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My Life in Prison: Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident

Overview

In 1999, leading dissident Jiang Qisheng was given a four-year sentence for inviting the Chinese people to light candles to honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Drawn with indignant intensity from Jiang’s time in prison, his memoirs record chilling observations of the modern “civilized” Beijing jails in which he was held.

While awaiting a farcical trial, he shares a cell crowded with common criminals, among them a murderer who had dismembered his victim with an ...

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My Life in Prison: Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident

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Overview

In 1999, leading dissident Jiang Qisheng was given a four-year sentence for inviting the Chinese people to light candles to honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Drawn with indignant intensity from Jiang’s time in prison, his memoirs record chilling observations of the modern “civilized” Beijing jails in which he was held.

While awaiting a farcical trial, he shares a cell crowded with common criminals, among them a murderer who had dismembered his victim with an electric saw.Along with intriguing vignettes of his fellow prisoners, Jiang describes the brutal conditions they all faced: inmates led to execution with necks corded to silence them, savage fights between prisoners, and rare moments of unexpected kindness.He describes the frequent beatings by guards, the use of the electric prod, and a dehumanizing regime aimed at humiliation and the destruction of individual personality.

After he is sentenced, conditions are even worse. Prisoners, used as slave labor, become bitterly exhausted and emaciated, while facing new depths of mental degradation.Throughout, however, Jiang retains his dignity, his detached and perceptive intelligence, and his concern for his fellow sufferers, guards included.

