With Nobel prize-winning Liu Xiaobo, Jiang was one of the drafters of Charter 08, and remains an outspoken writer on civil liberties and human rights in China. In 1999, Jiang was sentenced to jail for four years for calling the Chinese people to light candles to honor the victims of the Tiananmen square massacre. These chapters from his memoir record his chilling observations during his jail time.
The 18th of May began as an ordinary day with clear blue skies of early summer. In the forenoon I studied and read aloud from The World of English magazine. In the afternoon Wang Linhai came to the University for a class and stopped by my place for a brief visit. A fax arrived from another friend in Xinyang, Henan. Shortly before 5 p.m. I went to the table tennis room and played ping pong with physical education teachers until six o'clock. On my way back home I paid special attention but saw no tail. At nightfall I put several articles in envelopes for friends in Changshu and Changsha, preparing to mail them out the next day. And I picked up the postal notification slip for the tea leaves that Fu Guoyong had mailed to me and stuck it into my pocket so that I could retrieve the package and have some of this year's fresh tea from Zhejiang. After 9 p.m. Chu Yanqing stopped by and while we were chatting I accepted a telephone interview call from Free Asia Television. As Chu Yanqing was leaving I gave him some copies of "Lighting the Candles," and around eleven o'clock I went to bed.
James E. Dew taught Chinese language and linguistics for many years at the University of Michigan, directed advanced Chinese language programs for American students in Taipei and Beijing, and was founding director of the Language Teaching Center at Johns Hopkins University. His publications include City of Cats (translation of Lao She's early 1930s satirical novel Mao Cheng Ji), Classical Chinese: A Functional Approach (co-author with Kai Li), and articles on Chinese language pedagogy. Born in Montana and brought up in Florida, he has lived a total of twenty-five years in Taipei, Beijing and Hong Kong. He now lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife Vivian Ling.
Before I had drifted off to sleep there was a knock at the door. I turned on the light and glanced at the clock on the wall: it was 11:30. A visitor in the middle of the night was sure to be the police. It was a People's Policeman named Gao from the Enjizhuang station. Since both my family and I were used to my being taken away in the middle of the night, I opened the door without hesitation. To my surprise, five or six police quickly crowded into the apartment. Then I realized that this was not good; they were really taking action now. I calmly got dressed, suppressing self reproach and anguish about a recent diary that I now had no chance to hide. This would cause trouble for friends, especially those who had secretly helped us. As I walked out of the bedroom and went to the front of the apartment, I saw that my wife was already sitting up on the bed. Obviously aware of the seriousness of the situation, she called out, "When will you be back?" I wanted to say, "It won't be long," but then I saw that the group included a female police officer. They were going to undertake a search, and this meant that I would certainly not come back home soon. So I smiled but said nothing. I looked back at my wife, and my son, who had been awakened by the commotion, and I walked out of the apartment.
When I came down the stairs I saw that in addition to the four or five policemen closely surrounding me, standing out in the darkness were more than twenty others. I asked officer Gao, "Is it really necessary to mobilize such a big force just to deal with one little scholar?" He said, "Who knows what the higher ups are thinking?" After a few minutes a convoy of seven or eight cars was organized and we arrived at the Enjizhuang police station. At the entryway I saw chief Yu, head of the First Section of the Haidian district bureau, but he pretended not to recognize me. As we passed the Criminal Affairs office, I was surprised to see that Chu Yanqing was being held there. They had brought him in more than an hour ago. I was taken to a room far back in the interior of the station. Soon an assistant chief named Zhai came in and solemnly read a formal summons for detention, and four or five officers started taking pictures. With the magnesium lights flashing, I allowed myself a slight sarcastic smile. Afterward, Song Aixin from the First Section of the Haidian bureau began a routine interrogation, while personnel of Section 11 of the Municipal Bureau wandered back and forth.
After about an hour I was moved to the criminal affairs office, where I faced two people who said they were from the First Section of the Municipal Bureau. The one who began questioning me was a man of about fifty who wore glasses, was rather short and didn't have much hair. He looked very civilized and had a leisurely manner of speaking. I speculated that he had long experience in police political affairs. I figured that he had just been busily going through the things taken from my home and was now ready to confront me. Although I despised the profession of political police, my habit had always been to show appropriate respect to every officer with whom I had contact, and our verbal exchange continued until daylight.
He began by saying that he had recently read my essay "Citizens' Movement: The Road to Freedom." Then he mentioned other essays of mine which he had read. When he said with a sigh, "I'm surprised that you seem so young," I responded, "That is why there is no need for me to say things that I don't believe. What do you think of my essays?" He looked away in embarrassment and changed the subject, saying that I was highly educated, able to use my head and a prolific writer; surely I had written other essays. There must be a lot of articles that I had published under pseudonyms. I laughed aloud at that, and he continued his cross examination, repeatedly coming back to two articles, my "Light a Million Candles" and Li Xiaoping's "Some Thoughts on Peaceful Realization of Basic Reform of China's Social System." From his questions I quickly confirmed that they had found my diary, and this made me very anxious. I could only pray that my friends would forgive my carelessness, and at the same time, I swore that I must never again say anything which would bring harm to them. It was also clear to me from what he was saying that his boss was very angry about this "guiding principles" essay of Li Xiaoping's and that they were determined that the author must be exposed.
Around two or three o'clock in the morning someone called him out to "have a bite to eat." A People's Policeman named Zhang Hongyan came in and handed me my white jacket, saying, "It's late and getting cold. You'd better put it on." The People's Policeman Gao, who had been ordered to knock on my door, brought me a bowl of noodle soup, looking sheepish. After a half an hour the "chief interrogator" came in again. His focus was still on Li Xiaoping and the tenth anniversary of June 4th. Right away he said that on careful consideration they had discovered that my views were extremely similar to his and they were forced to conclude that I was in fact Li Xiaoping. He then asked how I could explain this. I laughed and said, "You must know the expression 'heroes have similar views'." He came right back with, "Can you introduce me to that hero?" I told him, "He is a professor, who knows me well but is younger than I am." "Well, what's his real name?" He was hoping I would speak frankly. I said, "He uses a pseudonym because he hopes to be promoted and he wants to keep the privilege of being able to leave and re-enter the country freely. He and I are good friends. If I told you his name, it would harm him and I would lose my integrity. I wouldn't get mixed up in organizing a party, but I draw a line that I won't cross". Irritated, he immediately started to ridicule me, saying, "Do you think what you have done is not an important offense? Wang Dan is abroad promoting the campaign to get a million signatures for June 4th. As for yourself, quite apart from your writings, you are taking the lead as the contact person within the country. Are you a normal law-abiding person?" I said that I felt duty bound to commemorate June 4th; was this not very normal? When it comes to setting a limit on what one will do, an honorable man is not afraid of boiling water. He said sarcastically, "You came out of the philosophy department; I know I can't get the best of you in an argument." Then he started talking about the "scandals" of "those who are involved in the democracy movement abroad." Suddenly he mentioned several Changshu friends of mine who are now in ministerial level positions in Beijing. He mentioned their names one by one, watching to see how I would react. I thought to myself, they're really shrewd, they have gone through the namecard box that I keep at home. My only comment was, "We all have our own aspirations," and he started talking about other things.
The interrogation went round and round, but all without result, and a dim daylight began to appear. He abandoned his gentle manner and, somewhat flustered and frustrated, said, "There are two final questions I want to ask you. First, we have all along suspected that Li Xiaoping is your pseudonym. Is it? Second, if we let you go home now, will you persist in commemorating June 4th?" I gave clear and definite answers to the two questions: "No," and "Of course." "Hai!" he retorted. "So you still want to go ahead with the commemoration!" And he turned and walked out.
The sleepless night of 18 May had passed and the sun was shining into the small courtyard.
