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By Ai Xiaoming, translated by Yaxue Cao
Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) is a professor of Chinese modern literature at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China. In recent years she’s best known for her participation in social movements and documentary making. Her work includes Three Days in Wukan (乌坎三日), The Central Plains (中原纪事, about the struggle of HIV contamination victims in Henan province, with English subtitles), Why Flowers Are So Red (花儿为什么这样红, about citizens’ investigation of student deaths during the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008). Sometimes Professor Ai Xiaoming is referred to as the Ai in the south, as opposed to the Ai in the north (Ai Weiwei). The original was published in the author’s blog as well as the latest issue of iSunAffairs (No. 50).
Independent documentary maker Du Bin (杜斌) has just released video interviews of Masanjia victims. Until May 1, 2013, you can watch it online (with English subtitles) by purchasing a 30-yuan (or $5) ticket, through PayPal to email@example.com (more details here).
While we haven’t heard anything more about the investigation into torture in Mashanjia that Liaoning provincial government has pledged, we do know that it has already interrogated all the formers inmates who talked to the journalists and threatened them. Which prompts us to wonder: Is the investigation actually about who has exposed the secrets of Masanjia?
“The wind is roaring, horses are howling, and the Yellow River is in wrath.”º This time the lyrics will have to be changed to “the vaginas are in wrath.” If you have read the recently published investigative report (link in Chinese, NYT’s writeup) on Masanjia Woman’s Re-education-through-labor Camp (马三家女子劳教所), and you are a Chinese with humanity living in you, I believe you would have heard the howling of vagina.
It is an organ meant to enjoy the pleasure of copulation, to impregnate and give birth, but this time one woman’s vagina brought us the most savage humiliation and torture, and they were performed in the name of state power.
This roll of letters hidden in the victim’s vagina, and before it a woman’s diary smuggled out in the same manner, laid bare the unthinkable barbarism of China’s reeducation through labor and the unspeakable cruelty inflicted on its victims.
Shortly before the publication of this report, the UN Committee on the Status of Women had just held its 57th meeting, and women’s organizations across the world condemned violence against women. Of all forms of violence, the cruelest, and also the most powerful, is violence against women sponsored by the state and protected by the system, such as wartime rape. But such forms of violence have occurred in Masanjia Woman’s RTL Camp and have been carried out in the name of reforming inmates.
China is an important member of the United Nation and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Placed next to Chinese law and promises the Chinese government has made domestically and internationally concerning women’s rights, what happened in Masanjia challenges not only the bottom line of human nature among the Chinese, but human civilization rebuilt post-Auschwitz.
Since the LENS report, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported that “Highly concerned [about the report], Liaoning province is quickly forming an investigative team consisted of people from the provincial Judiciary Department, provincial Bureau of Reeducation-through-labor and local prosecution, while inviting related media outlets and a number of people’s representatives and members of the Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Conference to participate. The findings, as well as the decisions will the published truthfully.”
But meanwhile, on the website of LENS magazine, the report has become a 404 error. Why delete the item? If the report itself is not allowed, how can we believe we are going to be given “truthful findings?”
Speaking of Liaoning provincial government “quickly forming” an investigative team, for many victims, “quickly” is not quick enough, perhaps too late already. How many people are still undergoing the torture of the “dead person’s bed¹” and “big hanging²?” How many are still trembling from their nightmares? Those who have died of these ordeals will never live to see it anymore.
A brief search will find that Masanjia has been notorious for a long time. Over the years there have been exposés and complaints about Masanjia, and an extended revelation was posted in June, 2010, on 民生观察 website (Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, here, here, here and here). The editor noted in his introduction that “Written by the victims themselves, the following account exposes the inside stories and ‘evil crimes’ committed there. These include gratuitous beating of inmates, hanging by pulling the limbs, being tied to the ‘dead person’s bed,’ vagina poking, and other forms of torture; forcing inmates to make uniforms for the armed police force; purchasing inmates from other facilities to receive more state funding; receiving bribes from inmates’ families, and more.”
The account was posted in four installations, and the part about the cruelty with which the lieutenant of the camp, Wang Yanping (王艳萍), and others beat inmates is more detailed than the LENS report, complete with cell phone numbers of the victims.
It is courageous that LENS reporter Yuan Ling (袁凌) and intern Xu Xiatong (徐宵桐), with the support of the magazine’s chief editor, have completed this ice-breaking report to become the first domestic media outlet to expose the evils of Masanjia camp. By doing so, it puts a huge task in front of China’s new leaders as well as the public: When did such violence against inmates start? How has the system of torture been developed? How were the torture facilities built, when were the tools of torture first being used? Why have the deaths and disabilities resulted from torture never been investigated and those who perpetrated it never been held accountable?
Violence in Masanjia camp is by no means isolated, nor is it the first of its kind. In 2005, the renowned lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) wrote an open letter to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao demanding an end to the savagery against Falungong practitioners. As I remember, he reported that almost every victim was attacked in their reproduction organs……What his letter revealed was terrifying, and what happened to Gao Zhisheng following the letter was even more horrific. Under threat of violence, the public, including myself, has kept silent.