Written in a light and ironic style, Jiang’s stories of prisoners, many of whom come from the most primitive and impoverished layer of Chinese society, are related with vividness, insight, humor, and compassion.Dismayed by their fatalistic docility, the author asks, “Where lies China’s hope? Can democracy ever take root in China?” The answers, surely, lie in the voices of those, like Jiang, who dare to speak out.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jailed from 1999 until 2003 for the publication of an essay celebrating and memorializing the "Souls of the Heroes" of Tiananmen Square on its 10th anniversary, human rights activist Qisheng details his grueling incarceration in this engrossing memoir. In brief but vivid chapters, Qisheng recounts his time in Beijing's relatively comfortable Detention Center, where he awaited trial, spending his days working out with soda bottles and mastering Chinese chess. His reputation as "Political Prisoner" earned him the respect and unexpected camaraderie of many fellow inmates, but those friendships would be short-lived. After his trial, Qisheng was relocated to spend the remaining two years of his sentence in the deplorable conditions of the Transfer Center, where he endured "Guinness Record Levels of Suffering." Of the many daily hardships, Qisheng-an intellectual through and through-remarks several times on the lack of reading materials (aside from the numerous "violent and bloody martial arts novels" provided in every cell at the Detention Center) and his joy at being reunited with his beloved subscription to The World of English. In addition to the gripping account of an individual's triumph in a hostile environment, Qisheng's story is rife with relevant commentary on the state of Chinese rule: "It seems as though in China it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the populace in ignorance...not only in society in general, but also in the Detention Center."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly
Jailed from 1999 until 2003 for the publication of an essay celebrating and memorializing the "Souls of the Heroes" of Tiananmen Square on its 10th anniversary, human rights activist Qisheng details his grueling incarceration in this engrossing memoir. In brief but vivid chapters, Qisheng recounts his time in Beijing's relatively comfortable Detention Center, where he awaited trial, spending his days working out with soda bottles and mastering Chinese chess. His reputation as "Political Prisoner" earned him the respect and unexpected camaraderie of many fellow inmates, but those friendships would be short-lived. After his trial, Qisheng was relocated to spend the remaining two years of his sentence in the deplorable conditions of the Transfer Center, where he endured "Guinness Record Levels of Suffering." Of the many daily hardships, Qisheng—an intellectual through and through—remarks several times on the lack of reading materials (aside from the numerous "violent and bloody martial arts novels" provided in every cell at the Detention Center) and his joy at being reunited with his beloved subscription to The World of English. In addition to the gripping account of an individual's triumph in a hostile environment, Qisheng's story is rife with relevant commentary on the state of Chinese rule: "It seems as though in China it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the populace in ignorance…not only in society in general, but also in the Detention Center." (Feb.)
Booklist
Activist and writer Jiang was among the leaders of the student pro-democracy movement in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. At the 10-year anniversary of that protest, he was facing a four-year sentence for writing a commemoration of the historic protest. Thus began the ordeal of a pretense of a trial and a brutal imprisonment as a slave laborer, suffering along with the most impoverished and ignored of China’s population. Jiang chronicles the randomness of violence, cruelty, and simple kindness as men from every level of China’s highly stratified society, imprisoned for everything from horrific crimes to simple offenses to political resistance, are thrown together to survive years of suffering and humiliation. They are each tested to the core as they adjust to the prison culture and develop survival tactics that sometimes lend themselves to alliances and at other times to fighting among themselves. Jiang offers stories of interactions with other prisoners, small joys, and great suffering as well as his own inner struggle to maintain an equilibrium that would help him survive astonishing absurdity and cruelty.
Foreword Reviews
Chronological, detailed, and methodical, My Life in Prison: Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident, by Jiang Qisheng, fulfills its author’s purpose as historical record. His plea for human rights, particularly free speech, also includes observations on the dehumanizing effects of incarceration for prisoners and guards alike. For his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student movement, doctoral student Jiang Qisheng had his studies interrupted by an eighteen-month jail sentence, after which he was no longer employable as a teacher. Earlier, during the Cultural Revolution, he had been 'sent down' to work among peasants for ten years. Later, in 1999, for an essay he wrote called 'Light a Million Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Heroes of June 4th,' he was arrested and eventually sentenced to four years in prison. The official charge was 'incitement of subversion of state power,' but from the beginning Jiang maintained that his arrest and sentence were illegal and amounted to, in his terms, a 'literary inquisition.' Following his arrest on May 18, 1999, Jiang was held in the Beijing Detention Center for nearly two years, awaiting sentencing. . . . My Life in Prison has little to say about the third facility, but the first two are described in detail, the writer making very clear that his fifty-three days in the Transfer Center (along with the first week in Beijing Number Two Prison) were the worst of the entire four years. Born in 1948, Jiang is old enough to remember the Cultural Revolution, and his reflections are deepened by that historical perspective. He contrasts his own persecution with the torture and deaths of martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. 'Teacher Jiang' received respect from guards and inmates that would have been unthinkable decades earlier, steadfastly refusing to put his hands on top of his head and cast his eyes to the ground and never joining group chants of guilt and repentance. When claiming that those who have been legally deprived of freedom should not be treated to further humiliation and abuse, his concern goes beyond political prisoners to general prison reform. When human dignity is set aside, he observes, violence results. One wonders what he would make of American prison life.
China Rights Forum - Jonathan Mirsky
This is a unique, plainly written, meticulously detailed, convincing, and painful account of principled heroism. Readers will ask themselves what they would do—repeatedly—under the uncivilized and illegal circumstances that still disfigure the People’s Republic of China.
China Journal
Now, with a new generation of leaders having recently come to power, Jiang Qisheng’s book is a sober reminder of the limits of political reform in China.
The China Journal
Now, with a new generation of leaders having recently come to power, Jiang Qisheng’s book is a sober reminder of the limits of political reform in China.
CHOICE
Jiang Qisheng is a Chinese political dissident. He was first jailed for 18 months because of his involvement in the Tiananmen student prodemocracy movement in 1989. Then in 1999, he was given a four-year sentence for his appeal for open commemoration of the movement at its tenth anniversary. My Life in Prison is a detailed account of his second imprisonment, during which Jiang had to live with criminal offenders such as murderers, robbers, and drug dealers. The description of his life in jail reveals frequent humiliation and beatings of inmates by guards, dreadful living conditions, fights and quarrels between inmates, and exhausting manual work that all inmates had to do. Despite the sufferings in jail, Jiang gained understanding and respect for his pursuit of democracy from other inmates and even from some guards. In addition to his exposure of the brutal prison conditions, Jiang describes his thoughts on various issues such as the development of democracy in China, national and international political affairs, and his arguments with some inmates on different religious and political beliefs. This book provides firsthand information on Chinese dissidents and their pursuit of political reforms. Summing Up: Recommended.
ForeWord Reviews
Chronological, detailed, and methodical, My Life in Prison: Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident, by Jiang Qisheng, fulfills its author’s purpose as historical record. His plea for human rights, particularly free speech, also includes observations on the dehumanizing effects of incarceration for prisoners and guards alike. For his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student movement, doctoral student Jiang Qisheng had his studies interrupted by an eighteen-month jail sentence, after which he was no longer employable as a teacher. Earlier, during the Cultural Revolution, he had been 'sent down' to work among peasants for ten years. Later, in 1999, for an essay he wrote called 'Light a Million Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Heroes of June 4th,' he was arrested and eventually sentenced to four years in prison. The official charge was 'incitement of subversion of state power,' but from the beginning Jiang maintained that his arrest and sentence were illegal and amounted to, in his terms, a 'literary inquisition.' Following his arrest on May 18, 1999, Jiang was held in the Beijing Detention Center for nearly two years, awaiting sentencing. . . . My Life in Prison has little to say about the third facility, but the first two are described in detail, the writer making very clear that his fifty-three days in the Transfer Center (along with the first week in Beijing Number Two Prison) were the worst of the entire four years. Born in 1948, Jiang is old enough to remember the Cultural Revolution, and his reflections are deepened by that historical perspective. He contrasts his own persecution with the torture and deaths of martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. 'Teacher Jiang' received respect from guards and inmates that would have been unthinkable decades earlier, steadfastly refusing to put his hands on top of his head and cast his eyes to the ground and never joining group chants of guilt and repentance. When claiming that those who have been legally deprived of freedom should not be treated to further humiliation and abuse, his concern goes beyond political prisoners to general prison reform. When human dignity is set aside, he observes, violence results. One wonders what he would make of American prison life.
Choice
Jiang Qisheng is a Chinese political dissident. He was first jailed for 18 months because of his involvement in the Tiananmen student prodemocracy movement in 1989. Then in 1999, he was given a four-year sentence for his appeal for open commemoration of the movement at its tenth anniversary. My Life in Prison is a detailed account of his second imprisonment, during which Jiang had to live with criminal offenders such as murderers, robbers, and drug dealers. The description of his life in jail reveals frequent humiliation and beatings of inmates by guards, dreadful living conditions, fights and quarrels between inmates, and exhausting manual work that all inmates had to do. Despite the sufferings in jail, Jiang gained understanding and respect for his pursuit of democracy from other inmates and even from some guards. In addition to his exposure of the brutal prison conditions, Jiang describes his thoughts on various issues such as the development of democracy in China, national and international political affairs, and his arguments with some inmates on different religious and political beliefs. This book provides firsthand information on Chinese dissidents and their pursuit of political reforms. Summing Up: Recommended.
Library Journal
What should American readers make of this memoir by a Chinese human rights activist and dissident? Jiang recounts the experience of his four years, beginning in 1999, in a Beijing prison, where he was sent for inviting people to light candles to honor the Tiananmen Square massacre victims. As one might expect, it is a horror story. The misery of death row, fights among prisoners, the use of electric prods, and beatings with fists and clubs are only a few of the travails he endured there. But what is Jiang communicating to his readers in the United States aside from a record of brutality? As he explains what it means to be a dissident in the face of enormous power, readers may be reminded of recent Occupy Wall Street protests and view their relative freedom of expression from a new perspective. VERDICT This book will prove significant to anyone interested in China, its prodemocracy movement, and its criminal justice system, as well as anyone curious about the story Jiang has to tell.—Frances Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442212220
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/16/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jiang Qisheng was born in 1948. After ten years of hard agricultural labor during the Cultural Revolution, he obtained a master’s degree in aerodynamics, which led to a university teaching post and work toward a PhD. However, for his involvement in the Tiananmen student prodemocracy movement, he was jailed for 18 months. Denied employment on release, he became a freelance writer. In 1999 he was given a longer sentence, which is the subject of this book. With Nobel prizewinner Liu Xiaobo, Jiang was one of the drafters of Charter 08 and remains an outspoken writer on civil liberties and human rights in China.

