numb, his heart beat erratically, and his life was in danger” that the police allowed him one to two hours sleep per day.
At around the same time, dissident writer Ye Du (野渡) was placed under residential surveillance in a police training center in Guangzhou for 96 days. He told China Change: “I didn’t see sunlight for a whole month. I was interrogated for 22 hours a day. One hour for food, one hour for sleep. I was interrogated like this for seven consecutive days until I suffered terrible gastrointestinal bleeding. Then they stopped.”
Writing about his 85-days of “residential surveillance” in 2002, He Depu (何德普), a pro-democracy activist who also served eight years in prison for organizing the Chinese Democratic Party, gave this assessment: “I feel that China’s residential surveillance system is one of the cruelest systems of torture there is.”
“Residential surveillance” is also applied to other categories of prisoners. Hua Chunhui (华春辉), a dissident who was once criminally detained, recently tweeted: “A co-inmate of mine who was allegedly involved with a criminal gang was first incarcerated in a re-education-through-labor center, then he was placed under residential surveillance at a designated place. Several months later he was taken back to the detention center. He told me that it wasn’t a place for humans.” At that point Hua understood “the horrors of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place.’”
Yaqiu Wang (王亚秋) researches and writes about civil society and human rights in China.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
By Albertine Ren, published: September 14, 2014
It’s been three months since Pu Zhiqiang’s formal arrest on June 13. An extension of investigation period expired on September 13 without indictment or change of detention status, a blatant disregard for criminal procedure prescribed by the Chinese law. Such is the judicial randomness in China. — The editor
He favors navy suits and towers over everyone else at 6’2”. Farmers fall on their knees when they see him, hoping he can save their land or their child. Certainly, with a Mount Rushmore chin and the looks of leading men from a Communist propaganda film, he could have been custom-ordered from some fortune-teller manual on how to spot successful guys. The effect only falls apart when he smiles, dimpling in a way many consider unbecoming to traditional notions of masculinity.
Pu Zhiqiang is a lawyer in China and at the cutting edge of his fledgling profession. Back in the 1950’s, China did away with lawyers altogether to usher in the proletarian dictatorship. How far this set things back with regard to rule of law becomes clear in startling ways. In 2012, after a mother was sent to a labor camp for seeking the death penalty on some men who raped and prostituted her eleven-year-old daughter, Pu agreed to take her case, despite the powerful customers who favored the labor camp system. For example, the princeling Bo Xilai, fallen rival to President Xi Jinping, used it to his liking when he was mayor of Chongqing from 2007 to 2012. People who posted criticism of government policies and abuses on the Internet were thrown in for-profit gulags to churn out stuffed animals for MacDonald’s. Such cases usually go nowhere, since the courts are rigged and the press gagged.
In an environment where lawyers are expected to be hood ornaments, Pu steered the hairbreadth curves with a combination of luck and cool-headed calculation. He took on landmark cases without being branded a dissident, managing a good distance between himself and the edge of the cliff over which human rights activists teeter. Unlike disbarred or tortured human rights lawyers such as Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), he was left free to practice. High-yield cases of low political sensitivity featuring multimillionaire businessmen tortured for skipping bribes would flock to him. They helped him round out his story when the secret police came knocking, questioning his involvement in other high-profile human rights cases.
“I always tell them it’s to get famous. If I say it’s because I believe in a just legal system, they’d tell me to shove my drivel, they know I’m in it for me. So I always tell them from the get-go I do these cases to get famous,” Pu told a fashion magazine, Trends, in 2012. Or he would play up the profit motive: “I’d tell the pandas (aka the secret police) I’m borderline bankrupt, and I don’t have it in me to let this big fat sweet deal go.” His levity is telling. The hidden reserves, within Chinese society, of idealism and yearning for a more just society go a considerable way to explain his booming business. Precisely because the authorities are vigilant for any untoward sign of altruism, it becomes the surest way to overcome mutual suspicion and dread and bring people together.
