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In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon
Stories of Repression in the New China
By Xu Youyu, Hua Ze, Stacy Mosher
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2012 Open Books,
All rights reserved.
MY PERILOUS ATTEMPT TO VISIT CHEN GUANGCHENG
He Peirong (online name Zhenzhu, meaning "Pearl"), a signatory of Charter 08, was born in the eastern city of Nanjing in the 1970s. A former website developer, she became a volunteer helping victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and then in 2009 launched a Twitter campaign to raise funds to support the families of China's prisoners of conscience.
In January 2011, He attempted to visit the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng while he was under house arrest. She was one of a number of people (including the British actor Christian Bale) who used such failed visit attempts and the resulting abusive treatment by police to raise awareness of the plight of Chen and his family. After Chen managed to escape his home under cover of night in April 2012, He was involved in helping him reach the US Embassy in Beijing. Chen has since gone to the United States as a "visiting scholar."
ON JANUARY 10, 2011, I DROVE ON MY OWN FROM NANJING TO DONGSHIGU Village, Shuanghou Township, in Yinan County of Shandong Province's Linyi City, hoping to visit Mr. Chen Guangcheng, who was being held under so-called "soft detention" in his home. What follows is a description of the violent obstruction I encountered during this attempt.
Many people were deeply worried about Chen's living conditions. Following his release from prison, the local authorities had kept him under virtual house arrest, refusing him access to medical treatment and preventing his children from going to school. Outside aid organizations were monitoring the situation, but they knew little about the conditions under which he was being held. No one knew what kind of cooperation existed between the village government and the police; we were all in a muddle, and no amount of effort provided the kind of firsthand information needed for planning a "tour." I also wondered what kind of people were watching over Chen, whether they were local bullies and deadbeats or villagers, as well as who was paying them, whether there was some kind of formal agreement, and if so, for how long.
At one point I considered finding an online friend with either police or investigative experience to go along with me. After further thought, however, I decided it would be safer to go on my own. First of all, people who had previously tried to visit Chen had been met with violent attacks, some life-threatening. I had no way to ensure the safety of anyone who accompanied me, much less to free someone who might be arrested. I was willing to take the risk myself, but I would not require a similar sacrifice of another. No one wishes to cavalierly risk her life or subject herself to senseless beatings by police, but sometimes this is the price that must be paid. As my Twitter friend @yinys says, "When the time comes, I'll use my body as a battering ram." I felt this was just such a time.
I believed that the violent obstructions facing Chen's visitors weren't a spontaneous reflection of a hostile local mindset, but rather meticulously planned and rationally decided. It was on that basis that I planned my own action.
Gandhi once said, "If we can only develop our willpower, we will find that we no longer need armed force." The way I saw it, if I couldn't match the brutality of those who were backed and incited by the authorities, I must resort to weakness. If someone raised their club, I must present my head to receive the blow; if someone struck my left cheek, I must turn the other to him as well. In any event, I had to show my unshakeable determination not to be driven away, and to pay any price for the sake of seeing Chen Guangcheng. I would use my own actions to tell those thugs that their terroristic methods were useless. Laozi said, "Nothing is softer and weaker than water, yet nothing is more effective in attacking what is firm and strong. The soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong." I refused to lose faith in human nature, and was determined to summon goodness with goodness.
Before setting off, I "Googled" the telephone numbers of the local DomSec police. These people were used to carrying out their villainy under cover of the system, and I wanted to publicize their names and telephone numbers, and even their addresses, so that if things went wrong, individuals could be called to account for their crimes.
I believe that the power of China's civil society is steadily rising and that popular surveillance is changing China. A little bit of luck would also help.
On the morning of January 10, I set off on my own for Dongshigu Village. Bumped and jostled the whole way, I arrived in Linyi a little after 6:00 that night. I had no navigation system and was unfamiliar with the roads, but by heading due north I located National Highway 205. Upon reaching the end of the highway, I was obliged to stop and ask for directions, and found that I'd already passed by the lodgings a Twitter friend had recommended. I suspected that word was already out on Twitter, and that once I checked in, Shandong's Finest would show up in the middle of the night and see me home. Twitter enthusiasts are especially active at night, and attention was focused; by the next day it would be much more difficult to sustain interest. I decided to make my move that night.
All I'd had that day was a cup of coffee in the morning and a cup of hot water and an egg at noon, and after the 12-hour drive I was parched and famished. I had no way of knowing when I'd get another chance to eat and drink, so I found a small restaurant, and as I ate I sounded out the proprietor on the local situation. I learned that I was now 30 kilometers outside of Linyi, which meant I had about 50 kilometers to go before reaching my destination.
