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Yaxue Cao, December 31, 2016
If it wasn’t for the “Safety House” in which he was hiding as he wrote, the opening paragraph of Lam Wing Kee’s personal account would be beguilingly insouciant: there he stands at the window, painting his view of the Lei Yue Mun bay in the dazzling late afternoon light, with precise, unhurried sentences.
It is with this dissonant scene that Mr. Lam begins his narration of eight months of secret captivity in mainland China.
Doing what he had for years – hauling suitcases of tabloid-style exposés about Chinese leaders and politics to mainland China, and then mailing them to clients – he was stopped at customs in Shenzhen one day in October 2015 and pulled aside for questioning. It wasn’t his first time, but this time it was different. A Central Government Special Investigation Team (中央专案组) had been formed to target the book publishing and mailing business, newly seen as “a veiled attempt to overthrow the Chinese government.”
Handcuffed and hooded, he was taken to a two-story building in Ningbo on the coast. There were mountains on three sides, and fog shrouded the area in the morning and evenings. He discovered his whereabouts by squatting on the toilet and looking out through cracks in the window.
The room was padded to prevent suicide, a thought he briefly contemplated. Three surveillance cameras and two guards on rotation watched his every move. He was interrogated between 20 and 30 times about the Causeway Bay bookstore he worked at, the authors of the books, his clientele, and his boss, Gui Minhai (桂民海) who was abducted from Thailand and is still in custody. The interrogations must have been thin on substance given the number of sessions involved, so Mr. Lam’s account of them is at best sketchy.
On the third day of his abduction, he began to mark time by secretly pulling a thread off his orange jacket and tying a little knot each day. By the time he was removed from Ningbo there were 124 little orange knots.
He sought to communicate with his guards, but only one young man risked discovery to speak a few furtive words. A doctor who came to check his vitals took pains not to say any more than necessary, but nonetheless brought him some snow from outside — something he, a Hong Konger, had never touched before. He fancied that his main handler, Mr. Shi, might be above the others and the system he served, because he is “educated.” But humanity is a scarce commodity under terror.
They forced him to waive his right to notify relatives and hire lawyers. He signed. They presented him with a false confession, that he had committed the crime of illegally selling books. He signed. They forced him to write a statement of repentance. He did, according to their precise instructions. They made him confess on camera, several times. He was shocked to find that a “witness” at one of those sessions was played by a female cop. He did everything they made him do, because he saw that he had no choice.
In March 2016, they took him to Shaoguan, a city in northern Guangdong, and gave him a job in the local library. He reshelved books during the day and reported to his minder in the evening. From the cell phone they gave him he devoured every bit of news about the five booksellers in Hong Kong, and began to realize, from statements by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that what he was embroiled in was a big deal.
One night in April, two prostitutes knocked on his door. He saw that it was a noose to be tied around his neck and declined their company.
Having deemed him sufficiently conditioned and ready, in June the Special Investigation Team sent him back to Hong Kong to fetch the company computer that stored client information. He was given one day in which to do it, and also visit his relatives and an old teacher whose declining health was preoccupying him.
At the immigration check point he did what he had been instructed: he told Hong Kong police that he was back to close up the case. He’s safe and needs no help. Then he checked into a hotel designated by his minders.
He had planned to obey every command. “In any case,” he figured, “I’d go back [to the mainland] for a few more months, then everyone would be able to come back to Hong Kong and live peacefully like before.”
Things began to unravel after he boarded the MTR, going to the office in North Point to fetch the computer:
“Standing in the subway car were chattering students with smiles on their faces. Some passengers stared at their phones with their heads bowed. A pregnant woman boarded, and someone offered their seat. A courier had put his bags down and was squatting in a corner to sort his deliveries. Everyone was untroubled, except me, being followed and manipulated. What’s wrong with me? I’m in Hong Kong, and yet I still have no freedom.”