A little after 10 a.m. the man who had interrogated me all night came into the room and said, "We'll move to a different place and continue our chat," and I left through the front gate of the station with three men from Section One of the Municipal Police Bureau. We got into a light blue sedan and, with the hazard lights flashing, sped away southeastward through the city. On the Second Ring Road South the car turned north into a narrow neighborhood lane, and suddenly high walls, electrified netting and a sentry box appeared before our eyes. I immediately speculated that this must be the so-called No. 44 Banbuqiao, where suspects in important cases were held. The car entered the compound through the west gate, which was standing wide open, and drove another forty meters before stopping outside a big iron gate that was shut tight. There were two signs hanging on this gate. One read "Beijing Detention Center," and the other "Branch Office of the Beijing Municipal Procuratorate." I waited in the car for more than half an hour, then Section One personnel took me to a small iron gate for entry on foot, and under the gaze of armed police I stepped into a world where I would be completely without freedom.
I was quickly taken to a preliminary hearing room on the second floor of a building. The Beijing Public Security Bureau's Preliminary Hearing Unit, also known as Section Seven, is within the Detention Center. "Section Seven" is commonly used to refer to both the Preliminary Hearing Unit and the Detention Center. I remember that when I was locked up in the Westside Jail in 1994, people in custody there would turn pale at the mention of being "Posted to Section Seven." This hearing room was not very big and was dirty and disorderly. While a policeman who appeared to be in his late twenties watched me, the several officers from Section One that had been escorting me turned and left without a word and did not reappear. Missing my family and feeling concern for my friends, l looked around and sat down on a wooden chair.
Suddenly something unexpected, though quite reasonable, happened. The man who was watching over me asked what I was in for. I said that I had written an essay on the 10th anniversary of the June 4th incident. I saw a change in the expression on his face, and right away he said, "To tell the truth, I really respect you fellows who are willing to go to jail for your beliefs like Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan"1 He spoke with a sincerity that left no room for doubt, though I was very surprised at his boldness. I was completely unknown to him, yet he dared to speak so frankly to me. I said to him, "Yesterday evening I told foreign interviewers that I was willing to go to jail to promote freedom of speech." Then I asked him his name, but he mumbled, "Let's talk about it after you get out." After a little while he brought me some fried cakes and some beef, and I realized that I was indeed hungry.
In the afternoon I was taken into custody by the Criminal Police.
At nightfall, my belt, wallet and leather shoes were taken away and my keyring and driver's license booklet were confiscated. Then after passing through yet another iron gate guarded by armed police, I entered the inner courtyard for detained criminal suspects and was taken to cell 313 in area three, and I began another special life as a prisoner.
The address for all of the inmates held in Section Seven was uniformly No. 44, Side Gate, Banbuqiao, Xuanwu District. In 1989, eleven years ago, when I was in the Qincheng Prison and my family sent me money, clothing or books, they used this same address. At the time, I had no idea where Banbuqiao was or what sort of place "No. 44, Side Gate" was. Now as I set pen to paper to write this account, I have lived at this "Side Gate" for thirteen months and seventeen days, and I am very clear about Section Seven's overall arrangement and management.
Anyone walking on Banbuqiao Street would see the West Gate of Section Seven. Family members who have received a request to bring money would arrive at the reception office just inside the West Gate. About forty meters beyond this gate is the main North Gate. Here there are two placards, "Beijing Municipal Detention Center" and "Branch Office of the Beijing Municipal People's Procuratorate." There is a large electrically operated iron gate which, except for the occasional entrance and exit of vehicles, is tightly closed all day. Beside the big iron gate is a small iron gate for pedestrian entry and exit which is guarded by a policeman with a loaded rifle on his shoulder. After entering the North Gate, one sees the outer yard of Section Seven. In this yard are the administrative office building, the preliminary hearings building and two further buildings for the lawyers and the police. A hundred meters to the south, on the west side, is another big iron gate guarded by armed police. Inside this gate is the inner yard of Section Seven.
Having eaten prison fare for more than a year, I feel that I am well qualified to speak of it. Beginning in early December 1999, breakfast every Monday through Friday consisted of one cornmeal bun and one bowl of cornmeal porridge, with the addition of two small pieces of xian geda (lumpy-noodle bread). Lunch was two wheat-flour buns and a bowl of vegetable soup, and dinner was two cornmeal buns and a bowl of vegetable soup. On Saturday and Sunday the morning meal was two wheat-flour buns and a bowl of vegetable soup, and the afternoon meal was two cornmeal buns and another bowl of vegetable soup. Through the year there were three main vegetables: from late October till late April we had Chinese cabbage; from early May to early July it was ordinary cabbage, and from mid July to mid October it was potatoes. Every year we also had squash and celery about ten times each, and turnips about five times. We had some kind of bean product once a year, during Spring Festival, and we had jiaozi dumplings on the first day of the lunar new year. There was usually a small amount of ground meat in the vegetable soup, and on New Year's Day, May Day, Mid Autumn Festival and October 1st National Day, we had slow-cooked pork. We also had slow-cooked pork twice during Spring Festival.
In March of 2000 the foods that were available for purchase in the prison shop suddenly improved. The thirty-some items that had been available were expanded to more than seventy. No matter that the foodstuffs that were brought in at wholesale prices were sold to us at a markup of thirty to eighty percent above the retail prices on the outside, the inmates weighed the pros and cons and welcomed this exploitation, saying that if they couldn't buy anything and had to depend on the meals that were provided for us, their eyes would long ago have turned green.
There were four things that met with universal complaints in Section Seven. First, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning the loudspeakers broadcast the "Detention Center Regulations" and the "Standards of Conduct." Each spiel was broadcast twice. This foolish action met with total rejection on the part of all the inmates. It had absolutely no positive effect and just resulted in a round of curses. Secondly, there were five occasions during the year—New Year's Day, Spring Festival, May Day, the August 1st anniversary of the establishment of the army, and the October 1st National Day—when a "savage" cleaning of the prison occurred. Of course it was necessary to keep the prison clean, but what was the point in coming in like foreign devils or bandits invading a farm village. Each time one of these cleanings occurred, all the inmates were first driven into the exercise cages, then the guards and wardens came in dressed in dark green smocks and rooted through our bedding, clothing, food and personal articles, leaving everything in a disorderly jumble. While this was going on, other guards would undertake personal searches of the inmates in the exercise cages. After twenty minutes or so, the cells were left looking like a disaster area, and the guards swaggered away with only our newly purchased playing cards in their pockets, having failed to find our home-made antenna in the TV room or the drafts for My Life in Prison. Of course everybody roundly cursed this behavior of "government employees."2 Even the men who were in for robbery were bitterly indignant, saying "How are they any different from us?"
The third object of loathing was the rampant formalism that accompanied the "specially designated struggles." Beginning on 3 July 2000, there was a two-week period of "informing and exposing," when we had to remain in our assigned seats on the sleeping platform from dinnertime until ten p.m. We were not allowed to watch television, play cards or chess or engage in any kind of entertainment activities. With twenty-six men jammed together in the midsummer heat, having sat still through the day, when evening came, we especially needed some relaxation, and to be subjected to this kind of nonsensical and formalistic rule was inhumane and could not have any good result.
Fourth was that at Mid Autumn Festival and the Lantern Festival,3 the prison did not give the Chinese prisoners free mooncakes and sweet dumplings, though they did distribute these treats to the foreign prisoners. The Chinese inmates unanimously denounced this absurd and mean-minded way of doing things. On Chinese holidays the Chinese prisoners were ignored and provoked, while the foreign prisoners wouldn't necessarily appreciate the attention that they received. In the first place, they didn't celebrate the Chinese festivals, and besides, knowing that the Chinese inmates did not receive the treats, they would feel very perplexed and embarrassed.