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Read an Excerpt

My Life in Prison

Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident
By Jiang Qisheng

ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.

Copyright © 2012 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4422-1222-0


Chapter One

A Trip to the South

The year 1999 would not be a quiet one. As I put the finishing touches on my essay "Citizens' Movements: The Road to Freedom" and with my wife and son boarded the train in Beijing to go home to Wuxi for the New Year vacation, small waves of disturbance began to rise.

Soon after we had settled into our seats, I discovered that two plainclothes officers from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, who had been watching our home for some years, were also on the train. This had never happened before. I asked them why they were there, and they replied that the leadership had told them to escort us to Changshu. On arrival in Wuxi, where we stayed overnight with relatives, we found that the local police were on duty downstairs.

The next day, when my younger brother drove from Changshu to pick us up, two cars followed us closely all the way back. On the third day the authorities took the unprecedented step of sending a New Year's greeting letter to our door. Meanwhile, they contacted many of my old classmates and warned them not to see me. This unusual harassment led me to think that if I returned directly to the capital after the holidays, given the upcoming meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference,* I would certainly be subject to special surveillance of a more severe degree than in the past. Yet, like any normal person, I wanted freedom—freedom to move about and to see my friends, to be able to breathe without fear. So we decided that my wife and son would go to Suzhou before returning to Beijing, while I would visit friends in Shanghai, and then slowly continue my trip southward, fulfilling an ordinary citizen's dream of a March vacation.

