Wang Yu tells story of son’s abuse while she was in RSDL


Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu’s (王宇) son was just 16 years old when the police used a long, thick stick and threatened “to bash his brains out” to get him to sign a statement. He weighed less than 50kg, a small and skinny youth. He was surrounded by police officers, but they had still handcuffed and shackled him.

Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩) had been trying to flee China, but police had caught him in Myanmar. Three months earlier his father had been snatched in front of his eyes at the airport. The teenage Bao was on his way to Australia to study; his father was just seeing him off. Just hours later, in the early hours of the morning, police were breaking down the door to his flat with a power drill and snatched his mother. They were all victims of the 709 Crackdown, China’s war against lawyers, with even children among its casualties.

Ms. Wang has now spoken out about the terrible abuse her son suffered at the hands of the police while she and his father were locked up in RSDL, undergoing their own hell. They were only released a year later after she had been paraded on TV in another of China’s forced confessions. Her story is taken from an interview with the Epoch Times (in Chinese).

“The police grabbed him, threw him onto the floor, and then onto the bed, and then back on the floor, and back and forth several times.”

Ms. Wang described how in the beginning, she couldn’t bring herself to talk about her son’s treatment. If she did, she would burst into tears. “Talking about it felt like opening a second wound.” She avoided the topic, but over time, talking with her son, and other family members, she pieced together what he had gone through.

On 9 July – the very beginning of the 709 Crackdown – as they dragged his father away, police took the young Bao to a budget hotel room in Tianjin and locked him in. But at one point he saw a chance to escape and he tried to run away. “The police grabbed him, threw him onto the floor, and then onto the bed, and then back on the floor, and back and forth several times.” A few days later he was sent to live with his grandparents in Inner Mongolia.

A few months later, friends had helped to smuggle him down south and across the border into Myanmar, but police had followed them and and brought them back.

“I heard from friends that when he was snatched in Myanmar, they put handcuffs and shackles on my little son! For those who’ve never worn handcuffs and shackles you won’t know what they’re like, it’s actually a kind of torture. A 15, 16-year-old kid, so skinny and small, how could he run off? With so many police watching him? How could do they be so cruel to do that, put handcuffs and shackles on child? It’s cast a shadow over my heart.”

But that wasn’t all. The police wanted her son to write a statement, denouncing those who had tried to help him. Her son tried to stand up for himself and refused so “they hit him, they took a thick, long stick and beat my son. They began by hitting him on his lower back, and kept hitting him further and further up his back, saying: ‘If you don’t write what we tell you to, we’ll carry on and start hitting your head, we’ll bash your brains out.’ The pain was so bad he gave in.”

“How could do they be so cruel to do that, put handcuffs and shackles on a child? It’s cast a shadow over my heart.”

In August 2016, Ms. Wang and her husband were released and the family were reunited. They were forced to go and live in a small flat on the third floor of an apartment building in Ulan Hot in Inner Mongolia.  The police rented a flat opposite them from which they kept watch on them 24 hours a day. There were surveillance cameras surrounding their house – in the corridor outside their door, on the main door to the apartment building and all around the building itself. Police followed them everywhere, even if they were just going outside to put out the rubbish.

It’s the extent of the surveillance on her son that is astounding.

“Everyday, in the morning, two or three police officers took my son to school, and in the evening two officers brought him home. In his classroom, they had positioned three surveillance cameras on him, there were even cameras in the corridor, there was also a monitoring room, where the screens’ images followed my son, several national security police patrolled the school grounds.

This is how my son lived for two years.”

Seeing how distressed he was, Ms. Wang took him to see a doctor, where he was diagnosed with depression. “I thought that I can’t let my son carry on living like this, otherwise it will totally ruin his life.” This January, finally, he was allowed to leave China for Australia where he is studying.

“It was only after he left China that my heart felt at ease,” she said.

You can read Wang Yu’s testimony on her time in RSDL (and Tang Zhishun’s account of being captured while trying to help Bao Zhuoxuan escape from China) in our book The People’s Republic of the Disappeared and how she was forced to give several televised confessions in our report Scripted and Staged: behind the scenes of China’s televised confessions.