At festival time, Section Seven followed the standard Communist Party line of inviting people to submit essays and broadcasting discussions to entice and force inmates to "reveal their inner feelings." Although many people were fed up with this sort of thing, they still complied with the requests. For my part, I continued to hope that everyone could gradually come to understand that to refuse to cooperate was actually a better choice. If you don't dare to be a hero of resistance, that doesn't mean that you have to debase yourself to a position of slavery. Without being either obsequious or arrogant, you could say a few words, or you could laugh and not say anything. Still, listening to the all-encompassing slavish pronouncements on the loudspeaker, I felt more sympathy than resentment. These inmates were no longer the ignorant dupes of the 1970s; they now understood that they were speaking against their own convictions. Still, I could detect that their self-deprecatory speech was play-acting, done on the surface in order to cope with their environment. I wrote only one piece on cell 404; the title was "A Brief Analysis of Riots and Fighting in Prison." But because it made no attempt to fawn on the authorities, and in fact expressed disagreement with the Detention Center's "strike at prison bullies" policy, it was not accepted for publication.
Then should we say that the policies and personnel of Section Seven only received adverse criticism from the inmates, never gaining favorable comment? No, that is not true. For example, everyone approved of such policies and actions as the guaranteed supply of cold water, hiring of workers to replace prisoners for cooking and distributing food, and always promptly delivering to inmates the money that was brought or sent to them. And there were some guards, as well as doctors, who were universally praised by the inmates. Take Dr. Wang, for example. The reason for our praise of her was basic and very simple: she treated us humanely.
Here I attach my essay on fighting in Section Seven:
A Brief Analysis of Fighting in the Detention Center
Everyone knows that prison bullies used to be a scourge of prison life. Individuals or small cliques would form gangs and purposely take advantage of people, humiliating and abusing them. The existence of such jail bullies has been common. They meted out inhumane treatment to others. They would act recklessly and were often savage and cruel. Such behavior was possible only because it was openly or covertly permitted. Now, because of various measures and policies that have been put in place, although such things still happen occasionally, they are no longer typical or representative of Beijing's detention centers. Today the thing that is most commonly harmful to good order is fighting among the inmates.
This occurs when two inmates attack each other or a larger number of people become involved in personal violence. They usually occur for some specific reason, in contrast to the way prison bullies provoked trouble or attacked people for no reason. Also, these fights usually take place between men both of whom are to some extent problematical individuals, neither of them being a really virtuous person. The better fighter is likely to be a worse person, but the weaker one is almost always also at fault to some extent. This is different from the bullies who used their strength against the weak, flaunting their evil to oppress the good. Also, these fights burst out suddenly, with two men unexpectedly mixing it up with each other. And there is often the danger of escalation. The loser in a fight will always look for an opportunity for revenge, usually at a higher level of violence.
Fighting has become a prominent and frequent phenomenon. On the surface, the principal causes are as follows. First, there has been an argument and neither side is willing to give in, each man challenging the other. For example, two men are sitting quietly playing chess, when one of them is unwilling to accept that he is losing the game. Each accuses the other of being a poor player, and pretty soon they are hitting and kicking each other, noses are bloodied and faces are swollen. In a second kind of situation, someone feels that he has been cheated by a cellmate. It might be that two men share this feeling about each other, and the rancor between them builds up until one day it explodes. Or the feeling of grievance is on only one side, one person feeling that another is unbearably hateful, always trying to cheat him. He reaches a point where he can't stand it any longer, and fists fly. Third, a man might be moody or depressed and suddenly fly off the handle. Or someone has received his statement of charges and finds the wording too severe, and his psychological resistance suddenly drops to the point where he can't stand even the harmless chatter of other inmates: so he starts attacking people.
Fourth, sometimes joking or teasing is overdone and shame turns to anger. Someone throws a peanut or a clove of garlic, then a shoe is thrown, and anger grows until they are fighting. Fifth, a monitor is seen as being unfair or carries out his duties in a slapdash manner. In all of these circumstances, a spark ignites and a fight gets under way within a minute. First, something is said that hurts another person, then the language becomes abusive and obscene, antagonism quickly heats up, blood vessels swell, dark bile wells up, and a man loses control of himself. Fists and feet go wild and a fight is under way.
At a deeper level, the causes of fighting are the following: First, the men lack a moral standard of respect for others' character and dignity. This can be clearly seen in the coarse and abusive language that often comes out as soon as a man opens his mouth. Second, a basic concept of respect for an individual's rights and interests is lacking. A man will purposely take advantage of others in an underhanded attempt to gain "face." He never admits to being a scoundrel, but sees himself as being entirely upright and proper. Third is an excess of vanity, recklessly seeking to build self-respect. And fourth is a habitual dependence on violence and a deep-rooted inclination to cause trouble.
There is absolutely no doubt that this problem of fighting should be carefully monitored and measures should be taken to control it and bring it to an end. Generally speaking, the inmates are in the Detention Center because they have broken the law, and they all have had a rough life and are depressed. But for the great majority of them, one cannot say that they have no conscience or have lost their ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Therefore, promotion of good and suppression of evil, while remaining on guard, should encourage them to give up violence, adopt reason, and develop an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence. This would greatly reduce fighting, and it should be entirely feasible. In concrete terms, the following measures could be undertaken:
1. Launch practical and effective educational activities to help the inmates develop standards of civility and the concept of the rule of law. Teach them that cursing is shameful and fighting is unlawful. Once they have these standards and concepts in their hearts, once they have absorbed the moral norm of respect for people and their rights and interests, curses and dirty language will no longer flow from their mouths, and utterances of tolerance and forgiveness, and heartwarming speech, will naturally come forth. The inclination to take advantage of others will be greatly reduced. How can this be done? In some cells fighting has already been stopped. The key is that a standard of civility has been established.
2. More fairness; leave a margin for self respect. Monitors must be fair in their criticism and correction of others, and their methods must be appropriate, leaving a margin for self respect.
3. Respond quickly so as to prevent trouble from spreading. When a fight breaks out in a cell, it must be stopped immediately. Don't let the men go into the bathroom to settle the score.
4. Distinguish perpetrator and victim, and mete out punishment fairly and impartially. Strict criticism should be based on who was right and who was wrong in the fight, and punishment should be fair and should cause the perpetrator to sincerely repent and earnestly reform himself.
11 May 2000
(This essay was given to warden Song on 13 May 2000.)
The Detention Center was not completely bereft of books. No cell was without copies of violent and bloody martial arts novels. Sometimes other books would also appear, for example, famous Chinese classics like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, really good books were sorely lacking, and profitable reading material was hard to come by. Furthermore, when a year had passed, no good books had appeared in the library of Section Seven.
On 19 July 2000 attorneys Mo Shaoping and Wang Gang came to the Detention Center to tell me that Jiang Feng was leaving the next day to go to America to study. After explaining several goals that I held for my son, I then asked them to tell my wife that I wanted her to mail some books to the Detention Center so that my time in prison would not be completely wasted. I said that she should first mail the journals, The World of English and Readings, which I had subscribed to at home for a long time. (Another good journal that I had subscribed to, Methods, had been arbitrarily closed down by the authorities in the spring of 1999.) I had in mind that, if the Detention Center confiscated my journals, I would just consider that I had donated them to the Center so the personnel could get acquainted with some of the few good periodicals of contemporary China.
Much to my surprise, the first try was successful. At the beginning of August, warden Song handed me two back issues of The World of English. After a year and three months, I once again had the great pleasure of reading this journal, which was like reuniting with an old friend. I couldn't help shouting out for joy in the cell. My cellmates had never seen such a journal as this, in fact had never heard of it. The attractively bound World of English quickly passed from hand to hand, and the novelty of Chinese and English on opposite pages had some of them leafing through it in fascination, though of course they ignored the English and only looked at the Chinese. Because the translation was also very elegant, they read with pleasure, and I had to wait my turn.
I recalled my longstanding relationship with this journal. When it was first published I was at the Beijing College of Aeronautics studying for my master's degree in aerodynamics, and I had bought the first issue from a bookstall on the street. From then on, I bought every issue, until later when I subscribed to it. In 1987 I went to England as a visiting scholar, and in a college in Wales, then Oxford and Cambridge and in London, the language barrier caused me very little difficulty, and for this I must thank The World of English.