I no longer had internet access through my cell phone, so I went to an internet café next to the restaurant to send out an update. My planned five-hour trip from Nanjing to Linyi had taken twelve hours instead, and I had missed the prearranged times to report my safe arrival by cell phone and Twitter. I could only hope that the Sina.com blog would carry my news to the other side of the Great Firewall.
Along the way, I noticed that most shops lacked air conditioners and were heated with coal stoves, and that people seemed simple and honest rather than cunning and vicious. This made me more confident of my course of action.
Once back on the road, a little after 7:00, I was ecstatic to find that I could once again access Twitter from my cell phone, and I quickly tweeted, "Heading due north, not stopping for rest." An hour later I received a phone call from lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who asked my location, and shortly thereafter I received a call from Piaoxiang, who urged me to be careful and set a time for the next call.
I turned on the video and audio recording equipment in my car, and set the video camera for sound activation so it would automatically shut down after two minutes of silence and then resume filming when the sound level reached 60 decibels. I tested the function several times with my car radio.
Entering the hills before 9:00, I guessed I was near my destination. I pulled my car over to the side of the road, tucked heat pads inside my jacket, wrapped a muffler around my neck, zipped up my jacket and was ready to face the winter wind. I tried the recorder one more time. All was in order. Driving due north once more, I still saw no sign of Dongshigu Village. With exhaustion setting in, I finally asked a truck driver how to get to Dongshigu, and he cheerfully informed me that I'd just passed it. I managed to miss the spot two more times before I spotted the village.
Not daring to drive straight in, I stopped my car on the next road beyond it and tweeted my arrival before I drove in the back way. Finally I spotted two houses and the wall of yet another, and as I sat gazing at them, a man in uniform standing by a van walked over with a flashlight.
I stuck my head out the window and asked, "Is this Xishigu Village?"
He said, "No. Turn around, and the road on your right will take you to Xishigu Village"
I asked again, "So where am I now?"
He hesitated, then said, "Dongshigu Village."
I was so happy that I didn't immediately know what to do. Turning my car around, I drove several meters, then stopped along the road and dialed Piaoxiang's number and told her I'd managed to stumble onto the village. As I spoke, I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed the flashlight beam of the village sentry advancing toward me.
I asked him if all villages had sentry posts, and if I could find a sentry at Xishigu Village who could give me directions. The villager looked somewhat embarrassed and said no, not all villages were like this. Then he told me to telephone my contact and have him or her come out and receive me. I asked him to join me in my car so I could talk with him, while at the same time reaching into my handbag for my wallet, where I had about 1,500 yuan prepared. But the villager refused to enter my car, and standing by my window he bent down and asked me to quickly tell him what I wanted. After a moment's thought, I asked him straight out, "Is this where Chen Guangcheng lives?" At the sound of that name, the villager jumped as if jolted out of his shoes, then ran back and grabbed his walkie-talkie, which began squawking. I clicked down the lock on my car door and turned on my tape recorder, and seeing the video camera indicator light in sleep mode, I switched the camera back on as well, preparing to face the inevitable.
In a twinkling I was surrounded by four or five villagers, who asked me what I was up to. I cracked open my car window and told them I wanted to see the village head. I said, "You're not responsible and I don't want to cause you any trouble. I understand you're just doing your duty. Please have the village head come out. I want to talk to him." The villagers scurried about, pounding on my car and telling me to leave. I sat inside my car and watched. There was nothing they could do.
Just then a light flashed up ahead and a police car arrived. I immediately opened my car door and jumped out to block the police car. I was joined by the villagers, who asked who was inside. The people inside the car said they needed to get into the village. I said I wanted to go along, but a uniformed man in the car refused, and the car drove into the village. One of the villagers reported this development on his walkie-talkie, and I wrote down the license number and reported it to Piaoxiang over the phone. "If things don't go well tonight, contact the police officer using this car." I purposely said this loudly enough for the villagers to overhear.
I then went back into my car and refused to come out, cracking open the window just enough to repeat my demand to see the village head. I told the villagers, "When the police come, I'll leave." Just then, a man in his thirties wearing round glasses came out of the village and roughly ordered me to stay put, asking my business and demanding to see my identity card. I was on the phone with lawyer Jiang Tianyong just then, and Jiang told me the villagers had no authority to examine my ID. All the same, after hanging up, I decided to let them see it. I turned my car toward the entrance of the village and told the villagers, "I'm not leaving." Then I put my ID card up against the window. They shined their flashlights on it, after which the man in the glasses said, "We can't read it," and told me to push the ID card out the window. When I refused, he said he was the village head, and that he wanted to come into my car. I told him to show me his ID, but he refused. Just then a call came from Piaoxiang, and I told her to quickly telephone the commander of the Shuanghou police station and file a complaint.