Backbone and street creds notwithstanding, Pu often found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. In response to one anonymous cell call of the “Luca Brasi is sleeping with the fishes” variety, Pu sent an airy tweet to his tens of thousands of fans on social media: “You’re welcome to come for a thigh or an arm off of Yours Truly, I am on standby.” Unscrupulous government officials whom it was not always easy to tell apart from the mafia represented another source of worry. In February 2012, for example, finding that the court authorities in a Henan town may be concocting a scheme to accuse him of “tampering with witnesses,” Pu again appealed to social media. Still, everything is relative: next to colleagues beaten up for going to court and, in Gao’s case, given up at times for dead, the dashing and thriving Pu appeared as rare as the endangered species on the choice menu of the Chinese elite.
In 2013, to much public elation, the mother who championed her daughter’s rape and prostitution case won a court judgment of $430 for her pain and distress. Bo Xilai’s disgrace had left a lot of his followers embittered, and the government moved to close down the labor camps, hoping to address public anger and to stoke hope for meaningful reform. A leash-weary media pounced, making Pu a star by covering the other freedom of speech cases he took on for labor camp victims. Never mind that the mission and business model of the labor camps were being quietly handed over to “legal education centers”, “Drug Rehabs” or arbitrary criminal or administrative detention (a law called “Community Correction Law” (《社区矫正法》) has been in the making and probably will be promulgated soon); Pu could accept the laurels with an easy conscience. In all likelihood, he would have gotten famous earlier were it not for the censors.
For one thing, he was Tan Zuoren’s (谭作人) lawyer. The environmentalist and panda advocate had, through a private investigation, concluded that the public schools which collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, killing thousands of school children, were shoddily built. The government prosecuted Tan for revealing state secrets, a bit of an exaggeration in a country where leaders routinely publicly make anti-corruption their priority. Pu put up a good fight. “A lot of the time he reminds you of a lazy cat,” Pu’s friend, legal scholar Xiao Han (萧瀚) writes, “but in court he becomes someone else.” Bristling with witticisms and backing the other side into the glaring holes in their argument which they never bother fixing for the kangaroo court, Pu would mount vigorous appeals to the goodness inherent in human nature. Such speeches are apparently so incendiary that the public is barred from finding out about them, or the defendant and his alleged crime.
Under these circumstances, to stay hopeful is not easy, but Pu makes good sport of it. Xiao again: “…he can’t help this mischievous and therefore boyish look, and sometimes he’d put on a counterfeit cynicism. Sad to say, he never got it right.” Sometimes he likes to brag and pat himself on the shoulder. Some of this may be due to the fact he was the baby of the family with four older siblings. His uncle and aunt, a childless couple, adopted him when he was three months old. Pu wrote, “my wet nurse was a sheep. People were too ignorant about complex chemical processes back then, so no melamine for me; all Mom did was boil the milk and add sugar. I got pretty chunky on it.” (Pu was taking a jab at the food safety scandals.) There is something of the well-loved child in his playful posturing, and much else besides. When he said he writes better than a best-selling author, Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨), for instance, it was a backhanded comment on Yu’s groveling call for blind patriotism equating the Communist Party with China. Seemingly self-indulgent jibes mask trenchant social and political commentary.
He does this best in his writing. He mixes high and low styles with flair, the same way he performs his high-wire acts as an activist. Mindful of censorship, his elliptical humor throws into sharp relief the physical violence he and his colleagues face, where abductions by the secret police become “involuntary vacations”:
I was taken on vacation a few days ago. I got brazen and asked for some due process: “Summon, detention, arrest – take your pick. Just hand me a piece of paper to make it look legal. Forget about taking me to some resort, you can toss me in the clink, feed me dried corn and torture me to force a confession however you like.” They were brazen back and tried throwing me off, “Nah, what d’you need that piece of paper for? After the time is up we’ll get you home right on the dot, now wouldn’t that be nice?” “Without that piece of paper, we’re looking at an abduction here. If you don’t have the guts to bump off the hostages you take, what the hell are you bungling fools doing hauling me around?