I had been locked up in Qincheng Prison from 9 September 1989 to 6 February 1991. Every month I would put it on my book request slip, and my wife would bring it to the side gate of No. 44 Banbuqiao, and the officials would send it into Qincheng. During the days that I was in solitary confinement, reading it in a loud voice was a great blessing and pleasure for me. When the police guard, who'd had a middle school education, went past the door of my cell, he would pause and listen with an expression of happy enjoyment. After I was released I continued to read aloud every article in the journal in order to make up for my lack of opportunity to speak English. In every issue I found a few translation errors, and if I felt that they needed to be corrected, I would write to the editors of the journal, who wrote back to express their gratitude.
In the latter part of August 2000 I got the fifth and sixth issues of Readings for 1999. These had arrived in Section Seven at the end of July together with the two issues of The World of English. The reason they had reached me twenty days late didn't seem to be that someone wanted to read them but rather that they were anxious to inspect them carefully to make sure they didn't contain any inappropriate news from outside. The arrival of Readings also stirred up a lot of interest in the cell, adding some literary tone to the coarse little room. Again, almost none of my cellmates had had any contact with this journal on the outside; however, the caustic cartoons and incisive short essays quickly met with general approval. Although no-one really wanted to read most of the other articles, everybody agreed that they were "very learned" and "of high quality." In present day China, Readings is indeed an excellent journal. It not only provides a scholarly platform for the exchange of ideas, but also expresses the conscience of intellectuals and gives prominence to an ultimate concern for humanity. Naturally it has to avoid certain sensitive topics regarding some truths that are not supposed to be told. But what other journals across this great land would dare to publish Wang Ruoshui's writings arguing that Marxism is only one among many schools of thought? Still, in the past few years this journal has somewhat changed its flavor, often publishing articles of indifferent quality. Some of my very cultivated friends have stopped contributing to it. It's not a matter of standards being lowered, but just that they are no longer as sympathetic to the journal as they used to be. I continue to subscribe to Readings because it does still contain some good articles, and I like to hear both sides of the question.
Later on, issues 7 through 12 of The World of English and Readings also reached cell 404, and I continued to allow everybody to read them and copy excerpts as they pleased. However, after a while I discovered that one of the issues was missing. It had been quietly taken by a cellmate when his hearing was completed and he was sent to the Transfer Center.
After these journals had broken the ice, there was now hope that other good books would find their way within the walls. At the end of November I received Wei Junyi's Record of Pain, which is written with a depth of feeling and truthful language that shocks the reader into serious reflection. At the close of the 20th century she said it was now time to cast aside contempt for human rights, and instead to recognize human rights as the cornerstone of society; time to abandon the treatment of people as tools or "strategic elements," and move on instead to a more enlightened doctrine where the well-being of the individual is paramount. Ms. Wei was suffering from a chronic illness and could not rise from her bed. As she slowly dictated these heartfelt words, we could only admire her devotion to her task.
In December of 2000 I had another happy surprise. Ms. Poole, a member of English PEN, sent me an English book that gave a full and moving account of the past two hundred years in a Russian village. The book had been mailed to the "Banbuqiao Police Station, Beijing, China" and, having undergone multiple inspections, reached me complete and undamaged. It had made its way across the broad oceans and arrived carrying a breath of freedom from the British Isles and a sincere love and concern for humanity. Its arrival elicited many sighs from my cellmates.
There is one more book that must be mentioned. In January of 2001, The Memoirs of Mao Zedong's Personal Physician,4 by the late Li Zhisui, appeared in the cell. Although this was a poor quality pirated publication, there was vigorous competition to read it, and it generated a great deal of thought and discussion. Cellmates had various opinions of the book, but there was one thing that all agreed on: the corruption that permeates officialdom began with Mao. Columbia University professor Andrew Nathan wrote an excellent preface for Mr. Li's book. And now let me mention that I have a special connection here. In 1991 I took part in translating Professor Nathan's China's Crisis, which was promptly brought out by Hong Kong's Mirror Publishing Company.
It seems as though in China it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the populace in ignorance. This is so not only in society in general, but also in the Detention Center. In Section Seven there are now several economic criminals in each cell, though there only is one political prisoner for about every ten cells. If there were political prisoners in every cell, to keep the people ignorant would be as difficult as climbing to heaven.
The atmosphere of the cell is definitely improved by the presence of books. However, a jail cell is not a library, and the smell of blood is very unpleasant.
Early one morning, after the doctor on duty finished making his rounds, Liu Deguo and Jiao Wenjie, who were sitting on the sleeping platform in their assigned places, started throwing outdated prescription pills at each other. Directly behind Jiao was the assistant monitor, who had been in a bad mood for several days. Seeing the disturbance, he angrily scolded Jiao, who flared up, "I was just returning fire." Offended, the monitor slapped Jiao on the back of his head. Jiao quickly turned around to "discuss" the issue, and the monitor hit him again and yelled at him, and the two of them started grappling with each other. The monitor was a big fellow and, with the additional disadvantage of his leg chains, Jiao was soon thrown to the floor in front of the sleeping platform. Seeing this, several men who held grudges against Jiao were on him like a swarm of bees, all punching him. Finally Jiao struggled to his feet. He said he would not hold anything against the monitor but he would certainly get even with the other men who had attacked him. The monitor pressed him to return to his seat, and finally, indignant and resentful, he sat down.
As soon as the monitor turned around and left him, Jiao jumped up and rushed at Liang Junzheng, one of the men who had attacked him. But Liang was prepared and stepped aside so that Jiao fell to the floor, and Liang attacked him again, while three or four of the others also lit into him. Liang suddenly started kicking Jiao, who tried to roll out of the way but still couldn't escape the assault. The monitor came over and stopped the fight, and Jiao was able to sit up, but blood was dripping from his nose and the corner of his eye, and dark smears of blood were all over the sleeping platform. Jiao ran to the cell door and pressed the red alarm button. A guard opened the door and called the warden. Jiao, his face covered in blood, called out the names of those who had attacked him, and the warden shouted an order, "Everyone involved, out!" Liang was slow to obey and, when he got out into the hallway, the warden boxed both of his ears. Blood spurted from his nose and didn't stop flowing for a long time. The upshot of this fight was that four men had their hands cuffed behind their backs and three others were transferred out of cell 404.
Similar fights occurred in the cell now and then. Once when Feng Jun and several others were playing cards, Chen Lianshun, who was watching the game, made some caustic criticisms of the card playing that offended Feng. The two of them started quarreling, coarse words were exchanged, and they entered into a fierce staring match. As his anger rose, Chen reached out to grab Feng, but before anyone could say anything, Hou Guanghui hit Chen, and Yang Zhongfa joined in. Within a minute or two, the three men had beaten Chen till his face was swollen and bloody. After the monitor and others had stopped the fight, they urged Chen to keep the matter private and not report it to the warden. Still gasping for breath, Chen didn't say anything, but then he suddenly leapt onto Hou and tried to gouge his eyes out. Restrained by his leg chains, he was only able to poke his fingers into Hou's face, as he received more heavy blows on his own face. Through the night Chen did not wipe the blood off his face, and he hardly slept at all. The next day he refused to eat. On the third day he did report the fight to the warden, and Hou and Yang had their hands cuffed behind their backs. Feng wasn't cuffed, apparently because there weren't enough handcuffs.
On another morning we were sitting in our proper places on the sleeping platform. Sun Bohe was in the middle of the first row, and Liu Kuijun was directly behind him in the second row. Because the rows were very close together, anyone in the back row could hardly shift his position without bumping against the person sitting in front of him, and although Liu was considered a well-behaved person, he couldn't help bumping Sun. Some of the men were reading, while others were chatting quietly or resting with their eyes closed. Suddenly Sun shouted at Liu, "Don't do that again!" Everyone thought this was strange, and Liu let it pass. But after a few minutes, Sun suddenly stood up, turned around, and started punching and kicking Liu who had unintentionally bumped Sun's back with his knee. Sun's overbearing rudeness irritated everybody, and the monitor hit him. Then several others got into it and started pounding Sun, chasing him into the toilet. I stood up and loudly scolded Sun, and none of the others came to his aid. The monitor pressed the alarm button, and when the warden came, he immediately took Sun into the hallway, where several guards beat and kicked him, cuffed his hands behind his back and transferred him to cell 402. Afterwards, we were all puzzled to see that the blameless Liu also had his hands cuffed behind his back. And he had to wear the cuffs for two weeks.
