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Prominent Rights Activists Detail Life in 74-Day House Arrest

December 30, 2010

[Chinese / 中文]

Immediately following the announcement of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on October 8, 2010, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), a representative of the Tiananmen Mothers, and her husband, Jiang Peikun (蒋培坤), were put under house arrest by police authorities, first in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, and then in Beijing. For 74 days, from October 8 until their release on December 20, they lost all forms of communication with the outside world, as if, in their words, they just “evaporated from life.”

“House Arrest in the Shadow of a ‘Rising Power’” (一份迟到的“大国崛起”阴影下的幽禁纪略) is a record by Ding and Jiang of their experiences during what they call “the loneliest and most painful days of our lives.”

The original Chinese text was recently released at Democratic China. At the request of Ding and Jiang, Human Rights in China (HRIC) has translated the essay into English.

House Arrest in the Shadow of a “Rising Power”

 Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun
December 26, 2010

[English Translation by Human Rights in China]
Introduction

During the 74 days between October 8, 2010, when Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and December 20, the two of us vanished from the face of the earth, our voices silenced and all contact with relatives, fellow activists, and friends at home and abroad cut off. Our home phones in Wuxi and Beijing were shut off, as were our Internet connections and our mobile phones.

Our own experience would indicate that the “harmonious society” promoted by this “rising power” truly does “advance with the times,” as the country’s leaders say. Although we two have been branded as Tiananmen Mothers, as relatives of victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, as dissenters and dissidents, and although there had been two occasions during the past 20 years when we found ourselves detained away from home, rendered incommunicado and restricted in our movements for up to 50 days, we had never before been subjected to such a long period of house arrest, or accorded such “preferential treatment” under the government’s policy of “humanistic governance.” In consideration, perhaps, of our age and infirmity, the authorities didn’t send us away for detention this time, choosing instead to enclose us in “Lian Garden,” the home that we built for ourselves outside Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. We were in our own house, to be sure, but under these conditions it hardly felt like a home. With communications cut off and our movements restricted, it goes without saying that even a trip to see family in Shanghai, Suzhou, or other nearby areas—to say nothing of a return home to Beijing—would require that we “have a word with” the State Security Bureau (SSB) office in Wuxi first. To preserve our basic self-respect as humans, we opted instead to stay in our “home.” Our only human contacts during this time were with the Wuxi SSB officers in charge of overseeing us, or with the few family members allowed to visit us at irregular intervals. We hoped during this time for news of what was going on in the outside world—but we were left completely in the dark. These were the loneliest, hardest days of our lives.

We can well imagine how worried our friends, relatives, and supporters in Beijing must have been going such a long time with no word from us. Our own thoughts went first to Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia: how must this time have been for her? Would she be able to take part in the award ceremony? She sent us a text message on October 11 to tell us her new mobile number—but not long after that, our mobile phones were cut off by the Wuxi SSB, and we have remained unable to contact her over the two and a half months since then. We thought, too, of Xu Jue, with whom Ding Zilin would talk once a week ever since Mrs. Xu was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2009. No matter whether Mrs. Xu was in the hospital for surgery or chemotherapy, or whether we were in Beijing or in the countryside outside Wuxi, each found comfort—and strength—in the other’s voice. What about her? These questions remained in our minds, but no answers were forthcoming, and our hearts were filled with worry and grief—and anger.

And so we decided, during our time under house arrest outside Wuxi, that our first course of action upon returning to Beijing would not be to go to the hospital for medicine, but to tell the friends and relatives who had worried about us what we had gone through in the intervening two months.

After 5:00 p.m. on October 8: Our Internet and Home Phone Connections Are Cut

After 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of October 8, just before the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, Jiang Peikun turned on the computer. Our eyes were glued to the computer screen as the announcement approached, until at 5:00 came the announcement that the winner was Liu Xiaobo…. Almost immediately, Radio France Internationale called us for a quote, and Ding Zilin began to give her response, when suddenly the phone began to experience problems, the sound dropping out and cutting back in, and then finally cutting out entirely. The phone rang again—Human Rights in China this time—and Mrs. Ding said quickly that this was “the best news, and the most encouraging event of the past 21 years.” The phone cut out again. Afterwards, the phone would ring, but there would be no sound when we picked it up. At 5:13 p.m., we dialed Liu Xia in Beijing using our mobile phones, but got a busy signal; subsequent calls resulted in a message saying that phone service had been shut off. This indicated that Mrs. Liu had also had her phone cut off. By 5:30 p.m., our home phone at our Wuxi residence had been completely cut off, and when Mr. Jiang looked at the computer he found that our broadband Internet connection had been shut off as well.

At 7:39 p.m. that evening and on the morning of the next day, we used our mobile phones to call fellow relatives of Tiananmen Square massacre victims in Beijing to tell them that Liu Xiaobo had won the Nobel. Everyone we told was delighted and eager to tell other people, and recommended that we draft a statement to express the feelings and views of the families of Tiananmen Square massacre victims in Beijing.