Coming back to Beijing in the dead of night, and here I was thinking I knew everything there was to know about bitter cold. Struck me homeless petitioners with poor health might not make it, and thought about Zhang Kai looking them up at night and calling for donations of warm clothing. Just heard that right in the middle of the same chilly night three carloads of thugs went in hot pursuit of our lawyer Zhang. I can’t wrap my mind around it – who in the world did Zhang offend by reaching out to help the petitioners? So Hollywood no longer needs to put up the investment, vet locations and throw up a studio when they run through Chinese streets shooting “The Godfather,” is that it?
Playfulness, in stark contrast to what they are up against, sustains many human rights activists. Pu and Ai Weiwei, the rebel artist whose name rhymes with love in Chinese and who is affectionately known as Cupid in a favorite spoof among his supporters, spent a memorable Valentine’s dinner together:
<Over dinner> Ai asked me how do you keep your blood sugar under control. I said shots. And doesn’t your belly end up pocked with needle marks? Let’s take a look. My guards were down and I pulled up my shirt. One flash and I heard the camera click. I thought oh hell, there goes a chunk of my personality rights. RT@aiww: Check out the smooth belly of our lawyer Pu. (http://www.mobypicture.com/user/aiww/view/8725042)
Pu’s command of classical Chinese learning defies expectations, all the more so given the seventy years of CCP rule that has robbed the language of memory and beauty. He juggles forgotten literary allusions and, with a chiseled and venerable street slang, writes and talks as if Communism never happened, even as he dissects the absurdities of the Communist system.
But words do sometimes fail Pu. In 2009, after the court handed down a five-year sentence against Tan Zuoren, Pu excused himself. Standing in the hallway outside the men’s room, Tan’s wife heard him bawl like a child.
Ai Weiwei, the iconoclast artist who, like Pu, got labeled as a dissident when he tried to uphold promises the Party claims to own, is another erstwhile client. When Ai disappeared into detention in 2011, Pu contributed to the advocacy campaign by penning a “Missing Person” notice whose humor is lined with the vehemence of having always to skirt around a Kafkaesque wall of lies. Even such a veiled gesture can be interpreted as a political act of defiance, and Pu probably edged a step closer to prison when he made this note public:
Looking for Ai Weiwei, who was last seen at Beijing Capital Airport on April 3, 2011. He’s more than half-way to a hundred and still don’t know a thing about the way of the world. Six-feet tall and more than two-hundred pounds, he sautes melon seeds and collects junk, strips in documentaries, and insults his motherland and calls his own Dad a dick (ed: Ai’s father was a national icon for patriotic poetry). He is nutty occasionally or else is acting like it…Anyone who catches him alive should dig a hole and bury him then and there – you’ll be eligible for a lottery to get a “Defender of the Republic” medal.
The last sentence is a nod towards the fact that activists who were detained and abused during this period reported that they were threatened with live burial.
What goes around, comes around. At long last, Pu’s balancing act broke down. He was a student leader during Tienanmen, the mass movement for peaceful political change in 1989, which, like the massacre that quashed it, remains a taboo. On May 5, 2014, the police picked up Pu, two days after he went to a friend’s house for a commemorative meeting on the massacre. “I’ve had a Tiananmen complex this entire time,” he told his lawyer. “I don’t mind paying the price. I regret nothing.” One gets the impression he has survivor’s guilt.
It is ironic that officials are putting away one of their ablest champions. After all, those who lose out in the Party power struggles find their rights stuffed in the meat grinder, including those in the top leadership. In a documentary, Pu aired some creative hair-raising tortures officials suffered. “Please tell everyone how terrifying this extralegal system against government officials is,” he tweeted, “I need your help.” As another suicide epidemic (Chinese) hit higher-level bureaucrats, almost all of whom the Party declared posthumously depressed, Pu tweeted: “Even if someone broke the law left and right and went after a lot of innocent people, I still wouldn’t want to see him caught up in the teeth of the machine. So what if he is a SOB? Not only do we have to make sure bad things don’t drag out for them, we’ve got to do what’s right by them.” It would seem that the system has an inveterate preference for arbitrary power at the expense, potentially, of everyone in it.