The man in the glasses kicked my car. "She's a thief," he said, and told the others to grab my car windows. I said, "I'm employed, I'm a teacher, so let's see who has credibility. I've been transmitting everything that's going on, and whatever you do here will be broadcast for the whole country to hear." The man with the glasses asked, "What are you up to?" Then he told the others I was an enemy agent, and directed them to grab my car and shake it back and forth, planning to flip it over. I pressed down on the accelerator, giving them a scare. I was angry and shouted out of the window, "I've been very restrained, I haven't been aggressive, and when you grabbed my car windows I didn't even pinch your fingers in them. I want to see the village head. If you raise your hands to me, I won't let you off, or anyone in your families. I hear you're all ex-cons and that you're prepared to do anything. Then you'd better just take me away in pieces, because you can't scare me. I'm not an American journalist or a lawyer who can be run off by the likes of you. I'm a born and bred Chinese — I've been raised on intimidation. Who hasn't seen thugs like you before?!"
The villagers began piling rocks around my car. Just as a call from Chen Yunfei came through on my phone, the man in the glasses came over carrying two poles. "I'll show you," he said, then bashed in my windshield and my window on the driver's side, after which he reached into the car, pulled out my car keys, opened the car door and began yanking me out. I kept describing to Chen Yunfei what was happening until they took my cell phone away.
I was flung to the ground but quickly stood up and dusted myself off. Down I went again and then back up. I was kicked three or four times, and then the men just cursed at me and left me alone.
As they ran into the village, I jumped back into my car and stepped on the accelerator, the chassis scraping over the pile of rocks as I drove toward the village. The men rushed to pile rocks in my path and I was tossed out of my car again. The villagers wanted to tow me back onto the highway, so I said, "All right, I'll sit there and block your National Highway 205." After thinking for a minute, the villagers sent two people to walk me to a road about 20 meters from the village, and the three of us stood there in the cold wind.
Whenever a villager passed, I would grab him and say, "Do you know Chen Guangcheng? He's blind. Have you seen him?" Those people always bowed their heads and dashed off.
During this time I saw someone who looked like a village head come out, and I tried to grab him, but the villagers quickly said, "He's not the village head."
I said, "If he's not the village head, why do you trot around him like dogs with your tongues hanging out until he waves you away?" The villagers laughed. I went on, "Your township head says Chen Guangcheng has a good life and his children are going to school. Is that true?"
A villager twisted his head around and snorted, "Says who? Go ask him!"
The cold of the northern winter night was oppressive, and after a while I simply couldn't take it any longer. I said, "I need to rest." The two villagers disagreed with each other and almost began fighting. Just then another man came out of the village to relieve them, and when I repeated my request, this one agreed. I climbed into the back seat of my car and lay down. The villagers turned on the light inside my car so they could keep an eye on me, but I was so tired that I eventually drifted off to sleep.
POLICE AND CIVILIAN COLLUSION
I was shaken awake by police officers, who told me, "You're safe, come with us." When I got into their car I asked to see the time. They said to wait until we reached the police station, but they never did let me see a clock.
After we arrived at the police station, they took a written statement. The police interrogated me about my work, my educational background, how I had gotten here, whether I had an accomplice, whether the car was mine, when I bought it, and sometimes interrupted their line of questioning to revert to my work experience. Suddenly I understood: "So you think I'm an enemy agent, and you're investigating me." A policeman off to the side tittered.
The policeman questioning me blushed and assured me, "Not at all. We're just asking exactly who you are; we're responsible for you."
I said, "The Nanjing police have me on file. You can carry out an ID check. As to whether I came on my own, you can view the surveillance footage. Don't ask such stupid questions, all right?" Finally they had me hand over all my receipts from bridges and toll booths, and after working out the sequence, they no longer concerned themselves with this line of questioning.
They went on to ask, "Is it appropriate to go to the village this late at night?"
"I couldn't help it. That's when I arrived, and in Nanjing no one sleeps that early — the night life is just beginning!"
The policeman said that in northern villages, everyone's asleep by that time of night, and it was only natural that someone trying to barge into the village would come under attack by the villagers.
Excerpted from In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon by Xu Youyu, Hua Ze, Stacy Mosher. Copyright © 2012 Open Books,. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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