In Section Seven this sort of fighting and bloodletting probably occurred on average once a month in each cell. Insulting speech was an everyday occurrence, and from that to vicious slander and mutual humiliation was a short step. Anger quickly escalated to a black mood in which physically attacking someone became an irresistible temptation and the first choice for action. When people have no standard of decent behavior, such temptation becomes a fuse to ignite further violence, and when somebody felt like venting his fury, he would simply strike out at whoever was nearby. Or in the case of someone like Chen, his arrogance made him generally disliked, and there were people who were looking for an excuse to beat him up. Someone like Sun, whom others found perverse or obnoxious, would pick on other people, but then he himself would be viciously attacked. And yet, bloody fights like these in Section Seven were not nearly as serious as what happened in other districts and counties. They were not the typical oppression by prison bullies, but were mostly the result of lack of mutual respect and challenges thrown out among the prisoners.
In the detention centers of the various districts and counties, such bloody battles are usually brought on by the sadism of prison bullies. Unlike Section Seven, the wardens and guards in those centers have an unspoken arrangement with the bullies, allowing or even encouraging their violent behavior. Furthermore, these bullies take pleasure in beating people to display their own strength and their dominant status. This kind of violence is a daily occurrence, and if the oppressed prisoners aren't actually left bleeding, they are bruised black and blue. They feel as though they have descended to Hades, and each day passes like a year. The most shocking thing is that a prisoner is sometimes beaten to death.
In April of 2000, in the Beijing Yanshan district detention center, 16-year-old Zhou Feng died after other prisoners took turns beating him. On entering the Detention Center, Zhou had had to undergo the usual ritual initiation in which he was yelled at, beaten and repeatedly doused with buckets of cold water. Unable to bear this abuse, he called for the warden and was transferred to another cell. But in the new cell he was once again beaten and abused with no let-up. When he was taken out for his hearing, he used this opportunity to complain to the hearing officer and to ask that he once again be transferred to a different cell. But a fellow prisoner who had been taken for his hearing at the same time told the monitor about Zhou's complaint, and when he returned to the cell, as soon as he stepped in the door, he was viciously beaten. He called out piteously, but no-one showed any sympathy; on the contrary, a quilt was thrown over his head and, under the monitor's direction, cellmates formed into pairs and took turns jumping on him and beating him, until the life finally went out of him.
"Misfortunes come in pairs." In June of 2000, in the Changping district detention center, 30-year-old Hao Chaofang was beaten and kicked to death by his cellmates. Hao had been an easy target for insults and abuse, suffering in silence whenever he was abused. Worse than that, the cell bullies wouldn't let him have even a drink of water. One time he was pushed into the exercise cage and a plastic bag was put over his head and fastened tightly, almost suffocating him. When he made a mild complaint, unexpectedly violating a taboo, the cell bully used his despotic power to organize cellmates to mete out punishment to him. He twisted and turned, jumped aside to avoid their blows, apologized and pled for mercy and wailed in his misery, but all to no avail. He was beaten to death. After he died, his body was completely discolored with bruises, and terribly swollen, his head as big as a bucket—all too horrible to look at.
In 1994 a prisoner in the Chaoyang district detention center was surrounded by cellmates and severely beaten, and the next day he died in the cell. In 1995 another prisoner in the same detention center suffered a violent beating and died a week later. This case was thoroughly investigated and, after repeated complaints from the prisoner's family, the guilty parties were finally brought back for a new hearing in 1999. To my knowledge, the detention centers of the Eastern, Haidian and Mentougou districts have all had cases of prisoners being violently beaten and dying in the lock-up.
There are in fact many cases of "dead bodies in the lockup." The trampling of prisoners' personal rights and dignity, and even the basic right to food and shelter, occurs in the detention centers of the various districts and counties, and is in fact a very commonplace thing. The majority of prisoners are forced into a kind of abject slavery, while the privileged few are slave overlords or their accomplices. In my year and a half in Section Seven I heard many such gruesome stories. Not only that; from 30 May to 11 July 1994 I was held in the Western district jail. The reason for my arrest was that I had visited families of people who had been killed in the June 4th incident, to give them contributions sent by overseas students. During those forty-three days and nights I witnessed several instances of verbal and physical abuse and heard piteous wails from within the prison, over which fluttered a triangular pennant displaying the slogan "Civilized Jail." This confirms that the authorities' obsession with maintaining "stability" even at the expense of the most basic human rights is immoral and inhumane.
Human rights, this concept that is so disliked and resisted from the depths of the hearts of the authorities, is something that Chinese society urgently needs to affirm and protect. If people suspected of crimes really had human rights, could the police be so generally violent and prone to torture? Could so many frightening incidents occur in the detention centers, and could the savage cruelties of the Middle Ages be replayed here at the turn of the 21st century?
Life in the Transfer Center was much more difficult than it had been in the Detention Center. We were not allowed to sleep past 5:30 in the morning, when we had to crawl out of bed and quickly stuff our bedding under the bunks and replace it with the "for show" quilts and bedspreads. Next was clean-up of the quarters, followed immediately by the prison police coming in to call the roll. Then we lined up to go to urinate, wash our faces and brush our teeth, all of which had to be completed in three or four minutes. Then we returned to "recite the rules" and shout "Report!" "Present!" and "Yes Sir!" After breakfast the recitations resumed and continued until lunchtime with only a brief mid-morning break to go and urinate again. There was no nap after lunch. The recitations went on without let-up except to line up and go and relieve our bowels, and for this we had only five or six minutes before being herded back to continue reciting until supper time. After eating, it was more recitation, until 6:30, when we watched television news for an hour. Then, yet again it was reciting the rules and shouting commands from 7:30 to 8:30, followed by "study the Ten Prohibitions" until 11:00 o'clock. During this period the prison police came back to take the evening roll. This routine, together with verbal and corporal punishments, made life truly unbearable. It was no wonder that all new arrivals in the Reception Unit couldn't wait to be transferred to the Production Unit, where aside from calling out "Present" when the roll was called, they merely had to shout a token "Report" and "Yes Sir" when entering and leaving the dormitory, and at 9:30 they could lie down to sleep.
The only pleasure for prisoners in the Reception Unit of the Transfer Center was the imminent hope of seeing family members from whom they had so long been separated. For those of us who had arrived on 30 March, our day to see family was the 5th of April. Needless to say, the person who would come to see me was my wife, Zhang Hong. My son was studying in America, and other family members were all in Changshu. We were not allowed to have visits from friends. It was now almost two years since 18 May 1999 when the police had come in the middle of the night and taken me away from home. During this time, on the 1st of November 1999, I had seen my wife in the First Intermediate People's Court of Beijing, when she had heard almost all of my court hearing. When the prosecutor had been unable to find proof that I had written "Light a Million Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Heroes of June 4th" and I had willingly acknowledged my authorship, I felt that she approved my admission. My lawyer, Mo Shaoping, had read out a bit of that essay and asked me whether it represented my views, and I said, "Yes, this is indeed my view of the 1989 Democracy Movement." I felt that Zhang Hong was in accord with my position. In order to avoid interruptions of my defense by the judges, I had been quite restrained in what I said, but at the end of my final statement I couldn't help showing some emotion in expressing my ideals, and at this point there was an unexpected burst of applause from Zhang Hong. This outburst from one delicate woman was much more golden than the so-called "thunderous applause" that one reads about occurring in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.
Almost fourteen months later, on 27 December 2000, we had once again seen each other in a courtroom, and she had witnessed my angry criticism of the literary inquisition. And on 16 March 2001, in the People's Superior Court of Beijing, we had seen each other a third time, and she had heard my light-hearted ridicule of the adjudication of my re-trial. Most regrettably, however, in none of these three instances over the period of two years were we able to speak to each other. This time, although we would be separated by glass and have to speak through telephones, at least we would be able to talk to one another for a half an hour.