On the morning I left alone for Shanghai, my brother drove my wife and son to Suzhou. The police, assuming that I was also in that car, tailed it all the way, and not until late in the day, when they had seen no sign of me, did they begin to spread a net to find me.

My own journey passed smoothly, and as soon as I arrived, I telephoned my friend Jiang Danwen. But when I went to his house the next morning, I discovered that the Shanghai police were now following me. So my "freedom excursion" was no sooner begun than it was brought to an end, and I sighed in deep disappointment.

At noon I went to a restaurant with several Shanghai friends. This was a new experience for them—eating a meal under the gaze of plainclothes special agents. Reluctant to cause them any further trouble, I decided to return to Changshu and think things over; if the police wanted to follow me, let them follow me to back to Changshu. As we finished our meal, we said goodbye and I calmly took a taxi to the Gongxing Road long distance bus station. As luck would have it, the flustered special agents were unable to track me. When I confirmed that I had once again regained my freedom I decided to go south to Hangzhou.

At eight o'clock in the evening I walked out of the Hangzhou train station and boarded a double-decker bus, and, in a seat on the upper level, I made my way westward at a relaxed pace under the beautiful night sky. Not wanting to use a telephone, I decided to go directly to friends' addresses. Although this might be more troublesome, it allowed me to enjoy their company unsupervised. Three days later I left for Nanchang and, while reading on the train, I was noticed by an assistant manager of a local factory who had been making cell phone calls one after another to conduct his business. We struck up a friendship and I was invited to move into the Nanchang Hotel that evening.

The next day, having bought a train ticket for Guangzhou, I began my first stroll through the streets of Nanchang. I went to Teng Wang Pavilion and had a taste of the famous lihao vegetable from the waters of Boyang Lake, and in the farmers' market I chatted with a cousin about family affairs. Coincidentally, I happened to see a copy of Southern Weekend, the front page of which featured photos of the chief of the Nanchang Public Security Bureau, who had just been arrested. At 4 p.m. I boarded the overnight southbound train to Guangzhou. In contrast to the relatively quiet bustle of Nanchang, as soon as I emerged from the Guangzhou train station I was in the midst of noisy crowds of people. After taking a moment to gather my wits, I caught a minibus for Shenzhen and reached the Nantou barrier at about 12:30 p.m. To enter Shenzhen one has to show an identity card and a border pass. I had two choices. Either I had to pay eighty yuan to be escorted by one of the agents wandering about in front of the barrier looking for business, or I could contact a friend to come out and take me in. As I didn't trust the first option, I chose the second and called a People's University alumnus, Xia Hongyue, who came with his border pass and took me in with no difficulty.

This was the first time since my visit to Shenzhen in June of 1992 that I had set foot in this ever-changing city. Xia was my Ph.D. classmate from the class of 1988. He had received his Ph.D. in 1991, when he was only twenty-six years old. Since moving to Shenzhen he had worked in the United Front section of the Municipal Party Committee, in the Municipal Bureau of Industry and Commerce, and on the Shenzhen Business News. Thus he could be considered a tiaocao boshi, a Ph.D. holder who moves from one job to another to improve his position. Since I had arrived on the day of the Lantern Festival, I had dinner at Xia's home in Jingmi New Village with his parents and his wife and daughter. That night Xia arranged for me to stay at the Zhongshen Dasha on the North Ring Road.

My plan for Shenzhen was to get together with friends, do an interview, and in an easy and relaxed fashion enjoy myself and learn about the area. I wasn't on a dissident's trip; it was just a citizen's trip. The only friends that I would seek out would be People's University alumni; the only person I wanted to interview was He Qinglian, the author of The Pitfalls of Modernization; and my tourist activities would be simply to go wherever my footsteps led me.

One morning Xia and I had breakfast at the Xiangmi Lake Vacation Villa, then headed for Shenzhen University. The taxi entered the campus by the north gate and passed through grassy slopes and green trees, finally coming to a gentle stop. I got out, and without thinking about it, watched a motorcycle overtake the taxi and go around to our right, where the rider turned off the engine and leaned the cycle on its stand. When I glanced around again I saw a man who looked like a student, wearing glasses and carrying a book, who was standing behind us with a smile on his face. I was puzzled, but had not yet thought of special agents following me once more.

Xia and I set out on a small path, chatting as we walked. At this time of year Shenzhen was green and fragrant. As we reached a dormitory area of the campus, I looked around and saw that about thirty meters away there was that student-like man again. I knew right away that I was being followed, but when I mentioned it to Xia, he couldn't believe it. This tiaocao boshi friend of mine had only seen student spies and special agents in movies set in the pre-1949 era; he had never witnessed the real thing. But I was battle-weary from my years of experience. I said I knew how to put him to the test. We could simply go to someplace where there were not many people about, then make several rounds from one place to another, and if this person was still behind us, then he was without doubt a tail.