He began to feel a sense of repulsion at their plans, and the role he was assuming in them:
“What is even scarier, as the man named Shi told me, is that I have to continue working in the bookshop after they allow me to return to Hong Kong. He’ll keep in touch with me, and I’ll report what’s going on, through writing or photographs. They want to know about Hong Kong, especially those who are buying books about political affairs. I’ll be their eyes and ears. Good heavens, I’ll not only lose my own freedom, but betray others. If I yield today, I’ll be an accomplice tomorrow, forcing more people to submit. If I sell my soul today, I’ll be forcing others to sell their souls tomorrow.”
He was able to extend his stay for one more day, because he picked up the wrong computer.
He felt his love for Hong Kong acutely: the venders, the fortunetellers, the sidewalk food stands, and the crowds. He roamed Portland Street and went by Langham Place. From Shanghai Street, through Portland Street again, he walked towards Yau Ma Tei. He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Hong Kong and going back to his captors. At dinner with his older sister, he dismissed the notion that only Christians were capable of doing good, and was stuck by an inscription on the homescreen of his brother-in-law’s phone: “When your attitude is right, happiness will come.”
At Festival Walk around noon the next day, where he was supposed to board the train and head to the border, he stopped and sat smoking in the bright sun. He was late, and the people on the other side of Luohu Bridge were waiting for him. He had stayed up all night reading news about the booksellers and the protest of six thousand Hong Kongers and pro-democracy legislators.
At the MTR entrance, he began to hesitate. He wanted another cigarette. Then a little poem that he had read when he was young came to him: “I have never seen / a knelt reading desk / though I’ve seen / men of knowledge on their knees.”
Then he made up his mind. He stubbed out the smoke and turned around. The rest of the story is now well known.
At the end of 2014, I was heartbroken that so many of the people I know or have reported on have gone to prison. I started to think that there weren’t too many left to put in jail. What did I know? Over the past two years, more people have been abducted, jailed, or secretly detained. More have been tortured. Harsher – much harsher – sentences have been handed down. The country is now on lockdown under a set of laws designed to restrict freedom in all areas. A narrative is being fostered that there is a U.S.-led conspiracy to bring down the communist regime.
At the end of 2016, however, the consensus among the people I work with is that, looking back some years later, we’ll find that 2016 is far from being the worst. The worst is yet to come.
I first read Mr. Lam’s account in August in a quiet cabin in the mountains of West Virginia, and read it once again on the eve of 2017. The power of his testimony is amplified by his considerable literary deftness. I have been wanting to capture that moment, on June 16, 2016, at the Kowloon Tong Station, when he put out his cigarette and turned around. To me, it’s one of the most important events of the year. In it is the kernel of hope I’m bringing with me into 2017, and beyond.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’ – Chang Ping’s Acceptance Speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award
Chang Ping, December 1, 2016
From the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression website: “Chang Ping is one of China’s best-known journalists who reports on political issues. He writes about sensitive topics including democracy, media censorship, the failures of government policy and Tibet. He is the winner of the International Press Freedom Award. This award recognizes the outstanding courage of journalists who work at great personal risk and against enormous odds so that the news media remain free. Establishing himself in the 1990s, he first reported from Guangzhou. As censorship has tightened in China, Chang’s pleas for transparency and accountability have put him under a political spotlight. In 2011, while working as the editor-in-chief at the now-suspended weekly magazine iSun Affairs in Hong Kong, [Chang Ping] was denied a work permit and forced to live in exile in Germany with his family. He remains there today and his columns and books are banned in the country.” — The Editors
Thank you, thank you, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression — and thank you everyone!
I am honored and certainly very happy to be here — but at the same time, I can’t really say that I am. When a Chinese citizen receives an award outside China, I don’t know whether he or she should be happy or worried. It could bring punishment to the recipient and his or her family. In China, a foreign award is often described as sugar-coated poison which should be firmly rejected, because the foreigners always have an agenda, usually a plot to overthrow the Chinese government.
