Around 3 p.m. on June 4, 2005, Hu Jing, a 37-year-old man from Chongqing, China, was arrested in Tiananmen Square, where uniformed and plainclothes police officers outnumbered tourists on this politically sensitive day. They arrested Hu Jing because he "intended to burn the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) flag." Since then, Hu seems to have been sucked up by a black hole, and his whereabouts remain unknown to this day.
A friend of mine sent me a text message asking what kind of law Hu broke if he was simply intending to burn the Party flag. Since actually burning the Party flag does not constitute a crime, at least according to the laws publicized by the Chinese government, how can the intent to burn it be a crime? As many readers have asked, if it’s not a crime, then why was Hu Jing arrested?
The stories I’m about to tell may help you find the answer.
Before June 4, 2004, the authorities were tipped off that Hu Jia, a well-known human rights activist, might go to Tiananmen Square on the night of June 4 and light candles in front of the People’s Hero Monument to commemorate those killed on the same evening in 1989. The mighty government responded swiftly and in strength. Nearly ten police cars arrived at Hu Jia’s residence. Over 30 anti-riot policemen blindfolded Hu Jia and took this frail scholar to an unknown basement, where dozens of police officers watched him for several weeks.
This long-term, large-scale action against citizen Hu Jia was successful. It successfully made the totally despaired Hu Jia agree not to go to Tiananmen Square and light candles on the evening of June 4. Hu’s ordeal, however, was not over yet. Just before June 4, Mr. Hu’s phone rang. "Although you won’t be going to Tiananmen Square to light candles on June 4, are you going to do it at home?" asked a government official. Barely able to control his anger, Hu replied, "How can my lighting the candles at home be any of your business?!" and hung up the phone.
To his surprise, the authorities, out of extreme concern for national security, dispatched several police cars with eight officers to station themselves in Hu’s home, just to make sure that he would not light candles in his own home. A few dozen police officers watched him nervously around the clock for several weeks and eventually extinguished, successfully, his intention to light candles at home. Their mission to safeguard national security was accomplished.
With a smile on his face, Hu later told me that he truly admired the dedication of the police to our national security. I was amazed at how calm Hu was when he told me this story.
In late March 2005, Chiang Bingkun, vice chairman of the CCP’s arch rival—the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), visited the mainland. On March 31, the ever scrupulously dutiful police discovered an unfamiliar face among the welcoming crowds gathered at Biyun Temple in Fragrance Mountain Park in Beijing. The face belonged to Zhang Wenhe, a Beijing resident. The police took Zhang away and detained him for 12 hours. Because he showed up uninvited in a sensitive location, Zhang Wenhe instantly became a dangerous element harmful to national security.
From April 26 to May 3, 2005 when Lien Chan, Chairman of the KMT, visited China, and days after May 5 when Soong Chuyu, Chairman of Taiwan’s People First Party (PFP), was touring the mainland, Zhang Wenhe received VIP treatment as well. He was surrounded by ten police officers and six security guards around the clock in his home. Their mission was simple: to prevent Zhang from welcoming Mr. Lien and Mr. Soong without permission, thus jeopardizing national security.
Both times he was placed under house arrest, Zhang Wenhe called me for help. Unfortunately, he misjudged the situation. How could I handle the 16 tough guys and the vast national apparatus behind them? I could only express my sadness with a deep sigh.
When Mr. Lien and Mr. Soong’s high-profile visits were over, Zhang Wenhe’s special treatment, courtesy of our government, was over as well, and he eventually regained his freedom. Still upset about being deprived of his personal freedom without even a legal formality, Mr. Zhang insisted that he meet with me. I was in the Shangdao Café at Beijing’s International Club to meet with two ladies from Shanghai. One was an elderly lady in her 70s, mother of Hong Kong citizen Shen Ting; the other was the wife of the imprisoned lawyer Zheng Enchong. When Zhang arrived at the café, he laid eyes on a scene that shocked him speechless: nine men, all in black with dark sunglasses and most of them with shaved heads, surrounded both women and followed them closely. The older lady was obviously frightened. She told me that these men had several kinds of vehicles at their disposal to make sure that they could follow the two women under any circumstances. She asked me in a trembling voice, "Attorney Gao, they openly follow us in broad daylight. Do they really think that we, two frail ladies, are dangerous?"
I did not have an answer for her. Zhang Wenhe, who had come to complain about his own plight, spent his time comforting the two poor ladies instead. It was quite dramatic.
Even more dramatic have been my own personal experiences. Last summer I traveled to a particular province to work on a case. When I got off the plane, I was surrounded by several police cars. Over the following several days, whenever I went outside, I had at least four police cars providing constant "protection." Whenever I stayed in, I had seven to eleven police officers as "bodyguards" 24 hours a day. This was, using their words, to "guarantee your absolute safety under our provincial jurisdiction." Translation: to guarantee that you cannot accomplish anything under our provincial jurisdiction. Their blatant, shameless behavior made me feel absolutely helpless.
When I went to Gaizhou City in Liaoning Province in early March 2005, several elderly citizens, who had repeatedly appealed to the government protesting personal injustices, wanted to confer with me. Within five minutes of our meeting, more than ten police cars and several dozen police officers surrounded us, claiming that they had received information that we were holding an illegal meeting. I was baffled.
I’m hoping that, after reading these stories, you are prepared for any unforeseeable event in China. In a country where citizens are considered bandits by the rulers who live in a constant state of anxiety and hide behind the almighty power of the state, you even need to be careful of what you dream every night. With advancements in modern technology, our government can track your mind activities in your sleep. You may wake up in handcuffs. I say this because I’m sure that I should be arrested every morning when I wake up.
Gao Zhicheng is a civil rights lawyer in China. His willingness to help those who cannot afford lawsuit expenses to have the courage to challenge the privileged officials has won him the reputation as one of the top ten human rights lawyers in China.