27 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (5): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

This is the final installment (for a while, at least) of my translations of tweets by Yang Zili, one of the founding members of the New Youth Study Society, recalling his detention, trial, and days in prison. As long as he keeps writing, I'll keep translating, but for a while I'm going to turn my attention to other things.

Looking Back at Those Years (23–29)

According to the theory of class dictatorship, prisoners are all targets of the dictatorship. Only by owning up to one's crimes can one be rewarded with sentence reduction or parole. Even humanitarian treatment such as phone calls to family members is premised on confessing guilt. Of course those who are truly treated unjustly will file a petition [to have their case reconsidered], with the result being they have to spend N more years in prison for nothing. The more innocent you are, the more cruel they treat you, while real murderers and robbers get their sentences reduced with an easy conscience.

Once a month we cleaned the detention center, and everyone's personal belongings were washed and sorted. Afterwards, they made all the inmates strip naked, even giving our rectums a look. If you'd pissed off a guard, he would take this opportunity to humiliate you. If he had a decent impression of you, he would just check quickly. Each time, Old Hua would joke: “Here comes the proctologist!”

Tobacco and alcohol were forbidden in prison, but inmates could always get cigarettes if they wanted them. Alcohol was controlled more strictly, but it could still be had. An inmate only had to find a guard with whom he had a good relationship to sell it to him at a high price. I even saw inmates watching pornographic movies on a Playstation Portable.

An inmate heard I was sentenced unjustly and said, “So, you were offering opinions to help the Party govern better?” I told him no. “Then no one treated you unjustly,” he said. “You were trying to overthrow the Communist Party.” I said, “I denounced them on behalf of rural people because I didn't want rural people to have to endure any more injustice.” He wasn't convinced. I explained: “Am I having this conversation with you because I'm trying to serve you? No. Is it because I'm trying to harm you? Also no. It's easy to understand, so long as you don't get bogged down in the 'Party nucleus.'”

During the prosecutor's questioning at my appeal trial, I said in my defense that we hadn't done anything to oppose the government. She said that what we said and wrote wasn't in line with the Central Committee. Who knew that being out of line was a crime? No wonder Chinese people have no way to innovate!

Something I overheard while in prison: An inmate read in the newspaper that an accomplice of his had been arrested, so he immediately turned himself in, saying that the two of them had once killed a man. He turned himself in out of fear that what the other guy would say might put his life at risk. But the police told him, “The killer in that case has already been executed, so you have nothing to worry about!”

BH, a friend of mine in prison, told me that he'd originally been sentenced to death but that his sentence had been suspended for two years during the final review of the case. One day, he was taken for a physical examination at the hospital, where he heard the doctor say: "This guy's a Hui Muslim, so you have to bury him when he's dead. Examining him would be a complete waste of time!" [Translator's note: The implication here is that the physical examination was to determine the suitability of his organs for transplantation after execution.]

25 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (4): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Here's the fourth installment of my translations of Twitter posts by New Youth Study Society founding member Yang Zili. The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

Looking Back at Those Years (19–22)

One of my fellow-sufferers in the detention center was Hua Di, who according to Internet rumors back in 2001 was jailed in exchange for Lee Wen Ho. According to him, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited him to return [to China from the US] and join a high-level think tank, but shortly after he returned he was arrested for leaking secrets. Whenever evidence that might benefit him was presented, the judges turned their heads and didn't look at it! First the indictment was withdrawn and then resubmitted, then the original 15-year sentence was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered, after which he was sentenced to 10 years. The twists and turns in his case seemed to correspond to the progress of the Lee Wen Ho case, so it seems those Internet rumors weren't false.

During my three years in the detention center, every evening we watched television as a group. Once, we watched the documentary New Fourth Army. Though the film lauded them for it a great deal, in their greatest victory over the Japanese during the Cheqiao Campaign, they killed, wounded, or captured [only] 800 Japanese and puppet soldiers, most of whom were puppet soldiers. On the other hand, they wiped out 50,000 Nationalist soldiers during the Huangqiao campaign. At the time, my fellow-sufferer Hua Di recalled his days as a teenage soldier in the New Fourth Army, extorting money and other movable property from landlord households and hanging up landlord wives for a beating. He even went up to get in a kick of his own.

The repatriation center for out-of-town offenders, formerly called the Southern Building, is a transfer facility where people are collected from the detention centers before being sent to [other] prisons. The forced labor and harsh treatment there is the worst. Prisoners are forced to shout “Reporting! Here! Yes, sir!” until they're hoarse. Prisoners from outside Beijing are especially mistreated. [Fellow New Youth Study Society member Zhang] Honghai's household registration is in Zhejiang, and in his unit they not only had to get up early and work until after dark, they weren't even allowed enough water to drink. Prisoners had to secretly drink the water used to flush the urinals.