What’s maddening is that it’s been so long and the foreigners still haven’t succeeded in implementing this plot.
Freedom, peace, human rights, democracy, constitutionalism, independence, civil society… these are frightening words that have sent some of China’s most courageous men and women to jail: Wang Bingzhang (王炳章), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Ilham Tohti, Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌), Yao Wentian (姚文田), Dolma Kyab, Gulmira Imin, Kunchok Tsephel, Gheyret Niyaz, Hada (哈达), Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), Shi Tao (师涛), Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Tan Zuoren (谭作人), Chen Xi (陈西), Chen Wei (陈卫), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Liu Yuandong (刘远东), Wang Mo (王默), Liu Ping (刘萍), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Heping (李和平)…
…and sent some of the most ardent advocates of these values to their deaths: Wang Shiwei (王实味), Chu Anping (储安平), Lin Zhao (林昭), Yu Luoke (遇罗克), Zhang Zhixin (张志新), Li Wangyang (李旺阳), Cao Shunli (曹顺利)…
Tonight, we gather to celebrate freedom of speech. So why did I read the names of so many of China’s political prisoners? That is because most of China’s political prisoners are made criminals for their speech. They might have been convicted of various trumped up crimes, but all they have done is nothing more than express dissent.
China’s political space is very narrow, and getting narrower. Citizens have almost no way of engaging in opposition activities other than speech. Meanwhile, speech is the beginning of everything. Dictators often realize the power of speech more than anyone else.
That’s why they brutally suppress every independent voice in China. That’s why they hate the demonstrations in Hong Kong. That’s why they are buying up news media in Taiwan. That’s why they are pushing their propaganda on the world, especially in Western democracies.
They demand that all Chinese media must toe the Party line; they build partnership with newspapers in Australia and radio stations in the United States; they deny visas to foreign journalists; and they are forcing Facebook to build a wall and pay for it.
Mr. Trump, who also wants to build a wall, will have to learn from China’s leaders, or he’ll have no chance to be praised by Prime Minister Trudeau as a “remarkable leader.”
If you are a slow learner, don’t worry. The Chinese government will be tireless in teaching you. Lesson one: For Whom the Bell Tolls. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, clearly taught you this here in Canada in June: “You have no right to speak about our human rights. Only the Chinese people have the right to speak about this issue.” But the truth is that the Chinese people are actually never allowed to speak out.
I have been fighting for speaking out. People often ask me: Why are you willing to make such sacrifices for freedom of speech? I have never hesitated in answering: Without freedom of speech, nothing will be left in the civilized world. Speech is freedom itself. If we don’t fight for it, our freedom will be completely lost.
My seven-year-old daughter loves museums. She once said to me, “Daddy, don’t become more handsome, or you will be locked in a museum.” What she meant to say is that, Daddy is capable of everything except speaking German as well as she does. But she doesn’t know that I’m unable even to explain to her why we can’t return to China. How do I tell her that, in many places where human beings live, people don’t even have the freedom to say what they want to say?
To my mother and my father in Sichuan, China, I wish you could be here with me to share this beautiful night. You have always been proud of me, but I can’t even tell you about this prize I’m receiving. All my loved ones in China, I have stopped contacting you, precisely because I love each one of you.
Thank you everyone!
When former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), sacked by Deng Xiaoping for his bolder calls for re-evaluating the past and reforming for the future, died on April 15, 1989, college students in Beijing began a wave of memorials to express their sadness and anger. Soon the students were on the street demanding freedom and democracy. Quickly the movement spread to cities all over China and to people from all walks of life. On June 4th, it ended with guns, tanks and deaths.
At the time I lived in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, and was among the few in China that had the news coming from Hong Kong TV. I remember, among the last images available, bulldozers rolling over the makeshift tents in Tiananmen Square the night of June 3rd. The next image I remember was the morning after (or perhaps that of June 5th) shown on CCTV: the square was empty under a gray sky, around the base of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the floor was washed, wet, reflecting early morning light. It was June and in sweltering south, but that sight chilled me to the bones.