Why do they add that extra layer of cruelty?

The most chilling aspect of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) is the fact that it’s allowed under the law, according to Chinese independent journalist and writer Zhao Sile (赵思乐) . “This thing is legal. It’s in the Chinese law; it’s too frightening.”


How can you protest something, she asks, when the procedure is legal? “The government can simply answer any criticism with – ‘It’s according to our law.’”


State-sanctioned enforced disappearances are not new in China, but since 2013, the police have the right to disappear someone, hold them in solitary confinement, and deny them access to family and lawyers for up to six months.


“RSDL is more frightening than being in jail. You can’t talk with anyone in RSDL. You’re in a place where people don’t know where you are.”


Zhao is talking from Taipei where she recently published a new book about women activists, social movements and political repression in China called 她们的征途 (Her Battles in English).


Once someone has disappeared into RSDL they’re lost, and they may be lost forever, she says. “The most terrifying part is [the family] doesn’t know where they are – they can’t send a lawyer to check on them to see if they’ve been tortured.. I think what makes people afraid the most is the not knowing.”


They maintain the secrecy, she says, as a cloak to buy time. “If they don’t inform the family, they can keep them for longer.” But this lack of information is unbearably cruel on loved ones.


“RSDL is more frightening than being in jail. You can’t talk with anyone in RSDL. You’re in a place where people don’t know where you are.”


“Why do they add that extra layer of cruelty by keeping the family in the dark?” she asks.


She points to the largely unreported case of Zhao Suli (素利), the wife of dissident Qin Yongming, who disappeared without a trace more than three years ago. “No one talks about this case – her children can’t find her – she just disappeared…We’re afraid some accident happened to her. Maybe she just died under RSDL. The police are allowed not to tell families where they are being held so you can just disappear people this way.


“They don’t know where to look for her…”


Since this interview Zhao Suli has resurfaced – she was allowed a brief visit with her family in early February but is still not free – she is now being held at her own home, according to this report by Radio Free Asia.


Zhao Sile has spent many months interviewing the wives of the 709 lawyers, many of whom were victims of RSDL, and for Her Battles she also talked with NGO worker Kou Yanding (寇延丁) who spent 128 days in RSDL (for an extract from Kou Yanding’s own book about her ordeal please see Kou Yanding: You must get our approval for everything).  Kou, she said, was still so distressed from her RSDL experience that she found it difficult to talk about it at length, even though several years had passed.


Several of Zhao’s friends have also been disappeared, she says sadly, so she has first hand experience of this fear.


“One of my friends is now in RSDL. I’m really concerned about him; his name is Zhen Jianghua (甄江华).”


Zhen, an online human rights campaigner, was detained on 1 September last year, and is now being held under RSDL on suspicion of inciting state subversion. The latest news in Zhen’s case came in early February, when his lawyer said his application to see Zhen had been denied.


Zhao describes how activists, like Zhen before he was detained, have been trying toughen themselves up so they can cope better with the torturous experience of RSDL.


“Some young people I know, they’re shutting themselves in some little room, without windows, and they don’t communicate with anyone else for days and keep the light on 24-7 to train themselves for RSDL.  They told me that after two or three days they feel like they’re going crazy. It’s hard to imagine how someone can survive these kinds of conditions for six months. It’s terrible. You can hardly imagine how anyone can endure it… Those who’ve been through RSDL and didn’t give up are supermen – like [now jailed activist] Wu Gan (吴淦) and [missing rights lawyer] Wang Quanzhang (王全璋).”


“Some young people I know, they’re shutting themselves in some little room, without windows, and they don’t communicate with anyone else for days and keep the light on 24-7 to train themselves for RSDL.”


But however terrible RSDL is, laments Zhao, the world is not paying attention so books like our The People’s Republic of the Disappeared (11 first person-accounts of RSDL), are crucial.