Katyn Forest is not in China, nor are Auschwitz’s furnaces and guns. But China has An Yuan Ding (安元鼑³, link in Chinese) and there are Masanjias here and there. Following Falungong practitioners, more ordinary citizens whose rights and interest were violated and who appealed for justice have been sent, in an unbroken stream, to these “Masanjias” across China. This has been done because the number of petition cases is a blemish to local government’s performance, and stability must be maintained. Ten years ago, I took part in the appeal to abolish the custody and repatriation policy (收容遣送制度) after the death of Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) in police custody⁴. That year the State Council ended that policy. But in the following ten years, black jails have been “created” across China to detain petitioners, not to mention the practice of dispatching people straight to mental hospitals or to RTL camps.
What would silence mean in the face of human rights disasters on such scales and frequent environmental disasters? Isn’t it clear enough?
The women who came out of Masanjia alive broke their silence, and their memories of the camp are confronting our conscience: If none of us speaks out, are we any different from those who ravaged these fellow sisters’ breasts and vaginas with electric batons? The answer is no.
Of a woman’s body, nowhere is more vulnerable than vagina. It has no fists, feet or teeth to fight invasion; it has been made into booty; it has endured assault and died shedding blood. But it is strong too and it gives life. This time, it smuggled memories. These memories, once born, will live just as a life. But this time, how long will it live?
Once again I have thought about Katyn and Auschwitz.
In 1940, the Soviet Union shot 4,000 Polish officers to death in Katyn Forest near Smolenskaya. Nazi Germany condemned the killing when it unearthed the bodies in 1943. But in 1944 when USSR army recaptured Katyn area, it pinned the crime to the Germans, and the whole world accepted it as the truth until post-1989 when this secret was exposed.
A few days ago I wrote an article about the work of Lin Zhao⁵ (林昭), but I didn’t mention the incident. One day last winter I was at the gate of Tilanqiao Prison, Shanghai (上海提篮桥监狱), where Lin Zhao had been jailed in the 1960s, but wasn’t allowed to go in. Reports said that Lin Zhao’s files had long been removed from there and there was no way one could access them. Across the street from the prison was the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Musuem where many old photos and items were on display to tell the story of Holocaust. In a hall on the second floor, a TV screen kept playing scenes of the concentration camps. Oblivion and memory, face to face, stare at each other on the same street.
I don’t know when we will see museums for victims of Tilanqiao and Masanjia, but I look forward to a truthful report on Masanjia that the Liaoning provincial government promised. But before such a report is produced, the public should provide more evidence to support this extraordinary investigation. It concerns in what direction history will go, it concerns the future of each one of us, and it concerns women’s rights and the “respect and protection of human rights by the state” that the Chinese Constitution proclaims. If a jailed woman could use her vagina to store memory, how much more can we the others do who are not locked up?
If from now on females inmates, upon release, will be subjected to vagina inspection in the future to make sure nothing is hidden there, then allow me to conclude that, if the females of a people are ravaged and mangled, whose mouths cannot speak and whose vaginas are monitored, can this people still be propagated? And more, why propagate it?
So far the LENS report is still being reposted on the web, and I hope all the policemen who have worked in Masanjia, past and present, will come to read it and ask themselves: What have I done? Why? What responsibilities have I to assume? You may say, “I was just carrying out an order to meet our stability maintenance requirement, and we cannot manage those recalcitrant women without using torture.” If so, can you sense the victims’ feelings from the report? Would some of you finally stop your disguise and reveal your true impulses, just as some of the Nazi war criminals did during the Nuremberg trial? “The terrible evil of dictatorship becomes clearer when it is coming to an end. We now can see what it means to obey unconditionally. ……This social system in which we mechanically carry out orders without questioning is ultimately proved to be wrong.” Some in your midst once stood up to stop the violence or help the victims lessen their pain. One victim said that, when a brutal guard dragged her on the ground, another raised her feet so that her breasts and abdomen wouldn’t be rubbed against the rough surface. We hope that these rare glimpses of humanity will also come through during the investigation.
I hope all of the officials and people’s representatives of the investigation team remember who they are and what they are supposed to do. Here I wish to remind you Justice Jackson’s opening statement in the Nuremberg trial: “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”
April 10, 2013
º “The wind is roaring, horses are howling, and the Yellow River is in wrath” is a line from the Yellow River Cantata, a popular patriotic song during the Chinese war of resistance against Japanese aggression. The Yellow River is a symbol of mother in Chinese.
¹“Dead person’s bed” is used to force feed an inmate on hunger strike. It is an iron bed with leather surface that has multiple cuffs and straps to tie down a naked inmate and to force feed her.
²“Big Hanging:” Tie an inmate’s stretched arms high, pulling them to maximum length, while fixing the feet with wooden clamps. “When the guard thumped the bed with his foot, I felt like my chest was being torn into pieces.”
³An-yuan-ding (安元鼑) was a security company that operated black jails from 2008 to 2010 in Beijing.
⁴Sun Zhigang incident: In early 2003, young college graduate Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) was detained in Guangzhou, where he just found a job as a garment designer, for not possessing a temporary residential card. Three days later he died in police custody, a result of severe beating. His death roiled the country, and legal scholars appealed to the authorities to abolish the “Detention and Deportation” policy.
⁵Lin Zhao (林昭), a student in Peking University, was designated a rightist in 1957, imprisoned in Tilanqiao Prison in Shanghai from 1960 to 1968, and secretly executed in April 29, 1968.
Related reading: To Remember Is to Resist, our translation of Dr. Teng Biao’s great essay on reeducation-through-labor.