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My Life in Prison: Memoirs of a Chinese Political Dissidentby Jiang Qisheng
In 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, leading dissident Jiang Qisheng was given a four-year sentence for inviting the Chinese people to light candles to honor the victims. Drawn with indignant intensity from Jiang’s time in prison, his memoirs offer compelling observations of two of the three modern, “civilized” Beijing… See more details below
In 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, leading dissident Jiang Qisheng was given a four-year sentence for inviting the Chinese people to light candles to honor the victims. Drawn with indignant intensity from Jiang’s time in prison, his memoirs offer compelling observations of two of the three modern, “civilized” Beijing jails in which he was held.Along with intriguing vignettes of his fellow prisoners, Jiang describes both brutally dehumanizing conditions and rare moments of unexpected kindness.Prisoners, used as slave labor, become “skinned” through malnutrition and exhaustion, while facing new depths of mental degradation.Throughout, however, Jiang retained his dignity, detached and perceptive intelligence, and concern for his fellow sufferers, guards included. Writing in his signature light and ironic style, Jiang’s stories of prisoners, who 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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My Life in PrisonMemoirs of a Chinese Political Dissident
By Jiang Qisheng
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2012 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA 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.
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.
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