“I think it’s a very important work and it’s also a work that is an avant-guard work. It’s refusing to look away from the dark side of China’s human rights crisis when the world is looking away.”


The fact that the world is not paying attention is “terrifying,” she says.


“[German leader] Angela Merkel is now looking away but many people thought she was one of the few leaders that would not look away, that she would care about human rights. And Norway – they didn’t say anything about [Chinese dissident] Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) even when he was dying in prison.


“What I see is the whole world is looking away, so this book which is trying to uncover the darkest issues in China’s human rights situation is doing respectable and significant work.”


Kou Yanding: You must get our approval for everything

Kou Yanding, born in 1965, is a freelance writer, independent documentary filmmaker, and a frontline NGO activist. In 1996, Kou Yanding was fired from her job at a state-owned company after she reported the director for forging invoices. After this, she started working with and running  many different NGOs.  In October 2014, perhaps because of connections with Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, the Chinese authorities detained Kou on suspicions of  “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” And thus began her 128 days under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL). She was released on bail on 14 February 2015.  A year and a half later she published her experiences in a book — How is an Enemy Made? – Chinese Who Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent.

RSDLMonitor has selected and translated into English two short extracts and from this lengthy book which provide insights into what life is like under RSDL. The first section gives examples of some of the rules and regulations that permeate every aspect of the victim’s life. The second section describes how Kou needed to get the approval of her guards for everything – even to tear off a piece of toilet paper in the bathroom.


Attached: The regulations

“Regulations on management of the detainee

1. The supervised individual must obey the guards.

2. The supervised individual must address the officer on duty as team leader.

3. In the event of any issue, the supervised individual must raise their hand or report and only proceed after permission has been given.

4. The supervised individual must strictly observe the daily schedule.

5. The supervised individual must wear the clothes issued.

6. All facilities must be kept neat and tidy.

7.     The supervised individual is strictly prohibited from talking with the officers on duty.

8.    After the supervised individual has finished writing, the papers must be turned over and placed on the table.

9.   During sleep, the supervised individual must place their hands outside the blanket, the blanket must always stay below the neck line.

10. When a staff member enters the room, the supervised individual must not look around.

11. The supervised individual may not open the curtains.

12. When the supervised individual is walking indoors, they must walk at a slow pace and keep a fixed distance between themselves and the windows and the walls.


Additional notices will be issued in the event of special circumstances.


Daily schedule

Time              Activity

7:00 →  Get out of bed

7:30 – 8:00 → Breakfast

8:00 – 11:30 → Stand, sit, and study

11: 30-12: 30 → Lunch

12: 30-13: 00 → Walk

13: 00-14: 00 → Rest

14: 00-17: 30 → Stand, sit, and study

17: 30-18: 30 → Dinner

18: 30-22: 00 → Stand, sit, and study

22: 00-22: 30 → Wash

22:30 → Sleep



You must get our approval for everything


“You must get our approval for everything.” This sentence is forced out from between her teeth; and is heavily accented.

It is night-time, I am cleaning up before bed. I am following their random instructions, standing by the basin splashing water on my feet, and drying them off with my socks. Then I start to wash my socks.

“Did you report to us you wanted to wash your socks?”  Every time I wash my feet I would wash my socks afterwards. (Note: Refer to “Regulations on management of the detainee”, Article 3, for more information on ‘reporting’, in the previous chapter)

“You must get our approval for everything.”  — Fine. Reporting! May I wash my socks?

“No!” – As she spoke, “Gollum Hanna” deliberately thrusts her face close to mine, gnashes her teeth and laughs. What I most remember to this day is not that pair of socks that went unwashed, but that face — that ugly face.

If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that a young girl’s face could be so ugly. Her facial features were all in their right places, but that face she thrust into mine was exaggeratedly grotesque, just like the guide, Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. Her face was deformed, it had been twisted by malice, twisted by absolute power.

I had heard the phrase, “absolute power corrupts absolutely” but it wasn’t until then that I began to understand that absolute power also uglifies absolutely — I called this guard “Gollum Hanna”.