When the day arrived, the sky was alternately clear and cloudy, with brief periods of light rain. The interview room was at the southeast corner of the courtyard and, as we left from the northwest corner, we made our way diagonally across the entire Transfer Center. The five of us who were scheduled to meet family members formed a small column as we walked slowly forward. I carried a woven net bag in each hand containing personal belongings from the Detention Center that I wanted to ask Zhang Hong to take home. We were escorted across the courtyard by a guard in his twenties. As we entered the interview room, the five of us took our assigned seats, and the outer door quickly opened and the family members came rushing in. In spite of my nearsightedness and the serious decline in the vision of my right eye, I immediately recognized Zhang Hong and, to my surprise, I saw that a friend whom I had called "Xiao Yi," or "Auntie," was with her. Seeing Zhang Hong and Xiao Yi, the resentment that I had felt for several days over having to wear prison clothes and being forced to shave my head quickly dissipated. I raised my hand in a V signal to them, and Zhang Hong and I picked up the telephone receivers simultaneously. She brought me up to date on our various family members and friends such as Xu Liangying and Ding Zilin.5 Then Xiao Yi and I chatted. With a sad catch in her voice, she told me that another "Auntie," Su Bingxian, had passed away. I had great respect for Xiao Yi and Su Bingxian and was very close to them. Both of them had children who had sacrificed their young lives for their ideals in the 1989 June 4th massacre. They had not only suffered the greatest sadness that mothers can bear, but had also braved danger and great pressure by undertaking to locate and visit other mothers bereaved by the June 4th tragedy and had issued protests against the government action. In the spring of 1999 family members of more than a hundred people who had been killed on June 4th had submitted a formal statement to the International Court of Justice accusing Li Peng6 of crimes against humanity. Xiao Yi had personally taken a copy of that accusation to the People's Highest Procuratorate. Su Bingxian had worked in the Marxist-Leninist Compilation and Translation Bureau, and it was through her that I had become acquainted with Bao Tong.7 Auntie Su had been in poor health, but I had had no idea in the fall of 1997 when she took me to Bao Tong's home, that that would be the last time I would ever see her.
When Zhang Hong picked up the phone again, I told her about the ten days in February which I had spent in the Public Security Hospital. She replied saying that the "Five Pieces" had already been published before that time.8 The "Five Pieces" were my "Accusing the Preliminary Hearing Department of the Beijing Public Security Bureau," "My Self-Defense," "My Final Statement," "Attorney Mo's Defense on My Behalf" and the People's Procuratorate's "Indictment." Of course we couldn't list these items in our conversation but could only refer to them indirectly. I was especially gratified to learn that she had obtained my "Statement of Appeal." The Detention Center had not hesitated to defy the law and hold my four attempts at appeal instead of passing them up the chain of command, and this had made me all the more determined to pursue the appeal. The authorities had forcibly created a literary inquisition and then, to pretty it up even more, had tried to smother the objections of the injured party. It would be hard to find a more unbalanced contest than this.
I only lightly touched on conditions in the Transfer Center. It wasn't that I was afraid of offending the officials who were carefully listening to our conversation, but rather that I didn't want to cause my family unnecessary worry. How could I explain that the Reception Unit was like a bridge to hell, that there was absolutely no respect for the human dignity of the prisoners there, or that, corralled within the buildings that they could see from the outside, were people who spent their days in fear because they were blamed for every word they spoke and every movement they made. I only mentioned a few aspects of our life inside, saying that our workload was not heavy. We were only assigned such tasks as occasionally helping the Production Unit make shopping bags. I didn't say that we were yelled at and abused seventeen hours a day, treated like animals being trained in a circus. I mentioned that the section chief used to be in the restaurant business in the West Balizhuang area, and he looked out for me. This "looking out for me" was true. I didn't have to recite the prison rules, sing the prison song or shout the commands until I was hoarse, nor was I required to stand stiffly at attention like a soldier in training. But finally I did divulge one fact that would cause worry for my family: My blood pressure was rather high, 150 over 100.
Thirty minutes passed in the blink of an eye. The dreaded bell sounded suddenly, announcing the end of visiting time, and our voices were cut off in the telephone receivers. I stood up and waved my arms and moved my legs to show that I was in good health. Zhang Hong and Xiao Yi raised their right hands with the V signal and backed away, waving. I was pleased that my overstepping the boundaries of usually permitted speech had not brought a reprimand from the squad leader, and in fact, when we lined up to return to the Reception Unit, he let me bring up the rear of the group and fell in beside me for a chat, quietly urging that in future I should keep my thoughts to myself so as to avoid trouble. I concluded that he was actually a good person, and then I realized that the meanness that he and other squad leaders usually displayed was simply what was required by the rules of the Transfer Center.
From 19 May 1999 to 3 March 2001, I spent 681 days and nights in cells 313 and 404 of the Beijing Detention Center, where I wrote the 35 chapters of Random Notes from the Detention Center,9 though the last five were not completed until I was in the Beijing Number 2 Prison. What I have written is a true portrayal of my life during my time there. My success in committing this record to paper was the result of both an awareness of my rights and a moral commitment. Of the several thousand people who shared my detention in Section Seven, or the more than a hundred thousand who have been held there over the years, how many have thought of writing about their experiences? How many have actually taken up the pen? And of those who have written something, how much of this has been published? Most people don't understand that they have a right to express themselves, and therefore they never even think of trying. Those who realize that they do have the right often give it up. Besides, whatever was written might not find a publisher and would lie at the bottom of a chest gathering dust. Thus, conditions within the high walls are seldom disclosed to the world. As a victim of China's literary inquisition at the end of the 20th century, I understood that I had a right to express myself, and I felt duty-bound to do so; I could not waive that right. Furthermore, I was confident that I would be able to get my work published. Meanwhile, I knew that in the Detention Center I could immediately write down my thoughts and produce an authentic record. This was possible, first of all, because we were provided with pen and paper. This "privilege" was granted so that some of the prisoners could undertake writing chores which the police were supposed to do—from filling out forms for other detainees to writing applications for the guards and police for admission to the Party and papers for graduation from the Communist Party School. Also, prisoners seldom told on each other, as carrying tales could do nothing to reduce their sentences and would result in humiliation in front of their cellmates. From the time I began writing in March of 2000 until I finished "My Self-Defense" in February 2001, no-one ever reported me to the authorities. Of course there were some problems. The first was dealing with unannounced inspections. Each time this happened, the guards would turn everything upside down, and they often made a special point of searching me. And I would have to find a place, within only a minute or two, to hide my papers. Also, I had to find ways to send my drafts outside the walls. It would be too bad if, after sitting with my pad on my knees and putting so much effort into my writing, the results of my efforts were all lost. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to those who took my drafts out for me, and in the future I surely must find a way to repay them.
For more than a year I wrote and sent out drafts of Random Notes. During this period my health significantly declined, while the sight in my right eye deteriorated precipitously. Now and then I would experience a bout of moodiness. But I never felt sorry for myself or became depressed. I knew that my hardships and suffering were nothing in the history of blood and tears that had been shed on behalf of struggles for freedom of speech. I knew too that I need not fear that I would be beheaded; I would merely be safely moved from the Detention Center to prison. Thirty-one years ago, 27-year-old Yu Luoke had been taken from this same Detention Center to the execution ground, where he gave his life for his beliefs. I am well aware that many people such as Yu, Lin Zhao, Zhang Zhixin and Shi Yunfeng10 were forerunners and martyrs who firmly closed off the road to hell for those who came after them and inspired many others to freely express their ideas and opinions. We have reached a point in today's China where those in power can no longer inflict the heaviest punishments for speaking out, or impose the death penalty for free speech. As one of the fortunate ones who have "come after" could I not forever remember those fearless heroes with their lofty ideals?