Around noon on October 9, we called the State Security Bureau in Beijing in frustration and out of concern for Mr. Jiang’s ill health, to tell them that the Wuxi SSB had cut off our Internet connection and telephone service. The Beijing SSB promised to immediately dispatch people to Wuxi to “mediate.”

Beijing SSB officers arrived in Wuxi around midnight, and visited us at our home outside the city in Zhangjing, Xibei Township, after 10:00 a.m. the next morning. They told us not to issue any statements or accept any interviews, and explained that the Wuxi SSB was concerned that we would accept interviews with foreign reporters and that foreign reporters would come visit us in Zhangjing—and were even more worried that we would issue a public statement. Worse still, we might go to the World Expo in Shanghai to meet with foreign reporters, and so on. After protracted discussions mediated through the Beijing SSB officers, we agreed, under duress, to their demands, on the condition that the Wuxi SSB immediately restore our home phone service and broadband Internet access.

On the morning of October 11 and still ignorant of the goings-on in the outside world, we took a copy of the Freegate proxy software to the house of a relative in a neighboring village to browse overseas websites. When we read that Liu Xiaobo had said to Liu Xia, after she visited him in jail to tell him that he had won the prize, that the prize was “for the lost souls of Tiananmen,” and that he had wept, we too were unable to contain our emotions, and Mrs. Ding wept openly. At this point we could only follow our consciences, rather than concern ourselves with our personal safety, draft a statement, and use every available means to ensure that it was disseminated. We did so in keeping with the wishes of fellow families of the deceased in Beijing.

That evening, we took our draft statement, entitled “The Tiananmen Mothers: Our Statement,” to the home of another nearby relative. Initially we had meant to use our relative’s phone to send out the statement in chunks, as this was the only means we could think of to send the statement out now that our Internet connection had been cut. As it happened, our relative’s daughter was able to get online to send e-mail—a happy coincidence for us.

We immediately sent the statement to a fellow relative of the deceased in Beijing to forward to other relatives of the deceased for feedback, editing, and subsequent forwarding to overseas websites. Not long afterward, we received an SMS saying that the statement had been sent out, and our uneasy hearts settled somewhat.

A Clash with the Wuxi SSB; Mrs. Ding Faints to the Ground

But as we were focused on sending out that e-mail from our relative’s home, we had failed to realize that we had been under surveillance the entire time. Four strangers barged in through the main and rear gates (both of which had been open) and came into the house, seizing the notebook computer and a USB data drive wordlessly from the tea table on which they had been placed. Six or seven people were present at the time, and nobody knew what was going on. Once they had time to react, our relatives instinctively went to protect the computer. Mrs. Ding stood up and asked the intruders who they were and demanded that they produce identification; one of the men took out a document identifying himself as an employee of the Wuxi SSB. Mrs. Ding told him to open the ID case so that she could see his name; the man flashed it open and then snapped it shut before Mrs. Ding could see his name clearly. Again without saying anything, the four men proceeded to snatch away the computer and the USB data drive; our family members went to grab the computer back, and were nearly wrestled to the ground. After several rounds of back-and-forth, the young owner of the computer grabbed it and ran upstairs clutching it to her chest. Mrs. Ding shouted that the intruders were thieves and ordered for them to leave immediately. “What right do you have to come barging into a private home?” she demanded. “What have we done that’s so wrong? Show us a search warrant, if you’re going to search and confiscate our property!” Mrs. Ding shoved the men out the door.

The incident took place very quickly and the Wuxi SSB officers were thuggish in their behavior. As Mrs. Ding walked outside to reason with them, she suddenly fainted to the ground. Her family members gathered around to help; the young woman who owned the computer was so upset that she could only sob. Mr. Jiang forced a nitroglycerin tablet into Mrs. Ding’s mouth. A small car happened to be parked near the family compound, and the owner quickly bundled Mrs. Ding into the car to drive her to the nearby Zhangjing Hospital; a Wuxi SSB official followed close behind. After approximately an hour of emergency treatment at the hospital, Mrs. Ding gradually began to recover consciousness; upon seeing the I.V. drip installed in her arm, she sharply tore it out. She used her relative’s mobile phone to call the two Beijing SSB officers who had been sent to Wuxi and told them to come to the hospital immediately; only then, with the aid of family members, did she walk back to her relative’s home. Afterwards, and again with the aid of family members, she began the walk back to her and Mr. Jiang’s own home. Halfway back, she became worried that the computer they had left at their relative’s home would create trouble for their relatives, so she walked back to retrieve it.

The two Beijing SSB officers arrived at Mrs. Ding’s and Mr. Jiang’s home in a hurry, and asked Mrs. Ding and Mr. Jiang to turn over the computer to Wuxi state security as quickly as possible in order to smooth things over as soon as possible.