I called all the guards “Hanna” from the character Hanna, the female Nazi in the book The Reader. The Hanna I am talking about here is the young strapping Hanna when she is an illiterate guard in Auschwitz, not the middle-aged conductor Hanna of 20 years later, who is intoxicated as her young lover reads to her, and definitely not the prisoner Hanna of 20 years further on,  who has learned to read and has reflected on her Nazi past.

I was overseen by dozens of guards in this place and the vast majority were indistinguishable from each other. I would add a suitable prefix to the Hanna name for those who made some special impression on me.

Such as “Exploding fingers Hanna”. She loved to grip one hand in the other and make a series of pops as she cracked her knuckles. I guessed she must be some badass Kung Fu girl.

Such as, “Squat toilet Hanna.”

“Reporting! I’m going to the bathroom.” — No, you cannot.

“Reporting! I’m going to the bathroom; I can’t hold it any longer.” – No, you cannot. The toilet is being fixed.

After I was finally allowed to go to the toilet, more and more rules came thick and fast. “According to the regulations you have a maximum two minutes to go to the toilet.” The three Hannas laughed and exchanged looks with each other in the bathroom, which was ringed with security cameras. “Squat toilet Hanna”, the who had announced the new regulation, laughed with extra abandon.

The Hannas would amuse themselves with me by breaking down everything I did without limit. After I had reported I was going to the toilet, I needed to report before I tore off a piece of toilet paper… until in the end the only things I didn’t have to report first were things I had no control of, such as farting and burping. Even farting was almost included in the list of things I had to report. When they ordered me to report before I farted, one of the other guards – “Farting Hanna” immediately put a stop to that and broke out in uncontrollable laughter.

In this hell, the “Regulations on management of the detainee” was the “law”. The very first regulation – “The supervised individual must obey the guards” – meant “You must get our approval for everything.”

Even though “standing” and “walking” were written in the schedule, if one of the Hannas said I couldn’t walk, then I couldn’t walk. If one of the Hannas said I couldn’t stand, then I had to sit on the floor. The same group of people had the power to make rules as those who had the power to interpret them.

You can file a complaint, but it will never work; they made the rules and they also had the power of arbitration and enforcement. If you do not want to give them any more joy or opportunities for them to humiliate you,  then you can only swallow your frustration.

Of course, I was very clear about the fact that the relevant departments wanted to train me to become an enemy of the state – they needed this kind of enemy and they needed to use me to make up a story to capture the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.

But I was also very clear about the fact that the Three Represents, their leaders, or their leaders’ leaders had no intention nor were willing to turn me into a “dissident” —— a real enemy.

But in the hands of the Hannas, in this hell-like place, there is an indomitable force that creates hostility and hatred. It turns people into enemies of the state.

It seems as if people manufacture enemies, but in fact, it is the system — the system already possesses a kind of indomitable energy that can manufacture enemies.

It is power that has given the system such a fearsome energy at making enemies —  the absolute power that together is the power to make laws, to hand out justice, to enforce laws, and to arbitrate.


Gui Minhai by his friends and family


Gui Minhai second kidnapping

Gui Minhai – the Swedish man now held in secret detention for the second time in China — is usually referred to as a bookseller or a publisher. But Gui is also a father and a friend; a poet and a writer; and a scholar and a businessman. RSDLMonitor has tried to capture the man behind the headlines. The man who remains disappeared by the Chinese state, the man forced to appear in three forced televised confessions and the man who his daughter fears she will never see again.

The photo above shows Gui Minhai giving his third forced confession to pro-Beijing media from a screenshot on the Oriental Daily’s website.


Brief bio

Gui Minhai was an undergraduate student at China’s prestigious Beijing University when he first met poet Bei Ling in the mid-1980s and they bonded over poetry. After he graduated, Gui worked for a government publishing house in Beijing; his interest in Sweden was sparked when he met Magnus Fiskesjö who was working at the Swedish embassy in the Chinese capital. Gui moved to Sweden to study for a master’s and then PhD at Gothenburg University. He settled in Sweden, became a Swedish citizen, got married and had a daughter, Angela Gui . Years later, Gui opened a green tech company in China, and then later moved to Hong Kong where he became a board member of free speech NGO, the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (with Bei Ling), worked for a publishing house, and then opened his own publishing company where he worked with bookshop manager Lam Wing-kee, producing salacious titles on China’s political elite. He was kidnapped from his home in Thailand in October 2015. He has not been truly free since.