In January 1999 some of my friends got together and published a book called Posthumous Writings and Recollections of Yu Luoke. In this, they did a very good thing for our nation, where people who do not like to repent and are not necessarily good at thinking things over. Faced with a choice of telling the truth or preserving his life, Yu Luoke chose the former, exemplifying the motto "Live free or die." Through his robust character and the majesty of his soul, he exposed the backwardness of China's social system and culture. Is a society that requires a person to choose between freedom of expression and death not much more backward than one in which an individual can speak the truth without fear?
In order to confirm in this great land of China a system that recognizes the right to speak out and the right to disagree, and in which speech is not a crime, we must have people who will continually attack restrictions on free speech and challenge bad laws, and who, by suffering imprisonment, will close off the road to punishment for such "crimes." Before I was arrested, Fu Guoyong, Liu Xiaobo and other brave individuals were accused for speaking out and thrown into prison, and after me, several more were put in chains and jailed for their writings. One can't deny that individuals who are willing to go to prison for speaking the truth are a minority, but this minority is indispensible. Given the size of China, with its population of 1.3 billion, if there are not a few upright and unyielding individuals who are willing to accuse the government in direct and uncertain terms, we should be ashamed of ourselves. Even more significant is the willingness of people to speak out in the face of danger; this will serve as a warning and an inspiration to the world and to our fellow Chinese. Mainland China desperately needs people who will choose to tell the truth and serve time in prison; it is a society in which the right to freedom of speech is trampled by the authorities; and thus it is a society in extreme need of reform. I firmly believe that in this land of ours, even the docile common people hope to see the day when telling the truth will be as commonplace as taking a walk in the park, going to a restaurant for a meal, or going to the movies—when this freedom from fear will not be restricted to the intellectual elite but will be something that any ordinary person who wants to say what he thinks can do so.
There are some scholars who defend the government's restrictions, saying that treating free speech as a crime has such a long history in China that changing it will be a slow process. Yet everybody knows that hoping for a "slow" process of change is equivalent to doing nothing. The 20th century has already passed, with no change. Do we want to postpone the change for another fifty or a hundred years? Speech restrictions have long been abolished in Hong Kong and Macau, and the ban was lifted in Taiwan more than ten years ago. Why must mainland China still cling to the ban on free speech? In my opinion, the restrictions could be abolished with a simple courageous decision, just as the Qing government ended the punishment of dismemberment with the stroke of a pen in 1895, and as the Chinese government in the Republican period forbad foot binding and castration for creating eunuchs. There is absolutely no excuse for further postponement.
I am not a naturally optimistic person; however, I keep thinking that in the present circumstances, the free speech restrictions are like a broken down old horse that is no longer capable of a long journey. May we ask, in the face of attacks by such people as Wu Zuguang, Xu Liangying, Wang Ruoshui, Ding Zilin, Bao Tong and many others, how much longer can it be maintained? Challenged by the open, freely accessible internet, how many firewalls can stand?
Abolition of the ban on free speech, which has been in effect for thousands of years, will mark a milestone of great progress, and we will celebrate China's merger with the main world current. From that time, China will welcome a new era in which cleverness and cunning in trivial matters will be transformed into intelligence and wisdom in great matters, the dignity of the Chinese people will be fully respected, and their creative abilities will flourish. This era will not be turned aside by the intransigence of either old or young obstructionists in the autocratic society, and will be a force that cannot be resisted by any emperor, president, chairman or any other oppressive political authority.
The prison van stopped and we got out, handcuffed together in pairs or groups of three. The handcuffs were removed and one by one we stepped back into the van to retrieve our bedrolls, laying them on the ground in three neat rows. The police from the administrative office of Section Seven were now relaxed and, with a smile, the leader said, "Wait here for your physical exams. You don't need to squat down. You can sit on your bedrolls if you like, and you may talk quietly." Aware that we were now convicted prisoners, after the long time that we had spent in the narrow cells of the Detention Center, we were now out of doors. Although this "outdoors" was in fact a big bird cage; still to be in such a broad, open place, we at first felt that it was fresh and new, and there was a feeling of contentment. Now when the police showed us this little favor (though at no cost to themselves), we responded with light laughter and then quickly started chatting among ourselves. As we talked, I saw that one of the police officers had invited a prisoner into the van to chat about their common home district. There was a Uighur couple who had been convicted of selling drugs, and the police had permitted them to sit together and talk before being separated in the prison. One of the police noticed that I was more lively and sociable than the others and came over and asked me about my case and the length of my term. I said that for writing an essay commemorating the tenth anniversary of the June 4th Incident I had been sentenced to four years in prison. He was taken aback, then said with a grin, "Ah, what you wanted to say was that if you had just kept it to yourself, there would be no problem." I said, "Maybe you can keep your thoughts to yourself; I can't." That drew a laugh from those around us.
The hospital was in a four-story building in the southwest corner of the compound. Convicted prisoners brought from the various detention centers had to undergo a physical examination there to determine whether they would be kept in the Transfer Center. Those who were seriously ill would be sent back to the detention centers; those who were less seriously ill would be kept on here but put on the sick list; and those who were in good health would be sent on to various prisons as appropriate to their home towns or districts and the length of their sentences. When our Section Seven van arrived, there were three vehicles from other detention centers already in the yard. After the prisoners from those three vehicles had been processed, our group of twenty-some persons was taken to the hospital. My weight was 66 kilograms, four kilos lighter than my original weight before entering the Detention Center. But my blood pressure had risen to 150 over 100, and the nurse told me that I should undergo treatment for this. They didn't notice my eye problem. We all felt that the examinations were conducted sympathetically. The surgeon was especially professional, carefully screening those who showed signs of possible venereal disease and advising them to get further screening or treatment. After the exams were completed, we each put any money that we had into individual accounts, and the Section Seven police said their goodbyes to us while calmly escorting us back to the side of the van. Then they turned us over to the prison police and got into the van to return to the Detention Center.
On this sunny day, with white clouds in a blue sky, although the prison police didn't display the cheerfulness we were used to seeing on the faces of the Detention Center police, still they did not look ruthless or evil and angry. After lining us up for a roll call, they simply told us to pick up our bedrolls and move to the reception area. Those of us who were Beijing residents were to be held in Unit One, which was in a four-story building in the northeast corner of the compound, no more than two hundred meters from the parking lot. However, contrary to all our expectations, once we entered the Unit One building, passed through two electrically operated steel doors and walked into the corridor on the first floor, it was as if the sunny blue sky and white clouds had all been swallowed up by a demon, and we felt as if we had fallen into a hole in the ice. Our bodies were permeated by cold, and it was as if we had been plunged into a hopeless, shivering hell. How could we have thought that this would be better than the Detention Center? Here we would discover evildoers worse than any highwaymen on the outside. We would be humiliated, abused and terrorized before we could finally be released to return home.
All those who have spent time in prison know that the most common method of keeping track of time is by "reverse countdown." How many years, months and days must pass before I will be released and can go home? The Beijing No. 2 Prison mostly holds individuals convicted of serious crimes, foreigners and prisoners of conscience. When I first arrived, because the remainder of my sentence was relatively short, the envious long-term prisoners immediately began a reverse countdown of months for me. And when I wrote "A Summary of Thought Reform" and my "Pledge," they began to do the reverse countdown in days.
Reaching the point of counting in days is both a happy thing and troublesome. From morning roll call till evening roll call, there is a constant stream of people coming by to offer congratulations—prisoners and police, members of one's own and other units. "You lucky guy; how many days before you go home?" And most of them add "Teacher Jiang, once you get out of here, don't come back. This is definitely not a good place to be." A man from Taiwan who was serving a suspended death sentence for espionage, said, "I'm sure you will continue to speak the truth." Another man, who, ten years ago, had been a regimental commander in the army and was serving a life sentence for economic crimes, said, as we were parting, "I hope that after you get out you will continue to work for democratization in China." I assured him that I would. This was right in the midst of the SARS epidemic, and several people teased me, saying, "Don't you want to write up a request that your release be delayed? It's safer in here." I played along with the joke, asking, "What would you do if it were you?" The answer was clear. Not a single person would want to stay even one day longer, even with SARS raging outside.