When I was in the detention center, I heard about a fellow-sufferer named Chen Shaohua, from Jiangxi, who shortly after graduating from university was sentenced to three years for postings he made online. I heard that in the spring of 2004, after being transferred to the repatriation center, he was beaten for resisting the guards and put in solitary confinement, feet shackled. The guards intentionally made him wear new shackles that rubbed his ankles until they were raw and bloody. I wonder where this younger brother is now? He was so damn young, yet so steadfast and refused to give in. When one is filled with righteousness, why fear tyranny?

22 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (3): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Here's the third installment of tweeted recollections by Yang Zili, founding member of the New Youth Study Society. The first two segments are here and here. I've included two extra tweets at the end that I thought were particularly worth sharing.

Looking Back at Those Years

The first year I was in the State Security Bureau Detention Center, I ate really well because I was a Hui Muslim. The second year, I ate really poorly, also because I was a Hui Muslim and got no preferential treatment. When the third year began and there was still no end in sight for my case, I complained to the warden about the terrible food. The warden really responded and the food returned to normal. You have to fight for your rights.

My interrogator asked me, “Why did you write this article?” “That's the way I thought,” I answered. “Don't I have freedom of thought and freedom of speech?” He answered: “As long as its in your mind, you have freedom of thought. As soon as you speak, it becomes action!” Looking at it this way, since the constitution says nothing about “freedom to breathe,” every breath I take must be illegal.

After our first-instance trial opened in November 2001 we waited 1-1/2 years, then in came a woman from the court and her male assistant. “You've gained weight,” the woman said, laughing. “Have we met?” I asked, taken aback. “I'm the presiding judge in your trial,” she answered. All throughout, Judge [Bai Jun] was kind and considerate to us. Only after the sentence was handed down did I realize that even the most humane people in the criminal justice system were still machines.

In the same cell was a judge named Qiao. According to him, judges could decide cases with a maximum three-year sentence themselves. Cases with a maximum five-year sentence could be decided by the three-person panel of judges, but actually it was the presiding judge who decided with the other two only accompanying. Cases that might bring ten years or more, cases that had some social impact, or political cases all needed to be decided by the adjudication committee. On the adjudication committee, the judges only offered legal advice. Instructions from above were most important, and others' opinions were for reference. Basically, the court president had the final say.

My interrogator yelled, “Tell me! Didn't you shout”—his voice suddenly lowering—“ʻDown with the Communist Partyʼ?” Hearing this humorously abrupt change in his tone of voice, I realized it was because he was afraid that a recording of these five words might someday be used against him.

While in the detention center, I had a fellow inmate named Jiang who challenged me every time I said something against the “Three Represents.” I was surprised when, as he was leaving, he said to me in a low voice, “They should be overthrown!” All Jiang's hard work wasn't for naught: his sentence was reduced from 13 years to 10 years on appeal, which I'm told was something never before seen in cases handled by the State Security Bureau. Later, Jiang even got a sentence reduction and actually only served less than seven years—more than a year less than me. Some people can really adapt to their surroundings!

Jin Xing, the judge in our appeal trial, was worried that we'd hold a grudge against him, so he explained, “What I've said doesn't represent my personal views; it's the court's opinion.” Of course, we knew well that the decision to convict us came from above, but Jin Xing gave no advance notice [of the decision], didn't allow our relatives to attend the trial, didn't let me borrow a pen to take notes, didn't let our lawyers state our defense, and didn't allow witnesses to appear in court—were all these violations of the criminal procedure law on the instruction of the court president, Qin Zheng'an?

Bonus 1:
A person of conviction with less than five years to spend in prison can basically remain steadfast. With between six and ten years to serve, most people can't hang on. Anyone serving more than ten years who can remain committed is a saint. The understanding and support of family and the outside world are crucial factors governing how long [a prisoner] remains steadfast.

Bonus 2:
How long a person has to serve is not unimportant: Jiang Qisheng served four years, which for him was like the Monkey King entering the alchemy furnace. Liu Jingsheng served 12 years, of which eight years was spent struggling [against the verdict] and four years spent taking a softer approach. To this day, he feels those eight years weren't worth it. Hu Shigen served 16-1/2 years, the first twelve of which he remained faithful and unyielding; afterwards, he could only bow his head. For myself, I had high morale during the first six years, but during the last two years days passed like years. If I'd been sentenced to fifteen years, I'd probably confess guilt after the seventh year.

"Looking Back at Those Years" (2): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

More tweets from Yang Zili, one of the founding members of the New Youth Study Society:

Looking Back at Those Years (5-11)

If you're ever arrested and the police fly into a rage or even torture you, you can be secretly glad: they have no evidence with which to convict you. On the other hand, if they don't seem to care whether you talk or not, that means they've got plenty of evidence to convict you with.