Since late May, my Twitter timeline has had almost nothing else but June 4th: every aspect of it, everything having to do with it. This is my first year on Twitter, and others observed that this year, the 23 anniversary, feels heavier and more intense. Microblogs inside China have censored every possible mention of the occasion, down to the candle icon and the character “占” (you’ll see why). I wanted to share a few items from Twitter and Weibo with our readers here to learn about, and remember, this day, not to mention the perspective it provides to our observations of China today.
- greendyj’s bot@dengbot/＞80 times RT @dyc741214: It is 9:30pm now Beijing time. Around this moment twenty-three years ago, the 38th Army from Baoding (保定) fired the first shot in front of the Military Museum, marking the beginning of the bloody crackdown. Let’s not forget that evil bullet!
Mr. Wu Renhua, a participant of June 4th and an exile living in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, has been the self-appointed historian dedicated to finding and recording everything about the event. He has been tweeting, the last couple of days, names of the known dead. So far 202 have been identified by the group called Tiananmen Mothers:
- 吴仁华@wurenhua/ 51. Zou Bing, female, age about 19 years old, student of Beijing Broadcast College, class ’92; 52. Pao Changkui, age 47, performer of National Ensemble of Minorities Songs and Dances; 53. Bian Zongxu, age 40, manager of mechanical and electrical products supply Co., Xinjiekou, Beijing; 54. Tian Daomin, age 22, student of Business Management Department, University of Science and Technology Beijing, class ’89; 55. He Jie, age 23, graduate student of Institute of Computing Technology, Science Academy of China.
10:55 PM – 2 Jun 12via web · Details
- 中国大陆新闻海外最新报导@sfchinese/ Out of the 1,602 people sentenced during and after June 4th, seven are still in jail…. http://bit.ly/JG4VQF
[Yaxue’s note: The numbers of arrests and sentences have been hotly disputed. Translation doesn’t mean endorsement.]
- 成都凯旋@kaixuan2010/ People probably have forgotten Zhou Yongjun (周勇军), who was one of the three students who knelt on the steps of People’s Congress to petition Li Peng (李鹏, then Prime Minister). He’s been imprisoned the second time with a 9-year sentence [in early 2010]. He is suffering from serious medical problems with incontinence.
8:27 PM – 2 Jun 12via Mobile Web · Embed this Tweet
- 蓝色风@straightbar/ …Presently, the Beijinger walked up to the soldiers while taking his shirt off . With only an undershirt and boxer shorts on him, and shirt in a hand, he shouted at the soldiers: “You can’t kill the students!”, his chest touching the tip of the bayonet. Just then, the gun fired, “Pang!”, on his chest. http://www.epochtimes.com/gb/12/6/2/n3602902.htmhttp://img.ly/j3aL
- 流雲@liuyun1989/ from Apple Daily: During the June 4th Massacre of ’89, tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square around midnight and cleared it. For years there have been no images available of the aftermath. A picture surfaced recently, and it was taken by a participating service man at the time.
- soundfury@soundfury/ Sina Weibo has begun to delete posts on mass. Even the one below didn’t survive: “Friends in Hong Kong can go to Victoria Park tomorrow, while friends in Taiwan to Liberty Square, for anniversary events.”
10:56 PM – 2 Jun 12via web · Details
- free2000fly@free2000fly/ Sohu Weibo blocked my account for posting the following gibberish “占占占占人 占占占点 占占点占 占点占占 点占占占 灬占占占占”.