Mrs. Ding’s Eyes Were Glassy, and Her Memory Was Patchy

After Mrs. Ding returned home, she kept mumbling, “I want to go back to Beijing! Back to Beijing!” to herself, her eyes dull and glazed. We talked about the computer, and she asked “what computer,” as if she had forgotten it completely. We talked about the Wuxi state security officers bursting into our relative’s home, but she had no recollection of it. It seemed to us that her brain had been injured. For a time, she had no recollection whatsoever of the period from when we went to our relative’s home to send out the e-mail and the clash with Wuxi SSB officers to the time she awoke in the hospital on an I.V. drip, phoned Beijing state security, removed her I.V., and went back to our relative’s home to take the computer back to our home. She had fainted several times in the past, but her mind had remained clear, and she had never had any problems with her memory before. It struck us as very serious. A woman from the Beijing SSB and one of our relatives helped her into bed to rest, but she still kept saying: “I want to go back to Beijing! Back to Beijing!” To this day, she still has no recollection of the violent clash that took place on the evening of October 11.

At the same time Mrs. Ding was rushed to the hospital, several police offers from the Zhangjing station arrived at our relative’s home, as well as the Xibei Township Party secretary, the director of the residents’ committee, and even our relative’s landlord. The police asked them a bunch of questions on the pretext of checking their hukou residence permits. Mr. Jiang lost his temper, shouting, “What are you people doing here? What business is this of yours? Get out of here immediately!” Turning to the Wuxi SSB officers, he asked what the police were doing there; the Wuxi SSB officers replied that they had called the police for assistance. The local police were once again acting illegally under the guise of law enforcement, as they had on October 26, 2008—and on that day, too, our phone service had been cut off, so that on the home screen of our mobile phones we saw only the words “Emergency Calls Only.”

Mr. Jiang immediately told the Beijing SSB officers that both he and Mrs. Ding were ill, and that with Mrs. Ding in her current condition, he was concerned that all their communications with the outside world might be cut off. The Beijing SSB officers said that they would liaise with the Wuxi SSB to arrive at a more favorable resolution.

By this point it was already 11:00 p.m. The Wuxi SSB paid no attention whatsoever to Mrs. Ding’s frail condition, and instead—not daring to come to our home themselves—repeatedly forced our relative’s daughter to come to our home to take the computer and turn it over to the SSB. They insisted that the computer be turned over, and said that they would not leave until they had it. For a time, both sides were at an impasse: Mr. Jiang was concerned that the computer contained private information belonging to its owner, and said that he would only agree to copy the “Statement” file for the SSB. The Wuxi SSB, for their part, said they had already “seized” a copy of the “Statement” from the Internet, and that they wanted to search the computer to see whether or not there was anything else on it.

In the end, the Beijing SSB took the computer from Mr. Jiang with the assurance that they would return it to its owner once the Wuxi SSB had finished searching it. Only then—by this time it was already after 1:00 a.m. the next day—did the Wuxi SSB leave our relative’s home.

On the morning of October 13, Wuxi and Beijing SSB officers came to our home as requested to discuss the return of the computer. The Wuxi SSB officer was the first to speak: he assured us that the computer would be returned “as soon as possible,” but refused to give a specific timeframe for its return. Mrs. Ding said this was unacceptable, and insisted that the Wuxi SSB work out an agreement on the return of the computer and return it the same day. Both the Beijing and Wuxi SSB officers went outside to make phone calls. Afterwards, the Wuxi SSB officer came back in, saying, “We'll give it back! We won’t give it 98% back, we’ll give it 100% back!”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.” It was the first time the Wuxi SSB had given a clear answer.

Our Relatives Are Forced to Sign a Promise

On October 14, the Beijing SSB officers returned to Beijing. Unbeknownst to us, as the Wuxi SSB officers were returning the computer to its owner that day, they printed several copies of a written ”Promise” and forced five of our family members—with the cooperation of the Party secretaries in the Xishan District and Xibei Township—to sign the ”Promise.“ The document required that our relatives promise not to provide Mrs. Ding or Mr. Jiang with telephones, mobile phones, computers, or any other communications devices, to purchase SIM cards for them, or to reveal any information about Mrs. Ding and Mr. Jiang. The ‘Promise’ would remain in effect until Mrs. Ding and Mr. Jiang left Wuxi. If anyone acted to break the terms of the ”Promise,“ they would bear all legal responsibilities. Left with no choice, our relatives could only sign their names; their requests to be given a copy of the agreement as signatories were denied.

On October 16, Wuxi SSB officers visited Mrs. Ding and Mr. Jiang at home in Zhangjing. Mrs. Ding formally expressed her protest, stating that the authorities’ moves to cut off our broadband and telephone connections, the clash over the e-mail statement, and the forcing of our relatives to sign the written ‘Promise’ indicated that the authorities were acting in total disregard of the Chinese constitution and existing legal statutes, openly infringing upon the rights of citizens—“the old Cultural Revolution tricks.” The Wuxi SSB officers said nothing in response.