Because I continued to make statements against Communism while in the cell, they didn't turn on the air-conditioning during the heat of summer, saying it was collective punishment. With such methods, if you want to play the maverick, the other inmates won't allow it. You really have to admire such excellent techniques of rule.

A cellmate named Old Huo was extremely harsh towards others, and after sharing a cell with him for 2-1/2 years, we had countless arguments. I tried my best to tolerate it, since he'd been sentenced to death, but he consistently picked fights. When we were finally separated, Old Huo said lots of nice things about me in his new cell. All along he was picking fights just so that we would be separated! I guess even bad people aren't all bad at heart.

The Beijing State Security Bureau Detention Center is known as "the only unspoiled place in Beijing," because it's managed so strictly and there's absolutely no perversions of justice. It's so much so that some people with good connections are held there. But there was a correctional officer there surnamed Lü who was in charge of [the inmates'] money who took advantage of the fact that family members were not allowed to send books and sold only coffee-table books that he bought at a discount and resold at list price. Inmates with money could buy books other than these coffee-table books, but if you had little money you got no such treatment. Before I left, Lü even tried to take a cut [of my funds]. It seems even this "unspoiled place" isn't so unspoiled.

In the courtroom, the judge picked up a piece of evidence, my address book, and asked, "Any objections?" "No," I said. Then he grabbed one of Xu Wei's letters. "Any objections?" "No." All of this turned out to be evidence of our crimes. If we had any experience, of course we'd have raised objections. What does this evidence prove? If it doesn't prove anything, of course it should be thrown out.

Many people don't understand why Xu Wei was sentenced to 10 years despite having broken no taboos. Actually, it's simple: he was the nominal director of the study society. For this, he was a "chief culprit" subject to 10 years or more according to the law. This is rule of law in a dictatorship, where all it takes is will to turn innocence into guilt and where a lighter punishment is impossible because things must be "handled in accordance with the law." It's this kind of thinking that sends someone to prison for life for withdrawing cash from a broken cash machine.

Jin Xing, the judge in the appeals trial, asked if we wanted to request he recuse himself. Haike said that if he couldn't guarantee to be fair, he should voluntarily recuse himself. At first I thought we should request that he recuse himself, given that he was a Party member and we were charged with opposing the Party. But then I considered that we needed him to allow the witnesses to appear in court, so I didn't raise it. It turned out that he didn't allow the witnesses to appear in court after all, meaning we simply wasted an opportunity. It seems that in a political case whose fate has already been sealed, you can only resist, not fantasize.

21 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (1): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Yang Zili, one of the founding members of the New Youth Study Society (which I blogged about previously here) was released last March after serving eight years in a Beijing prison for subversion. (If you haven't read the definitive account of the New Youth Society by the Washington Post's Phil Pan, do it right away.) Another society member, Zhang Honghai, was released from a Zhejiang prison at the same time, while two other members, Jin Haike and Xu Wei, are still in prison.

Yang recently joined Twitter and has been posting a series of brief takes on his arrest, trial, and days in prison. They seem to be pretty popular, and I thought it'd be worth translating them into English. Since I'm not aware of anyone else taking it on, I thought it'd be a good project for me. Here's the first batch:

Looking Back at Those Years (1–4)

A few days before I was arrested, some plainclothes police moved in across the way. The landlord came to me in a panic and said there'd be trouble if I didn't move. I felt I was innocent and, besides, where could I run to? Not long after, I was arrested by the state security bureau. To this day, whenever I see a policeman, including a domestic security agent, I feel a true sense of intimacy!

When he was at the China University of Geosciences, [Jin] Haike was an outstanding Party member. He did everything according to the standards of a Party member, including, naturally, being concerned about national affairs. In forming the society, he even took a page from the ceremony for entering the Party and even wanted to subject everyone to “organizational discipline.” In the end, not only did no one pay attention to the discipline, this idea actually violated a great Party taboo!

[Fan] Erjun was pressured to give false testimony, saying that Haike and Xu Wei wanted to subvert the government through violence and that I was for peaceful evolution. The two of them were sentenced to 10 years, and I got eight years. After giving the false testimony, Erjun was rewarded as an outstanding Party member in Haidian [District] and was promoted to vice chairman of the student work department of his school's Party committee. When he finally discovered his conscience and insisted on appearing in court to testify about the true situation, he was drummed out of Beihang University and wound up setting up the “Utopia” website and making a living there. Clearly, fraud and deceit will lead to official promotion, but seeking truth from facts is something the Party-state cannot bear.

The prosecutor asked me, “Were you a threat?” “No,” I answered. He retorted, “By the time you were, it would be too late! If we let you grow bigger, you might try to overthrow [the government], so now it's a crime!” According to this logic of “nipping evil in the bud,” I committed a crime by getting married: I might pass on dangerous ideas to the next generation!