Everything has come full circle. Pu had this to say about getting rid of labor camps: “We can call it a big step forward in the rule of law, provided that ‘picking quarrels and causing trouble’ doesn’t become the next handy substitute.” The government seemed indeed to have tried its hand at pinning this one on him. Now Pu’s lawyer believes they may be moving on to other possibilities, interviewing witnesses thousands of miles away and ransacking Pu’s computers for. They reportedly put a hundred secret cops on his case. Where there is a will, there is a way. According to Pu’s lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, pressure from the Party is likely to dictate the outcome of Pu Zhiqiang’s case.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Pu, but everything about him and what he has done feels all too familiar. As I wind up this piece, the government is putting the finishing touches on another wave of roundups, nimbly switching off between a handful of similar crimes for the best and brightest in Chinese civil society, accusing them of undermining the state and society they work so hard at protecting. It is a great pity, for Pu and the state of things in China, that he is not around to tell us what he thinks of this latest but not the least irony.
Tencent microblogs http://t.qq.com/puzhiqianglawyer/
Author’s interviews with two of Pu’s friends.
Albertine Ren is a human rights advocate living in the U. S. with deep knowledge of the subject.
On May 12, 2008, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake stuck Wenchuan area in Sichuan province. 80,000 died, including more than 5,000 students age from four to eighteen. The quake exposed what has since been known as tofu-dreg construction projects. In Beichuan High School, two recently-built classroom buildings collapsed while older buildings stood erect, burying 496 of its 2,000+ students. The following is a translation of a video interview, conducted by the Ai Weiwei Workshop in 2010, of a bereft mother and her ordeal. Losing her son is sad enough; but there has been much more. Learn about China from one mother’s story on this Mother’s Day.
My name is Liu Yuting (刘玉婷), and I am the mother of Yuan Yong (袁勇) who was, before the earthquake, a freshman of the no. 4 class at Beichuan High School (北川中学). On May 12 when the earthquake stuck, I was in Mianyang, not in Beichuan, the epicenter. In Mianyang, few houses collapsed, and I thought: since Beichuan is only a little over an hour of driving away, not that far really, I thought it shouldn’t be too bad. My son is a strong, healthy boy and he should be fine.
An old man with a radio said that Beichuan had been devastated and many had probably died. I was stuck with fear. When I reached the school, I saw that houses around the classroom building were all standing, including houses built in the 1960s that had been designated before the quake as “condemned houses.” These brick-and-wood houses didn’t collapse, didn’t even crack, but the school’s classroom building did. In the rubble, you didn’t even see frames, or anything like that. It crumbled into dust and powder. My son’s classroom was on the fifth floor, the top floor. I looked at the rubble, and I thought he might have been rescued.
The teachers were all sheltered in the gym. I found my son’s class counselor. The counselor pulled a piece of crumpled paper out of his pocket with a dozen or so names on it. He told me my son left there alive, he was injured, and the teachers arranged for another student by the last name Bai to take care of my son. I looked for him in each hospital. I found that student. He said he parted ways with my son at a temporary dressing station in An Xian county (安县).
I went to Mianyang, Jiangyou, Deyang, even Chengdu, and I searched for my son in every single hospital. I didn’t want to eat, nor did I feel hungry. I searched for my son day and night. Finally when I couldn’t find him anywhere, I knew my son had perished. So I went back and began to search for him in funeral homes. Then in a police station, probably a temporary one, in An Xian county, I saw my son’s picture, taken before he was cremated. So I didn’t even get to see my son at his death. All I saw was just a picture.
I was thinking, “as long as my son lives, I don’t mind if he loses an arm or a leg. I want to have my son.” He’s such a considerate boy. I had lived a busy life up to that point. My child was everything for me, I was happy in my heart no matter how busy, how tired I was. But having lost my son, I lost the drive to do anything. Making money doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. So I quit my business, no more of it.
Because the building crumbled into powder, most of the kids didn’t have a chance to run to safety. Kids on lower floors suffered the most casualties. The entire sophomore class had only a few survivors. My son’s class had the most survivors, but still, only 30 or so made it. If a landslide buried my son, I would have held no grudges. Or, even if the building didn’t collapse the way it did, I could still accept it, because it was a severe quake and buildings could collapse. But I believe this was a man-made disaster caused by cutting corners during construction.