From then on, all communication links between our home in Zhangjing, Wuxi, and the outside world were cut off, and some of our relatives became afraid to visit us. Mrs. Ding and Mr. Jiang told the Wuxi SSB that in case anything should happen to us during this period, they would have to ensure that emergency calls remained possible, and the authorities promised to make the 110, 120, and 119 emergency numbers, as well as the numbers of the Wuxi SSB and the Beijing SSB, and three other phone numbers, available to us. These three numbers, which belonged to relatives of ours, would be usable only under the condition that the Wuxi SSB be able to listen in. All other numbers would be blocked.

Medical Examination in the Wuxi Hospital

Although Mrs. Ding did not have any relapses over the half-month period after she first fainted and began to experience problems with her memory on October 11, she experienced dizziness and vertigo when moving. At times, she even had problems standing stably, and experienced stabbing pains in her lower back. And so when Wuxi SSB Officers Li and Yu visited our home on the morning of October 26, we said that we wanted to return to Beijing for medical examination and treatment for Mrs. Ding. Upon hearing that we wanted to go back to Beijing, the two officers adopted a conciliatory expression. “Professor Ding is in no condition for such a long trip,” they said. “Why not take her for examination and treatment here? After all, the medical care will be free whether you get it here or in Beijing.”

“We’ll ask around,” they said. “We’ll get you the very best hospital, the very best doctor in Wuxi. Or you could go to the convalescent home at Lake Tai for examination, treatment, and a nice long rest...” They suggested these plans immediately, as if they’d had them at the ready all along, as another way of saying that we would not be able to go back to Beijing.

We were worried, not knowing what had happened to Mrs. Ding’s brain, or how serious it might be. The thought of perhaps missing a critical post-injury period for treatment did not bear thinking of. Mr. Jiang, for his part, was a sufferer of coronary heart disease, and had suffered a major cerebral infarction two years previously as the result of a sudden attack by local police. It is frightening now to think back on how—since we could not return to Beijing, and were unwilling to go to Lake Tai—we could only entrust them to find a hospital for examination and treatment for us.

On the afternoon of October 28, Officers Li and Yu came to inform us that they had made an appointment with the deputy director and a neurologist at Wuxi People’s Hospital for Mrs. Ding to undergo examination and treatment at the hospital’s VIP ward the following Tuesday. They told Mrs. Ding to fast that morning, and to provide a copy of her medical history; we were to obtain a written record of treatment costs for payment by the SSB.

On the morning of November 2, Mrs. Ding went to the Wuxi People’s Hospital as appointed. Officer Yu had gotten a special appointment number for her in advance, and throughout the entire period of waiting, diagnosis, and examination, Officers Yu and Li were never more than a few feet away.

When Deputy Director Wang was diagnosing Mrs. Ding, she produced the emergency admissions record from the Zhangjing Hospital on October 11, and explained that part of the record had been falsified, and that she had been admitted not because of “fainting following a family conflict,” as the record stated, but following a clash with the SSB. The record was written while the patient—Mrs. Ding—was unconscious and while her family members were not present, and while SSB officers were standing beside the doctor. After telling Deputy Director Wang this, Mrs. Ding handed him a sheet of paper containing her medical history. The record began on June 4, 1989, when Mrs. Ding fainted after being informed that her son had been shot and might not survive, and continued to October 11, 2010—the occasion in question—which had been her most serious fainting spell to date. During the years in between, Mrs. Ding had fainted a total of five times; the circumstances, times, locations, and causes were all listed on the paper. Over the preceding two years, the intervals between fainting spells had begun to grow shorter and shorter.

The doctor understood what Mrs. Ding was getting at and asked no further questions. He began the standard series of tests—listening to her heart, testing her blood pressure, and checking the joints around her waist and lower back. Off to the side and without the consent of Mrs. Ding or the doctor, Mrs. Ding’s SSB escorts snatched the paper she had handed to the doctor away from her medical file.

Mrs. Ding’s blood pressure was 158/94—a clear rise for Mrs. Ding, who had always tended to have lower blood pressure. The doctor prepared forms for blood tests, ECG and echocardiogram studies, and MRIs of Mrs. Ding’s brain and lower back

Loss of Memory Due to Cerebral Concussion

Ding raised to the doctor the question that was most worrying her: Why, after passing out for close to an hour, did she have no recollection after waking of the events of the previous 12 hours?

The doctor unequivocally responded: “That is due to ‘cerebral concussion.’”

Ding then asked: “Might my memory slowly return as I recover my health?”

The doctor responded: “That is not possible.”

Ding could not help being alarmed, hoping that this never happens again!

As she was leaving the hospital, Ding gave the Wuxi SSB an envelope containing a written account of the conflict with the Wuxi SSB resulting in her falling to the ground with illness. Because she was not permitted to return to Beijing, she had to be treated medically in Wuxi. The Wuxi SSB should pay the fee for her diagnosis and treatment, although this is not at Ding’s initiative…. The Wuxi SSB exhorted her to write this.

The recipient of the envelope did not even open it before parting company with Ding.