Gui Minhai, my father and my friend: Angela Gui, daughter

What was your relationship with your father like?

“[It’s] always been very laid back and friendly. We’ve been able to talk about most things. He’s been able to talk to me about personal things and I’ve been able to talk to him about things in my life as well. So that’s something I’ve always appreciated very much about our relationship — that he was more like a friend as I grew older than a father.”


Why did your father want to leave China for Sweden in the 1980s?

“I know that he wanted to study outside China – to see something different. …Many of his friends at the time were interested in the western influences that were being let in at that time so I suppose he wanted to see this kind of new world, in a way for himself… I think he was happy [in Sweden]. He always tells me about the blue skies and the crisp fresh air in Sweden compared with Beijing.”


Was he worried about his safety before he was kidnapped by the Chinese state in 2015?

“Even though we had quite a friendly relationship he was still my father, so he probably wanted to protect me in a sense and didn’t want me to worry. I understand he must have had threats before he was taken but this was never anything that he would mention to me. I did ask him a few times whether he thought that what he was doing was safe and were there any risks and he would say: ‘I’m a Swedish citizen. What I’m doing is completely legal in Hong Kong, so there’s no way in which anything I could be doing could land me in trouble.’ … I think he was a bit cautious, but I don’t think he ever anticipated anything as dramatic as that would happen.

“I’m afraid we’re at a point where intervention might be too late. I really wish that the international community would have taken a bigger interest and made clearer public statements at the beginning because I think it’s at a point now where the Chinese government — or whatever part of the Chinese government it is that is holding my Dad — has had plenty of time to construct a case against him. I think that especially after this latest incident [Gui Minhai’s second kidnapping on the train to Beijing] I’m afraid … it might be too late now.”


‘I’m a Swedish citizen. What I’m doing is completely legal in Hong Kong, so there’s no way in which anything I could be doing could land me in trouble.’


What are your strongest memories of your father?

“[My Dad and I] used to watch drama and action films together. Because they were kind of ridiculous, we used to laugh at them and incorporate the very dramatic dialogue and turns of phrase from these films into our everyday language. It was kind of an inside joke. The last one we saw was The Planet of the Apes. There’s this bonobo male, he was evil and he overthrew the chimpanzee leader and he says something like ‘Apes Follow Koba now’ because his name is Koba and that’s something we used to say to each other. It’s one of the particularities of a relationship between two people… It’s something that I would like to have …. [again].”



Gui Minhai the poet and free speech advocate: Bei Ling, Chinese exiled poet


How did you and Gui Minhai meet each other?

“We met each other around 1984 when he was a university student at Beijing University. He just knocked on my door…He was very simple, and very young and a little shy… he wanted to show me some of his poems. We became very good friends, He always followed me to underground [writers’] salons; I introduced him to [lots of people, such as embassy staff, painters, writers and poets].


“We probably left China at the same time – I went to the US and he went to Sweden. He was working for some official publishing house. After he left China and I left China we didn’t meet each other until 2004 in Hong Kong. We lost connection, so many things were happening.”


Cover of self-published poetry journal, Dalu (Continent) by the underground poetry circle in Beijing in the 1980s.

Cover of Dalu (Continent), an underground poetry journal from the 1980s with a copy of one of Gui Minhai’s early poems titled “Longing for Greece”, credit: Meng Lang (孟浪).


Can you tell us a bit about how you were reunited in Hong Kong in 2004?