In less than a minute we had the answer. We were both very angry. When would the authorities give up this silliness of thinking every bush and tree was an enemy soldier? Once again my dream of freedom had been spoiled by the specter of human rights violations.

As we left the Shenzhen University campus the two of us decided to see if we could lose the tail. As our taxi set off at a high speed, taking us eastward on University South Avenue, Xia saw in the rearview mirror that the agent was right behind us on his motorcycle. Xia told me that motorcycles were prohibited on this street. I said, "The rules don't apply to special agents." Later we stopped at the Shenzhen Journal of Law offices, and when we came out we again we took a taxi and purposely drove blindly from one place to another in the busy downtown area of the city, but the motorcyclist, and now also a Toyota minibus, still followed us like a shadow. At noon the two of us went into an underground fast food restaurant for lunch, and the agents came in quickly and looked around to see whether there might be another way out. When we finished eating I suggested that we separate and I would deal with the agents by myself. I thought I could trick them by running back the way I had come and taking unexpected turns on the pedestrian overpasses, but because I was not sufficiently familiar with the lie of the land, I finally gave it up in defeat and went back to my room. Over the next few days the two of us did succeed in losing the tail, but I still couldn't see my other old classmates, nor was I able to interview He Qinglian.

On the day I left Shenzhen, while I was buying a ticket for the boat to Zhuhai, where I wanted to get together with friends, I was detained by the authorities on a fabricated pretext and locked up in the police station. I immediately began a hunger strike to protest my arrest, and for the next three meals did not eat a single grain of rice. At 2:30 p.m. the next day three policemen arrived from Beijing under orders to "accompany" me in my travels around Guangdong and Guangxi and to see that I did not return to Beijing until the National People's Congress and the CPPCC meetings were concluded.

At certain times, "freedom," for those leading the quest for freedom, becomes the very thing that is most lacking.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from My Life in Prison by Jiang Qisheng Copyright © 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Andrew J. Nathan
Introduction by Perry Link
Part I: The Detention Center
Chapter 1: A Trip to the South
Chapter 2: Dark Clouds Appear
Chapter 3: A Sleepless Night
Chapter 4: In Section Seven
Chapter 5: Maintaining One’s Dignity
Chapter 6: Verbal Tussles During Preliminary Examination
Chapter 7: Peaceful Coexistence with Fellow Prisoners
Chapter 8: Avoiding Self-Pity
Chapter 9: Death and Life by the Wall
Chapter 10: Looking on the Bright Side
Chapter 11: The White Hole of Human Rights
Chapter 12: A Brief Look at Evidence of Corruption
Chapter 13: Longing for Books
Chapter 14: Chess and Cards
Chapter 15: Litigation Records
Chapter 16: The Trial
Chapter 17: Falungong Adherent Sun Wei
Chapter 18: Gao Shuo of the Electric Saw
Chapter 19: Treated as Guilty Even without Evidence
Chapter 20: Precious Messages
Chapter 21: Occasional Loneliness
Chapter 22: Victims of Injustice and Crackdowns on Criminals
Chapter 23: The Clank of Chains at Dawn
Chapter 24: A Sketch of the Detention Center
Chapter 25: The Campaign for Democracy
Chapter 26: Reading the Newspapers
Chapter 27: The Taiwan Question
Chapter 28: "Give Birth Early and Often"
Chapter 29: Teachers’ Low Self-Esteem
Chapter 30: The Joy of Books
Chapter 31: Blood on the Sleeping Platform
Chapter 32: A Small Society in a Narrow Room
Chapter 33: Three Encounters with Falungong
Chapter 34: When Would My Case Be Settled?
Chapter 35: From Detention Center to Transfer Center
Epilogue to Part I
Part II: In the Transfer Center
Prologue
Chapter 36: Encountering Prohibitions
Chapter 37: Unwritten Rules
Chapter 38: A True April Fool's Day Story
Chapter 39: A Frightening Interlude
Chapter 40: Visitors Day
Chapter 41: Guinness Record Levels of Suffering
Chapter 42: Others May Be Biased, but I Am Impartial
Chapter 43: When the Cock Crows at Dawn, the System Is Even More Cruel
Chapter 44: I've Never Been Afraid of Hard Work
Chapter 45: The Long May Day Holiday
Chapter 46: The Unchanging Transfer Center
Epilogue to Part II
The Day I Was Released From Prison

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