At noon on November 5, Ding went to a scheduled appointment at People’s Hospital for a brain and lower back Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) examination. As she entered the hospital she met the Wuxi SSB’s Director Li, and the two waited together. Ding couldn’t help being worried—originally only Officer Yu would accompany her to the examination. Why was Director Li there? The MRI and examination took a long time, and Ding didn’t emerge from the examination room until after midnight. At the hospital doorway, Director Li said with a stammer: “Teacher Ding, could you rewrite your account of the events?”

“Why? Was what I wrote not accurate?”

“Of course not, it’s just that you don’t have to describe the event in such detail. It’s better if you don’t write about the preceding conflict. This is just for our accounting people, they don’t need to know so much.”

“Your accountants are also SSB employees. What is the problem with them knowing?”

“Teacher Ding, please just do a rewrite. Don’t embarrass me and Officer Yu.”

Given that Li was so blunt, and Officer Yu had done so much running around in the hospital, Ding grudgingly agreed. But at the same time she stated: “Regardless of the outcome of the examination, the weather’s getting colder and Mr. Jiang has heart and brain medical conditions. His doctor in Beijing has repeatedly admonished that he is not to spend the winter in the south. At the latest we must return to Beijing by the end of this month.”

Several days later, all of Ding’s test results were complete. At 3:00 p.m. on November 9, the Wuxi SSB accompanied Ding to the People’s Hospital to meet with its Deputy Director Wang for a consultation. It had been a week and Ding’s blood pressure was stable. The tests showed that she had suffered a cerebral stroke.

Ding wanted to return to Beijing for treatment, so the doctor just prescribed some stroke medication. As they were parting, the doctor repeatedly warned that in the days to come Ding must control her emotions and not get too excited or anxious in order to prevent a recurrence of the illness. Ding understood this. Facing the SSB officer, he added: “What has happened is in the past. Let’s put this unfortunate event behind us!” Ding heard these words but remained silent.

Would Wuxi SSB Be “Relieved” of Its Responsibility?

Coming out of the doctor’s office, Director Li couldn’t hide his delight. “Teacher Ding, there is nothing seriously wrong with your health and you can set your heart at ease,” he said happily. “We are also very pleased!” Feeling what he said didn’t make sense, Mrs. Ding retorted, “Satisfied about what! What if I got some incurable illness because of that?” We can see that they were very satisfied with the exam result because this meant that they could be “relieved” from the responsibility that they were supposed to bear. But no one knows if this illness (cerebral concussion) triggered by the incident will bring about some hidden illness.  

From her bag, Ding took out the piece of paper they wanted and gave it to Li, who finished reading it hastily in front of Ding. Ding changed the wording from fainting “caused by conflict with SSB” to “for some reason.” But when he read the last sentence, “even though this is not our wish,” he couldn’t help flicking the paper with his finger where the line was and said, “This sentence is unnecessary.” “This was exactly my intention,” Ding responded. This time there was nothing he could say. He accepted it with reluctance.

Once we got out of the hospital’s gate, Li said to Ding, “You raised the issue of returning to Beijing at the end of the month. I asked my supervisor. I can tell you clearly that my supervisor does not agree with it.” He continued, “Now that you are in Wuxi, I am responsible for you. If you need anything you can come to me directly. There is no need for you to ask for Beijing. We are under the leadership of the province here.” It’s typical of Director Li to say some most critical words when departing. But Ding was well prepared for it.

Ding once again said that there was no heating during the winter in the south and that was very difficult for Jiang’s poor health. To this, he replied that we could stay for a while at the Taihu Lake Rest Home, where it was warm and we didn’t have to cook…. Ding insisted that we would not go. 

Fraudulent E-mail

On the afternoon of Sunday, November 14, Jiang’s high school classmate suddenly came to visit with his whole family, including their small pet dog Mei Mei. We couldn’t help being astonished as well as pleasantly surprised. In the past we had continuously received visitors, but for more than a month we had received few visits from relatives, never mind guests. Could today’s visit mean something was wrong? Sure enough, after sitting down, this old classmate—who is computer-illiterate—took out a piece of paper. It turned out to be an e-mail message he downloaded from another person’s computer, sent by an old classmate of ours all the way from Canada. The email read: 

November 12, 2010 4:37

XX: We have not communicated in a long time, how have you been recently?

Because Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, we are not able to set one foot outside our house. But we are able to use this time to take care of matters we did not have time to attend to before. Our telephone is still disconnected. Luckily we have stored at home a wireless SIM card for getting online. We are doing okay here. The weather is a little cold. We are using an electric heater that we previously bought to keep warm. I’ve sent Liu Yi’s 1989, Tiananmen (天安门), Great Land (大地), and Holy Land, Lhasa (圣地拉萨) (set of paintings) for your enjoyment.

Peaceful winter! Signed, Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun.

This was the purported message “we” sent to that old classmate on November 12. On the back was the old classmate’s response to us, which said: I learned your situation in Wuxi. This is unavoidable. You must keep up your spirits, and pull through this crisis together….

When we finished reading we were shocked. Since the evening of October 11 when we borrowed a relative’s computer to issue the “Tiananmen Mothers Statement,” we have not sent e-mail to anyone. This e-mail message was obviously fraudulent. We knew that many friends and family members who used the e-mail address jielian.jiang@gmail.com to get in touch had received similar messages. But this e-mail address had been abandoned because its password had long ago been hacked and we had no way to log on.