All the parents demanded an evaluation of the building. But later, there was a directive to stop the evaluation of collapsed classroom buildings. Experts came and explained to us what seismic waves were. As an ordinary person, I don’t understand seismic waves, but it’s puzzling how that seismic wave hit precisely that school, precisely that classroom building. If the earth cracked open, this whole area would have tumbled down. Why nothing else but this classroom building? I don’t understand.
[Showing photos of the school site] These two are dorm buildings. This one is the canteen. The classroom in the middle collapsed but not the buildings right next to it. This is the school’s office building, including restrooms. In the front is residential housing, a row of it, and nothing collapsed.
Construction of this building started in ’93, and went on for several years. It was completed around ’98. [Continue to show photos of the rubble] Look, such small pieces, such size. There were a few parents who knew something about architecture. Take a look at this, the lap length. Look at this. You can see the gap here. The blueprints required welding, and the lap length should be much longer, but it was only 3 centimeters. These are some of the blueprints. There are a lot more, and I merely photocopied a few pages. We made a comparison chart. [For example,] where there should be 8 steel bars of 20cm diameter, only 4 steel bars of 16cm diameter were used. If you compare the blueprints and what you find from the collapsed building, there is a big difference.
The principle of Beichuan High School, Zhao Changwen, who oversaw the construction of the building, is now an academic director [in a school] in Chengdu, a much higher position. Why? I heard that when he left Beichuan, he took with him the school’s own coffer—a lot of work units in China have their own coffers. Lu Wanchun, the man who sold the steel bars used in the building, is still in the construction business in Beichuan. So I can’t get over it. These children shouldn’t have died; I must bring a complaint against these people.
As far as insurance goes, we had also negotiated with the insurance company and the government. For minors, the provision has a RMB 50,000 cap, and for disease, the cap is 60,000. The dead children each got RMB 4,000. Of the injured and disabled, some got RMB 1,000, some got RMB 2,000, others got RMB 4,000, but none received RMB 60,000. Because the insurance is unreasonable, we have made many visits to the insurance company. Because of it, one of the parents was convicted of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” and sentenced to five years in jail. He was accused of organizing parents to fight the insurance company, but as far as I know, he was not the organizer, and the real reason he was targeted was because he was doing it for his sister’s child, not his own. Of course we all felt it was not fair, but we were helpless. Some parents eventually lost heart, for all these trips, all the expenditures, the time, and the energy, were in vain. Not to consider that, if they could sentence He Hongchun, they could also sentence any of us.
In the early days after the earthquake, the central government and everyone else were all talking about holding accountable those who were responsible for the tofu-dreg projects. We, the parents, waited; we felt that even if we didn’t do anything, those responsible would be punished. Besides it was the year of the Olympics, a big thing. But when the Olympics were over, we still didn’t hear anything. So we talked among ourselves and decided: Let’s petition higher authorities.
In 2009, a few parents and I sent these documents to the provincial Construction Department (建设厅), also to the provincial Office of Letters and Calls. We went with Yang Anquan and his wife who used to live in Beijing where they had a business. We went together. At the Office of Letters and Calls, only two of four of us were allowed to go in. When we got to the second door, they said only one of you two could go in, so Yang Anquan went in, and I was kept out. Yang Anquan, a man from the mountains, probably didn’t know what to say. They took him to a room and asked him questions. He left a copy of our documents there and was given a receipt. We were told to go home to wait.
As I began to petition, the government already knew that I had been interviewed by overseas media, Chinese and foreign, and they knew I had contact with them. They said to me, “they videotaped you, but they probably will change what you had said when they show it overseas, and that would hurt the image of the country. Don’t be used by those media outlets, and don’t be used by hostile forces.”
Everyone knew that Tan Zuoren (谭作人) had been interviewing people about the sub-standard building projects in Sichuan. The government thought I must have had contact with Tan Zuoren. Needless to say, when Tan Zuoren’s trial took place, many parents would go. In the days leading up to his trial, I knew that many parents were summoned, questioned and warned. That day they took me to a guesthouse where I was forced to stay a night with them there. The next day when the trial was held, they took me to a park to drink tea. Anyway they made sure that I didn’t go to Chengdu for the trial.