“It was very emotional. He had totally changed. He was no longer shy and his whole body was bigger… Then we became good friends again, we always saw each other. I got a chance to visit his family in Germany. We saw each other in Hong Kong, I invited him to a literature congress in Taipei, and we saw each other at the Frankfurt Book Fair…


“He cared about freedom of expression – especially in 2009. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, he supported me, in the same panel. But I do not know how involved he was with democracy but I think because he was a publisher, he cared about freedom of expression.”


Why do you think he began publishing books about China?

“I think he got into publishing because he used to work for an official publishing house in Beijing as an editor… He had the experience, the training and the personal interest. He wanted to publish some politically sensitive books so [that’s probably why he wanted to open his own publishers]…


“Before, he wrote scholarly works, then he wrote literature essays, later some publishing house asked him to write some politically sensitive books, about China. He was a very ‘eager’ person – he wanted to be number one… Later he wanted to publish books himself. The older publishers were very unhappy, and there was so much fighting. So many stories. If you want to know about him you have to spend several months interviewing lots of people in Hong Kong.”


What kinds of things did you do together?

“He liked smoking, a little bit of drinking. We talked about publishing, political things, about the PEN Centre case and about Liu Xiaobo in jail and his Nobel Prize and underground literature…


“He’s not a strong guy but he’s a smart guy. He knows how to play games with the government. .. He’s a very smart writer…”


“[The only way to free Gui now] is not only one country, internationally – everyone – civil society, the German government, the US government, [everyone must call for Gui’s release].” Bei Ling



Was he worried about his safety before he was kidnapped by the Chinese state in 2015?

“Gui did not realise that he could get into trouble in Thailand – he may have thought it would be sensitive in Hong Kong, but he never thought that he would have trouble in Thailand. If he knew this he probably would not have got in that car with those people [the Chinese agents who drove him away from outside his Thai apartment.]”


How can the international community help Gui Minhai now?

“It will be very difficult for him to leave China because the government doesn’t want him to say what happened to him [when they kidnapped him in Thailand in October 2015]. I’m very sure the Swedish government know these details now and that is why China is very unhappy [with Gui].

“[The only way to free Gui now] is not only one country, internationally – everyone – civil society, the German government, the US government, [everyone must call for Gui’s release].”


Gui Minhai, friend and writer on Nordic mythology: Magnus Fiskesjö, scholar at Cornell University


How did you and Gui Minhai meet each other?

“I remember first meeting Gui Minhai in the mid-1980s, in Beijing, where he was a member of the new generation of poets and artists who were writing poetry and holding poetry readings. I knew him by the name Ahai, the pen-name he used. I remember him as a very cheerful and fun person. It’s been many years since that time, so I don’t remember every detail, but later I helped him apply to go to Sweden to study, and he completed a Master’s degree at Gothenburg University, with a thesis that was later published in English in Copenhagen (NIAS, Nordic Institute for Asian Studies, 1992) [on] Chinese Marxist historiography…”


When he lived in Sweden what kind of books did Gui Minhai write?

“He was very interested in Sweden and Scandinavian culture, and he also wrote very interestingly about Scandinavia for Chinese audiences, including a book on Scandinavian mythology published in Chinese on the Chinese mainland.”


When was the last time you saw him?

“We sometimes corresponded, but later, over the years, I had infrequent and occasional contact with Gui. When I visited Hong Kong in 2012, we had a fun reunion with him and several other friends… I don’t remember many details from that dinner. [But] I do remember that we both had put on weight! He was still his jovial, fun, old self.”


Gui Minhai, the smart businessman: Lam Wing-kee, colleague and Hong Kong bookseller


Lam Wing-kee gives a press conference in June 2016 about his kidnapping and time in Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location in China. Credit: screenshot from HKFP.

How did you and Gui Minhai meet each other?

“I first met Gui more than ten years ago; he came to my store with some friends and came back several times. He established Mighty Current publisher  around 2003 and as well as writing books himself, he paid friends from mainland China and North America to write for him.”


What kind of books did Gui Minhai write?

“If you want to understand Mr. Gui you need to understand his past. I heard that he graduated from Beijing University and was writing poems early on…  and then he  got into business…


“He published nearly a thousand books after launching his publishing house.. He struck me as a smart businessman, nothing more.”