5:43 AM – 3 Jun 12via web · Embed this Tweet
(Any clue? 占 –tank; 点—tank running over a person; three tanks running over a person; the person became 灬)
- 流雲@liuyun1989/ #8964 song “For Freedom” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAx1TcHbwL8&feature=player_embedded [video of Hong Kong singers and movie stars singing the song in support of the movement]
Last week Chen Guangcheng entered a US embassy for the protection that the Chinese gov’t had failed to provide the innocent man. According to Chen’s friends, it was a step that Chen did not want to take. Today we will be looking at three lessons Chen’s case teaches us about China’s legal system.
Chen Guangcheng would never call himself a dissident; he might hesitate to even describe himself as an activist. The incredible thing that we should keep in mind as representatives from the US and China decide Chen’s fate, is that he is a man who simply thought that the laws on paper should be enforced. Chen’s initial fame came from his efforts to protect the rights of the disabled and he fell afoul of the system when he sought to stop forced abortions which were beyond what the one-child policy called for (Yaxue’s profile of Chen back in November covered this in-depth). His case, even more so than Bo Xilai’s, demonstrates that China absolutely is not a country ruled by law.
When my wife mentioned this case to a few of her students, they were baffled that such a case could even exist. Surely, they thought, this was another instance of local governments acting out and the Central gov’t simply is unaware of the abuse. However as we have discussed before, the Central gov’t has been aware of Chen’s illegal detention for at least half a year. Also, Ge Xun’s extra-legal detention in February showed that silencing the story of Chen Guangcheng was a national priority that involved the upper levels of government. Chen’s escape illuminates the fact that the supposedly benevolent Central Gov’t was unwilling to protect the rights of the individual when it did not benefit the Party line. I know that this is in no way surprising to most of my readers, but to many of my Chinese friends who are not as involved in politics, it will be shocking.
Chen’s case highlights another interesting aspect that we should bear in mind, that Chen’s detention was only made possible by the involvement of hundreds of villagers turned thugs. I don’t believe these are bad people, I think they are poor and desperate people who saw an opportunity to escape poverty. In China, censorship, black-jails, and forced demolitions all rely on the participation of individuals in despicable acts. As China raises the standards of living I believe it will become more difficult to attract the number of people necessary to impose such plans (or at the very least, cost prohibitive).
Finally, it should be noted that Chen’s case is in no way a victory.
A victory would require some kind of reform or future promise offered to those who are trying simply to enjoy the protections enshrined in the laws of the People’s Republic of China. A victory would have been the Central Gov’t stepping in and stopping the abuses in Linyi instead of supporting them by cracking down on activists in other provinces. A victory would have been an acknowledgement of Chen’s case and a public denunciation of the practice (similar to what happened in Wukan). A victory would have been the removal of those who imprisoned Chen (they continue to enjoy the privileges of Party rank). There has been no victory yet, and it is doubtful there will be one as a result of Chen’s case.
After 5+ years of waiting, I think it is safe to say that Chen is a patient man, and yet he knew that at this point, escape was his only option for freedom. That Chinese law offered him no protection. This must have been a heart rending decision for a man who lost so much for his dedication to upholding the law. China is no closer to securing the rights of its people, which is what Chen was fighting for in 2006 when he was thrown in prison under false accusations (the China Daily account from that time is preposterous). Chen’s escape simply means that one less person is suffering from extra-legal detention, but does nothing to prevent it happening to others. I hope now that Chen has escaped his home turned prison, those who worked for his freedom will now take up his original cause.
By Yaxue Cao
Components of a He Cha Session
When the state security police descended on these law-biding citizens, often in plain clothes, asking to have a talk with him or her, they didn’t bother to show their ID and did so only reluctantly in some cases when the interrogatee insisted.
Never mind the warrant. There was none.
In one case, the wife of an interrogatee opened the door to find policemen asking her husband to go with them. When she asked why, she was told “it’s inconvenient to say.” When she insisted the police show a warrant, the police said there was no warrant, threatened to use force, adding, “You are in China.”