Who committed this act? And for what reason? Our own computers had long since been disconnected by the Wuxi SSB. No outsiders knew anything about our present situation. It seems that no one, except Wuxi SSB, would know our circumstances, have control of our e-mail accounts, and be aware that we have an electric heater by the door of our bathroom. It could not be anyone else who would know our classmate’s e-mail address in Canada. The Wuxi SSB once claimed that on October 11 they “intercepted” the “statement” we sent to Beijing. They also said that following the “statement” was an e-mail address of a Chinese person living in the United States. This confirmed that they could take over someone’s e-mail any time they liked. Because of this, we could not help suspecting them.

What Constitutes “Breaking Our Promise”

On the afternoon of November 22, Li and Yu of the Wuxi SSB came to our house. After they sat down, Ding did not mention the fake e-mail to them. She, however, once again protested to them their way of doing things to us since October 8, pointing out that they had violated Article 35 of the Constitution, violating the rights enjoyed as a citizen. “You are law enforcement personnel. With which article of the Constitution and law do the monitoring measures you use towards us comply?” she asked. “Is it like the residential surveillance of the past or something else?”

To Ding’s out-of-the-blue question, Li of SSB was at his wit’s end. He paused for a bit before answering, “From what I understand, we did indeed cut off your communication. But you are still free to move around. Aren’t you able to still see your old schoolmates?”

“But why is it that there are always three unidentifiable men following me every time I go shopping at the town’s supermarket and shops?” Ding asked relentlessly. “It was not I who found this out. It was store clerks I don’t know who told me after they discovered it.”

They said it was not their doing.

“So do we have the freedom of going to Shanghai and Suzhou to visit friends?” Ding asked again.

“If you go to Shanghai or Suzhou, just let us know,” the officers answered. 

“Letting you know. What kind of freedom of movement is this?” Ding asked.

Irritated by these questions, the officer’s face dropped suddenly, and he said , “It is you who repeatedly broke your promise. We asked you not to make any announcement, you did it anyway; then you agreed not to make phone calls, but you did just that. From accurate information we received, you not only make phone calls, but you also called Beijing….” He said “from accurate information we received” triumphantly. This shows that they have employed all illegal means possible to block our channel of speech.

This speech made Ding angry. She immediately interrupted them and said rapidly, “We always do everything in an open and aboveboard way. I must make something very clear today: all the rules and measures you adopted in dealing with us have been wrong according to the Constitution and the law from the very beginning. No one thinks it is legal when you cut off our broadband connection and our phone on October 8. We asked Beijing SSB to get involved in order to resume our communication as soon as possible and to avoid the problem getting out of hand. It doesn’t mean what you did was correct. We agreed with Beijing SSB’s repeated request to temporarily not issue any announcements. That was one compromise we made under that circumstance. We have understood from the very beginning that whether we make an announcement or make a phone call is the legitimate right we enjoy as citizens; and not making announcements or phone calls is giving up this right on our part…. This is how we see it. No such thing as ‘breaking our promise’ exists. You cannot use any of your imaginary ‘promises’ to replace any clause in the Constitution or law. Making some kind of ‘promise’ is just a compromise from both parties within the range of the Constitution and the law. If we can back up, we’ll back up; if we can’t, then we won’t. As for the so-called ‘promise,’ that’s all there is to it.”

Ding took this opportunity to talk about the fake e-mail of November 12. Ding asked them to make clear their allegation that we called Beijing. Ding said that we did indeed make the phone call but they needed to ask us why we did it and who we called. On November 14, when we received the fake e-mail in our names from an old schoolmate in Wuxi, we borrowed his phone and called the victims’ families in Beijing because we were afraid that they would be fooled by similar e-mails. It was just as we expected. Two victims’ families also received such e-mails (we have not received information from others). They didn’t suspect they were fake, and were happy to receive them. This was the exact reason we called Beijing. Besides, we didn’t borrow the phone from our relatives with whom you signed the “promise letter.” We used someone else’s phone to make this call. Do you mean to say that this is one of the crimes of breaking our “promise”?

Li’s attitude softened. “Who sent it to you?” He asked. “Can you show it to me?”

Jiang immediately went upstairs and got a copy and handed it to Li. “It sounds very much like you….” Li said after reading it.

In a firm and decisive tone, Jiang said to them, “It’s very obvious that this is your SSB’s doing. Only you have our e-mail address and our schoolmate’s e-mail address in Canada. And it is also only you who saw the heater at the door when you used our bathroom.”

“You must investigate this matter and give us a clear explanation,” Ding added. “Otherwise you will fabricate some other excuse to frame us.”

Putting the fake e-mail into his bag, Li agreed to investigate. He then stood up and left.

Before he left, Ding further asked him, “If we can’t go back to Beijing at the end of the month, when can we buy the tickets for Beijing? Give us a definite answer! Some of Jiang’s daily medicine will be used up by the end of the month.”