On the evening of 15 May 2003, less than two full days before I was due to leave, I was playing basketball when Brigade Commander Xu called me out to tell me, with some embarrassment, that the Public Security Bureau had called to say that the day after tomorrow, when I was ready to go, I should not bother family or friends to come to collect me, as the Bureau would send a car to take me home. If I accepted their offer, they would notify Zhang Hong that she needn't come to pick me up. When I heard this, my anger rose, and I said to Xu, "This is ridiculous! While I've been in prison, I've thought day and night about my family. I certainly haven't thought of the Public Security Bureau. Please tell your bosses that even if my family could not come to get me, I would rather walk home than ride in the Bureau's car."
Knowledge of this affair quickly spread among my fellow prisoners. They thought it was quite fascinating, but also worrisome. Why would the authorities suddenly come up with such a lousy idea? I said they had probably thought of such an unreasonable and offensive plan because they were afraid that the foreign media would be willing to brave the SARS scare to interview me as soon as I left prison. I told them that I knew how to deal with it.
The next evening Public Security called the police office of unit 16 and asked to speak to me. The person on the phone was a policeman whom I had previously known. I picked up the telephone saying, "Wasn't what I said yesterday clear enough?" He explained that the higher-ups had ordered him to call again and talk it over with me. I insisted that there was nothing to discuss, and asked him if he were in my place, would he accept the offer. He said, "We are doing this for your own good. We will send a high-class car that has been thoroughly disinfected. We guarantee that we will deliver you safely home, which will save your family the trouble of looking for a car." On first hearing it, this sounded like a reasonable suggestion, and it seemed to have kind intent. But in fact, it wasn't so. I said, "I don't doubt that you will send a high-class car and that it will be disinfected, but do you think that this would tempt me to ride in your car? Aren't family and friends more important than these two conditions? Furthermore, tomorrow is not an ordinary day; it is the day I leave prison. Four years ago, when I was arrested, I had no choice. I had to get into the police car. But now, having regained my freedom, would I want to ride in one? What in the world are your higher-ups thinking?"
There was a long pause, then the caller spoke again: "Let me put it this way. There is something that you still have to see to at your local police station. After your release, your political rights will not be restored for another year. We would take you by the station to take care of that, and then drive you home. Wouldn't that be very convenient for you?" When I heard this, I angrily objected "Let's first set aside the fact that I was wrongly accused and have served an unjustified sentence. I ask you, which article of what law says that a person must register for the accessory penalty on the day that he is released from prison?" He hesitated, then said, "Well no, there's no such law. We just thought it would be more convenient for you to deal with it all at once." Not wanting to hear any more of their lies, I raised my voice: "Please tell your superiors that whether or not they send a car tomorrow is none of my business and what car I get into to leave the prison is none of their business!" With that, I hung up the phone. A prison policeman, who had been monitoring the conversation, exclaimed "Really! How can they be so meddlesome!"
After morning roll call on the 17th, many of my fellow inmates came to say good bye. A friend from Unit 17 came to the window, and we wished each other well. He said, "I'm sure you will still be in Beijing five years from now. When I get out, you will be the first person that I'll look up." There had been a shower during the night and the early summer sky was especially clear. After breakfast everyone went out for exercise. Because of SARS, no vehicles could enter the prison, so the prisoners didn't have to work and could go out for exercise every day. This was very much in contrast to ordinary times, when the men spent most of their time working and seldom had a chance to go out of doors. As the clock marked the final minutes of my countdown, more than a hundred men from Unit 16, who were in the exercise yard, saw that I was all set to leave and sighed for my repeated victories in the competitions for shooting baskets that we had organized.
Soon, officials from the Prison administration came to perform the final procedure for me. As a "prisoner requiring special attention," I had to be thoroughly searched so as to ensure that nothing, not even the smallest scrap of paper, would be taken out of the prison. When the search was completed, they returned several dozen books to me. These had been handed over for their examination two months earlier. Because of SARS, clothing that had been sent to me from home was not allowed into the prison, so I was still wearing prison garb. Accompanied by three men from the prison administration, I left unit 16 and walked slowly to the main North Gate of No. 2 Prison. The outside police at the gate were wearing face masks, and the prison police turned the books over to them for inspection, and then, as they couldn't go through the gate, I was finally left alone and I walked out carrying a bag of books in each hand.
As I stepped through the gate, I saw that a group of people were standing two or three hundred meters beyond the administrative area outside the prison. Before I was released I had been told that I could change into civilian clothes in the dispatch office just outside the gate and that I could pick up my "Certificate of Release" there. I walked ahead a little way and stopped and turned around for a final look at the armed guards standing by the forbidding steel gate, and the large characters, Beijing Municipal Prison Number Two. Then I walked on forward. When I was several dozen meters from them I made out Zhang Hong, together with our friends Professor Zhang Xianling and Zhu Rui. Then I saw ten or twelve more well-wishers, one or two of whom I had not previously met. We all greeted each other with a nod.
Not surprisingly, I also saw the unwelcome police car and policemen. I handed the books to Zhang Hong and took the clothes and shoes that she had brought. Then I walked back to the dispatch office. Two policemen entered the office with me, and before I had a chance to begin changing my clothes, they started to pester me, insisting that I reconsider and accept their kind offer of a ride in the police car. In spite of my extreme irritation, because I was acquainted with these two officers, I did my best to control my temper and said, "Beginning two days ago this is the third time! You are officers of the law. Does the law require that you prevent me from taking my family's or friends' car home? As human beings, can you justify such behavior in terms of sentiment or reason?" Unable to give me a direct answer, they said, "You are a sensible person. Surely you understand the difficult position that we are in." I countered, "Aren't these difficulties of your own making? Your bosses have given an unreasonable order, and you have run into my insistence on holding to my principles. I suppose you must be very annoyed to be caught in the middle." At this they sighed, saying, "You go ahead and change your clothes while we ask for instructions."
From the inside to the outside, from undershirt to socks, I made a complete change of clothing, leaving the prison uniform for the guards to collect. But when I had put on the leather shoes that I had not worn for four years and was about to step outside, the two policemen still insisted that I get into their car. Seeing this, I lost all patience and flew into a rage, shouting at them, "Have you got water in your brain? Your bosses have water in their brains? When someone has hoped so long for something happy, you still insist on making trouble for him! I'll tell you once more: every day, for 365 days of the year, I have longed for my family and friends. Believe me, I have never once felt any longing for the Public Security Bureau or the police station! Today I have come out from between the high walls of the prison. Haven't I regained my freedom? If I can't even decide which car I want to get into for the ride home, I might as well change back into prison clothes and go back inside!" And I started to undress. The prison guards in the dispatch office had been standing aside, listening without saying anything. But now they interceded in an attempt to smooth things over: "No, no. Wait." Seeing that the situation would soon pass the point of no return, the police said, "Teacher Jiang, don't be angry, don't be angry. Go ahead and get in your friend's car and go home. But, when you get home, can you please not answer the telephone? If you are not careful, you'll say the wrong thing." The first sentence caused my anger to subside a bit, but the second made me even more angry, and I replied, "What are you talking about? Is it any of your business whether or not I answer the telephone in my own home?" They were at a loss and said no more.
Because of official interference, something that should have taken no more than a few inutes was stretched to a full half hour. My friends had just seen me emerge from the solid walls and electric fencing of the prison, and then they were witnesses as I was immediately besieged by intangible walls and fencing. They had become anxious and somewhat agitated while waiting. They knew that an argument was going on in the dispatch office. They had heard me shouting. But they had no way of knowing what the outcome would be. Finally I walked out. We exchanged loud and happy greetings, and with a feeling of elation, I got into a car with friends. With some difficulty, I controlled my excitement and told them about the struggle that had been going on over the past three days. My account was accurate but was also tinged with sarcasm and humor, and it brought sympathetic understanding from my companions; and their laughter spilled out onto streets that were almost empty because of the SARS scare, and onto the police car that was following closely behind us.
My Life in Prison was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2012. It can be purchased here.