The security police asked an interrogatee’s name, employer, what websites he or she had visited, who were his or her friends, questions about what he or she did, with whom he or she was associated, especially who “directed” him or her, his or her motivation and purpose. From the questions they asked, it is clear that there aren’t areas where they would not invade.
Answering questions, the interrogatee and the police engaged in a back-and-forth exchange where the police tried to impose themselves, and the interrogatee tries to defend him/herself or evade their questions for self-protection. While each interrogatee handled his or her own situation differently, the state security police emerged to be very similar in the narrative they tried to impose and the threats they made:
- Stability is all, turmoil is bad for everyone, and you have to take into consideration the interests of the nation;
- Democracy is not for China; look at Taiwan, what a mess (the Party was making the most of the brawling scenes seen in Taiwan’s legislative body, but I am sure the Taiwan card can no longer be played now that enough people have seen the latest Taiwanese presidential election with envy and admiration);
- China is doing great; other countries are suffering from economic crises while China has tons of money;
- You have family responsibilities, you have social responsibilities, and what you have done is irresponsible;
- Your thoughts are not normal; these are not things for you to worry about; and you should mind your own business and focus on making money;
- Ai Weiwei is a bad person; he is associated with anti-China forces overseas; he gets awards from them;
- What you are doing is bad for yourself. Do you want to end up in jail? Going forward in life, do you want to have a criminal record?
- You are manipulated by others; others are using you;
- America also has corruption and injustice;
- Activists overseas are all controlled and financed by the US government and their job is to disrupt and sabotage China.
The list can go on depending on what occupies the security police at the moment.
Their ignorance nauseated quite a few of the people they tried to “educate” with the “right thoughts.” In one session, the security police looked blank when the interrogatee mentioned the names of Gandhi, Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, and were puzzled by his statement that “government should be locked up in a cage.” In another, the police appeared not to know what Twitter was and asked whether it was the website of the interrogatee.
Most of the security police tried their best to play nice at the beginning. But as the conversation went on and they became frustrated, they would often jump up, smacking the table or huffing at the interrogatee. In one case, several security policemen yelled at the interrogatee, sticking their fingers in his face, “Are you a Chinese or not?”
You are not a Chinese if you are not like them.
In another case, when the interrogatee argued it was his natural right to attend the River Crab Banquet (河蟹大宴), an event to be held in Shanghai by Ai Weiwei in 2010, the police blasted, “Don’t talk about natural rights with me! Here the Communist Party rules!”
At the end of the session, an interrogatee was asked to sign the transcript of the interrogation, authenticating it with his or her finger print.
Without exception, the security police searched computers of the interrogatees.
They looked up search histories and browsing history, downloaded personal files and, in one case, two Japanese pornographic films, which made the interrogatee wonder what it was for: for the policeman himself or for his job?
In some cases, they rummaged through the books an interrogatee had around, questioning why he read certain titles. A policeman turned red when he discovered a book titled On American Democracy. “Where did you get this book?” It was available in bookstores everywhere.
They photocopied IDs and business cards. In a few cases, they took away the computers and didn’t return them until days later.
In one case, they demanded to see, and photocopied, the interrogatee’s bank deposit book.
They didn’t always give the interrogatee a list of the things they took away.
Without exception, they asked the interrogatee to sign a written document, toward the end of the session, guaranteeing he or she would not do certain things. There was always pain and shame on the part of the signees because they had done nothing wrong; but they knew they had to submit, or they would invite more trouble for themselves.
About the inevitability of submission, Wang Lijun (王立军), the former head of Public Security in Chongqing who recently sought asylum in the American Consulate in Chengdu, knows best. “If I am jailed, I will have to say whatever they ask me to say,” he was reported to have told the Americans.
In some cases, they asked the interrogatees to report their activities and whereabouts everyday.