“Let’s communicate. When it turns cold, we’ll find a warm place. Okay?” said Li. They refused to give us an exact date to return to Beijing. Before they left, they took a few empty bottles of Jiang’s medicine and agreed that they would solve this problem as soon as possible.

This conversation lasted around two hours. The content of the conversation was intense and atmosphere stressful. We were both exhausted physically and emotionally after they left. After all, we are getting old and in poor health.

“What If Foreign Reporters Come Knocking at Your Door after the Award Ceremony?”

On the afternoon of December 1, our relative from a neighboring village came to deliver the medicine Jiang needed. It turned out that the police from Wuxi “couldn’t find” the medicine Jiang needed. They then forwarded the request to police in Beijing, who bought the medicine and mailed it to our relative, who received it on November 30 and then delivered it to us.

On this afternoon, soon after our relatives told us how they got the medicine, the Wuxi police came with another “new task.” They asked, stuttering, “What if foreign reporters come to knock at your door after the (Nobel Peace Prize) award ceremony?”

Ding said, “How can they come to the countryside? There is no street sign, and the house numbering is also chaotic.”

“What if they come?” they insisted.

“If they come, I’ll treat them to a cup of tea,” Jiang said, annoyed. “We would not refuse to let our guests in. This is basic etiquette. We are always like this in Beijing. How you treat foreign reporters is your business. You have all kinds of ways.”

The Wuxi state security police left empty-handed.

In the next few days, we also learned to count down how many days were left for us to return to Beijing: ten days, eight days, one week…. At the same time, we paid close attention to the weather reports on China Central Television, Jiangsu and Wuxi TV stations. Quite a few times, Wuxi TV reported that a cold wave would arrive in Wuxi in the next few days. We took out all of our cotton-padded clothes and thick quilts to get ready for the cold wave. But again and again it was “crying wolf.” The cold wave eluded Wuxi. The temperature lingered around 20 degrees Celsius. Winter still has not arrived in Wuxi and the city is enjoying late fall weather. We congratulated ourselves, thinking that maybe Heaven is helping us!

Day after day dragged out. Before December 6 came, Jiang fell ill. He caught a cold, shivered all over, and had a sore throat. After taking one week of antibiotics from Beijing he was finally able to recover.

The Date of Return to Beijing Was Set

The train ticket office in town sells advance tickets to Beijing. Prior to this, after our repeated discussion with Beijing’s state security police it was decided that we would leave for Beijing at 10:00 p.m. on the night of December 14, to which Wuxi’s police tacitly consented. The day we got the train tickets, we felt more light-hearted than at any time in the past two months. We lived every day extremely carefully, for fear that we would get sick and wouldn’t be able to return to Beijing. For the first time in more than 20 years, we felt the anxiety of “wanting to speed back home with the swiftness of an arrow.” 

Two branches of the winter sweetshrub in our Lian Garden had just blossomed in the cold wind. The invigorating fragrance from the blooming petals brought some comfort to our suffering hearts and minds.

It has been 16 years since the construction of our Lian Garden started, in 1994. At the time, the unbearable harassment from the Beijing police and the offer from our family and hometown made us decide, with the resources we could afford, to design and build this garden residence of more than 210 square meters. It was our intention to use this place as our spring and fall refuge and as a place to relax, write, and meet friends. As a matter of fact, this house has indeed played such a role. It was here we finished writing the three published books on June Fourth and human rights; our many articles and correspondence; even the transcripts for the documentary The Road of Mothers with Children Killed in the Tiananmen Massacre (天安门母亲之路) . It was at Lian Garden that many of our fellow sufferers, new and old friends, old schoolmates and students have left their trace. It was also at the Lian Garden where the idea for the now world-famous Charter 08 originated.

These memories fascinate us but also sadden us. This exquisite and elegant garden turns out to be a place where we fell into the hands of our enemies in our later years. In the scorching summer of August 1995, the two of us lived at this unfinished, windowless dirt house, where we were taken away by the Wuxi Procuratorate (it was actually the State Security Bureau) and were secretly jailed for 43 days. In April 2004, prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the June 4, 1989 military crackdown, Ding went alone to Wuxi and Suzhou to pay respect to the graves, was taken away by Wuxi police, and was secretly jailed for seven days, and our house was searched and possessions confiscated. At the end of October 2008, after a sudden attack by police in Wuxi, Jiang’s coronary heart disease caused him a massive cerebral infarction, and it was only after three days and nights of emergency treatment that he survived. On October 8, 2010, a heated argument with Wuxi police made Ding faint and gave her a brain concussion. We are in our late years. How many disasters await us in the remainder of our lives?

From our personal experience of the past two decades, we feel that freedom, and only freedom, is the most precious thing, whether for an individual or for a country. Without freedom, you will become like us, who, living in a world with such a developed Internet, are reduced to being blind and deaf, seeing nothing and hearing nothing, just feeling and exploring in the protracted darkness.