At the time I was assigned to the Beichuan Public Security Bureau as a “person to be helped.” There they introduced me to a lieutenant of their Domestic Security Team, a woman. They said, “You women folks can chat and have an easy time to communicate.” That day she called me, she said she was going to find housing for me. So I went, but she said she had a meeting to attend, leaving me to talk to another of their officers. After a while I said I had to go, and I had to go back to Mianyang. He said, “We have cars here, why don’t I give a ride to Mianyang?” When we got to Mianyang, he insisted that we dine together, then they took me to a guesthouse. It was….my memory is getting poor….a guesthouse of the Chaoyang Factory.
They said, “Tell us what you the parents really want.” Since they asked me to tell, I told them all, including the sub-standard buildings, insurance, the collective burial ground of my child, all the things we the parents have grievance about. He said, wherever you go to petition, your petition eventually will still come back to us, to where it started. Give us your documents, like documents showing the safety problems with the school building. I gave them a copy, including photocopies of the blueprints. The blueprints say clearly that Beichuan High School [inaudible] and is a framework structure by design. This is something I remember very clearly. They said, “If we report the problem to higher authorities, it would be much more effective.” That was how he said it to me.
During the four days when I was held in the guesthouse, a friend from my hometown was visiting Chengdu. I wanted to go to meet my friend, but they wouldn’t let me, saying “Ask them to come over here if they want to meet.” In any case, they were just keeping me in sight. During the night, several people stayed in the same room with me.
In the end they asked me to write a letter guaranteeing that I would stop petitioning. I said I would not write any guarantee for you, instead, I can write down my thoughts. Petitioning is my right, I wrote, I might have incurred expenditures and headaches for the state, for some offices, that’s possible. But I will not be able to guarantee that I will stop petitioning against the sub-standard buildings. They read what I wrote, they said it wasn’t good enough, adding a few things and asking me to copy it. So I did, or they wouldn’t let me go. If I didn’t write that thing, they would have confined me there indefinitely.
It was during the Two Sessions in early March. At the time I was back to my hometown, and my cellphone service was suspended because of late payment. Since my cellphone was being tapped, when they couldn’t locate me, they thought I had gone to Beijing to petition. The state security police in Sichuan contacted their colleagues in my hometown to see if I had gone to Beijing. They called me repeatedly, asking to meet me. I said, well, it’s ok to meet with them, and I’m not afraid. At the meeting with the public security in my hometown, I showed them some of my petition documents. They looked at them and they fell silent: how could there be such buildings? The pictures I showed them were pictures of the rubble.
They said to me, if you want to petition, you can go, but let us know when you go. I said, if I let you know, I will never get to Beijing. They said, their colleagues in Sichuan contacted them, and they are on their way, and will arrive very soon.
It seems that provinces were compared with each other to see which province had more petitioners. Even though I was petitioning against Sichuan, my ID was issued in Henan. So I imagine that the state security in the two provinces were coordinated and of the same organization. I figured that they shared the responsibility and coordinate with each other to stop me. I told them that I still had to petition.
Many people felt that it had been taking so much time, money and effort. They felt helpless, and they gave up. Some cautioned me that many petitioners were punished when they came back home, and they told me to put my safety first. Everyone told me “whatever you do, be safe.”
I know that, as long as there is any possibility at all, I will persist. But at the same time, I understand that one’s persistence doesn’t necessarily result in a quick solution. But if I don’t persist, if no one persists, if even the victims themselves give up, who will bother to handle it? You can talk about a dog who died, a cat who died, but our children died under the building, why can’t we speak out？Why can’t we let everyone know the truth? When I speak out, I don’t feel I am denigrating the country; I am merely being truthful.
I don’t know where I can find the solution for my problem. I feel the most difficult thing is that I can’t find anyone, anywhere, to lodge my complaint. But as the mother of my child, I will do everything I can.