Threats and Insinuations They Made
Needless to say, he cha is all about intimidation, direct and indirect:
- What you have done would have landed you in jail in the past;
- You haven’t broken the law, but you have gone astray, and you are moving toward committing crimes. We are helping you and you should know better;
- If we want to, we can jail you this minute;
- (to a young man who gets paid for his writings for overseas publications and sites) We will see that you receive not a penny!
- (to a man who makes 8-9k a month) It would be a pity if you lose your job for doing what you did;
- Where does your wife work? What’s her name?
- Where do your parents live?
- Who is your landlord? (More often than not, the security police came with this information already and, in more than one case, the landlords were so scared that they quickly drove the tenants away.)
He cha, it appeared, doesn’t involve beating or sustained verbal abuse. That’s because it is the “low end” of the government intimidation and persecution, and depending on how big a threat you are in their perception, things can become much worse. Gu Chuan, an activist and former editor-in-chief of a blog host, was he cha-ed twice, for signing a condolence letter for Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) in 2005 and for signing 08 Charter in 2009. And last year during the Jasmine paranoia, he was detained for 63 days and tortured badly.
Responses of the Interrogatees
Some people dealt with their he cha sessions with composure and even playfulness, others left useful advice, such as “be firm and you have done nothing wrong.”
One of them, who was he cha-ed for signing an online appeal to eradicate prison bullying, felt deeply hurt and saddened: “How can they possibly visit me for this? How can they pressure a citizen for expressing himself out of conscience? How can they be so weak?”
One way or another, it is hard to exaggerate the kind of fear he cha can strike into ordinary people. It lays bare the fact that the state has every power over you, is prepared to use it in the most wanton way, while you have no power, no rights, and there is nothing you can do to protect yourself.
A man, who was taken to a police station and questioned about his blog and his signing an appeal against the detention of a Uighur scholar, wrote: “Nervousness aside, I was so frightened to see the two policemen. I kept thinking how will this develop, how should I answer their questions? When they asked about my family, I became more afraid. …
“…If I don’t yield, what will they do to me? Will they simply take me and jail me? Are they going to search my computer? Will they use the pornography in my computer against me?
“The interrogation is over for more than a day now,” he continued, “but I am still deeply upset. …What’s so disconcerting is not so much about the confession I wrote in the station, nor am I fearing for what they may do to me next. What bothers me is not the fear itself, but why I am so fearful. Why am I so fearful for something I believe I did right? Why am I so fearful for the videos and files saved in my computer? Why am I scared by the mere question ‘Do you pay attention to politics?’”
“Never before have I longed for freedom so badly as I do this moment—freedom from fear.”
Since I had the idea of writing a post about he cha a few of weeks ago, I have been paying attention to he cha-related tweets on Twitter. A young man reported being he cha-ed in Sichuan for attempting to travel to the Tibetan areas in northern Sichuan; another, a volunteer translator for a site that translates overseas articles, reported that his editor was he cha-ed for publishing “radical” translations; a man was he cha-ed for posts regarding the water contamination in Zhenjiang; Tibetan writer Woeser was summoned for the Nth time for her writings and tweets; an artist in Beijing was he cha-ed for staging a performance art show in support of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng; a young mother was he cha-ed for being one of the organizers of the “Right for Fair Education” movement that seeks access to education for children of migrant workers.
The list can go on and on. I have learned for the first time how widespread he cha is and how much the state security police is watching. It seems that they are watching everywhere and everyone.
Just the other day, three Twitter friends had the following exchange:
A: There are far more ordinary netizens who have had he cha experience than we imagine. Sit at a table with a group of netizens you have never met before, you are bound to find someone who has been he cha-ed. There are all sorts of reasons for it, but none for breaking the law.
B: It’s good to he cha—it improves your sight.
C: The government creates its opponents through he cha.
All three of them have had he cha experience, perhaps more than once, and they know.
I, for one, am glad people shared their he cha experiences and made it public. When the security police, without exception, threaten, or coax you not to tell, you know you must tell, and to tell is the only weapon you’ve got.