Liu Xiaobo is an honest friend of ours. His winning of the Nobel Peace Prize as a Chinese should have been an event in this century that makes our nation happy. It is also the best news to us Chinese. But what we don’t understand is why a ruling government of a rising power cannot face it with calmness and peace of mind? What is more difficult to understand is that this event has been rendered invisible to the public. And we, as Liu’s friends, have also been consigned to oblivion in the public eye.

Written intermittently from October 14 to December 14, 2010, at Lian Garden, Zhangjing, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province

Allowed to Return to Beijing, But Not Allowed to Return Home

December 14 finally came. Early that morning, Jiang went to the town’s market and bought two kilos of live shrimp and planned to cook them and take them back to Beijing. This has been our habit for the previous few years. Every year returning to Beijing from Wuxi, he would take some river shrimp to Xiaobo and Liu Xia for them to eat. After Xiaobo was put in prison, only Liu Xia is left. But we continued to do this. We figured that the award ceremony was over and we would be able to see her when we returned to Beijing.

It was very cold on that day. Ding, wearing her glasses and with her neck hunched, cut off the feet and feelers of every shrimp…. All of a sudden, we heard knocks on the back door. We thought it must be relatives from the local area who had come to say good-bye. But when the door opened, there stood two personnel from the Beijing State Security Bureau. They had just arrived by plane.

Puzzled, Ding asked, “What happened? Is it that you’ve changed your mind and you won’t allow us to go back to Beijing?”

“No, no, no!” they explained. “You’ll go back to Beijing this evening. But the situation has changed a bit. We’ve just received instruction from the ‘upper authority’ (which ruthless ‘upper authority,’ no one knows). You can’t go home until the end of the month. Taking into consideration your health, we have tried to work out this plan. We’ll go to Beijing, and you’ll stay somewhere else for a while before going home. You won’t stay too long, until the end of December at the latest, maybe Christmas. We were afraid you were not mentally prepared, so our supervisors have sent us to go back with you. Hope you can understand….”

So that’s what it was. We had no choice but to accept this “arrangement.” No matter what, let’s just leave this place where both weather and people are ice cold!

They suggested that they take us to the train station in the evening. We declined, for our relatives would drive us there.

At 9:00 p.m., we set off in our relative’s car. But we never expected to see a taxi waiting at the end of the lane. The two cops got out of the car and told us to get into their car and that they would “chaperone” us to the train station.

Just like this, the two of us sat in the same cabin on the train with the two police officers for more than nine hours before we arrived in Beijing on the early morning of December 15. The car from the Beijing State Security Bureau was waiting at the train station.

At our request, we hurried home and took some cotton-padded clothes and pants, and some money for getting medicine from the hospital, and then got in their car, which drove us to a remote suburb. From the beginning to the end, they refused to tell us where they were taking us. We stopped asking. Finally, we arrived at the destination. December 15 was the coldest day in Beijing since the beginning of winter.

On the days that followed, every day we waited and waited. On December 18, Ding couldn’t tolerate it any more. She finally exploded: “You should know what days December 20th and 21st are! The 20th is my birthday and the 21st is Teacher Jiang’s birthday. Ever since Xiao Lian was killed, as long as the older kids are in Beijing, they would always choose one of the two days to come and celebrate our birthdays. We already lost Xiao Lian. This little attachment is all we have left and you still want to take it away from us! Do your supervisors have any humanity in them? You talk about “serving the people” and “harmonious society.” Isn’t that hypocrital? We are in our 70s and 80s. Why don’t you just arrest us and sentence us to eight or ten years in prison? Why go to all this trouble?”

Ding finished. The “companions” all kept silent. No one tried to persuade her. No one dared to persuade her.

On the following morning, as soon as one of them saw us, he was all smiles and told us: “Teacher Ding, good news!”

“What good news! Go home.”

“That’s right. We’ll take you home on the 20th so that your children can celebrate your birthdays.”

Ding hardly slept at all on the night of December 19. She remembered how our children celebrated her 50th birthday: our two sons took the big chair that she always sat on and put it in the middle of the room facing south and made her sit down. Very formally, they got on their knees and loudly kowtowed to her three times. That sense of happiness was so brief. Now there is only one left. When we think back, it is hard for us to imagine how we survived the past two decades of this nightmare. Every time we think of this, we feel as if we have fallen into an empty darkness.

On the early morning of December 20, we got up and packed. We could finally go home. But when we got home, we saw that our landline, cell phone and computer were still cut off. After repeated negotiations, communication was finally reestablished on December 21.

From December 21, Ding, after being in a stressful situation for two-and-a-half months, was finally able to relax. On the following day, she fell ill. She coughed non-stop; she shivered with cold, vomited, and couldn’t eat. She slept for three days without getting up. She couldn’t even walk, never mind going to a hospital.

When she read the online report of overseas friends celebrating her birthday, Ding, still sick, was filled with gratitude. Moved by this warm friendship, she wants to express her heartfelt thanks to all friends from home and abroad who have shown concern for her these past 74 days.

  December 26, 2010, at home in Beijing