Why do you think Gui was singled out for the harshest treatment in the Hong Kong Booksellers case.

“I believe it is related to Gui’s attempt to publish a book on Xi Jinping’s love life. This book included a copy of a ‘self-criticism’ Xi is [alleged] to have written while he was a governor of Fujian province for the Central government. You can say, that this book caused this bookshop incident; and all of us became funerary objects.


“[After more than] two years being disappeared, Gui’s endurance must be stronger than mine. At least he is originally from the mainland and so more familiar with the situation and system there…


“You can say, that this book caused this bookshop incident; and all of us became funerary objects.”


“I heard Cheung Jiping and Lui Bor [two other Hong Kong booksellers who were abducted in 2015] can’t come back to Hong Kong, but they are free to move around and work on the mainland. Lee Bo [the third bookseller] is free to come and go but not to talk to media.


“I think that it will be harder for Gui to leave the country [now] unless more western countries and human rights NGOs call for his release.”


Final word:

Since Gui Minhai’s second kidnapping in January in front of two Swedish consular officials and his third staged confession on 9 February there has been no news of his fate. He remains in custody — presumably at the Ningbo Detention  Centre.  Chinese authorities say he is being held on suspicion of leaking state secrets. Sweden continues to ask for access to see him.

I slept handcuffed to a chair: Li Fangping recalls his secret detention

Li Fangping lawyer photo


Li Fangping (李方平), born in 1974, is a prominent human rights lawyer who works for a Beijing law firm. He has represented several high profile clients including imprisoned scholar Ilham Tohti, human rights activist Hu Jia and the blind lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who now lives in exile in the US. He was also part of a team of lawyers who offered pro bono work to families who were victims of the melamine milk scandal and campaigned to end the hated Re-education Through Labour system. (Photo credit: Li Fangping)


In early 2011, as fears in China grew of a potential “Jasmine Revolution”, the police began rounding up lawyers and activists. On April 29, unidentified State Security officers kidnapped Li Fangping in broad daylight on a Beijing street. His family frantic, Li was only released a little under a week later.


 As the following will show, Li Fangping’s early experience of RSDL, although brief, contains many of the elements common to subsequent accounts of RSDL as exposed in our book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared. That is: physical violence, denial of adequate food and sleep, threats to family, hiding the location of the facility from the detainee through the use of  black-hooding when transporting and covering of all windows in the “cell”, 24-hours guard, and the finale of forced and videoed confessions to secure release.


The following account is based on a 2017 interview with Lawyer Li in which he describes his ordeal under the precursor to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL); effectively he was kidnapped by the state. Li was never given any documentation nor told with what legal basis he was taken. As far as the system is concerned, it never happened.


The kidnapping

On 29 April 2011, Li Fangping walked out of the office of the (anti-discrimination) Yirenping NGO when he saw a group of unidentified men waiting for him. One of them asked: “Are you Li Fangbing?” As soon as he said yes, they grabbed him. After one of them had made a phone call, they dragged him to a car. Inside, they placed a black hood over his head. Just before the hood was on he noticed that another car had joined them. During the ride they kept asking: “Everyone else has gone missing. How come you haven’t yet?”


Two people were in the front of the car, while Li was lodged between two in the back. He remembers it taking about two hours before they arrived at the facility.



Slapped around and forced to stand until 2am

Once there, they waited until he was inside a room before they removed the black hood. During that walk, he remembers climbing some stairs and they needed to shout out instructions to him to lift his feet because he was blinded from the hood. Once the hood was taken off, he saw a row of people standing in front of him.


They immediately began berating him. If he said something they didn’t like, they would slap him around.


That day they only gave him a little bit of food and he was forced to keep standing, with two guards watching over him until 2am. He was exhausted. The next day, they repeated this treatment.



Interrogated for 30 hours straight

Around 10 guards were posted to watch him, and five or six policemen interrogated him. Some of the officers played “nice cop”, others played “bad cop”. One of them said he was in charge. Li said they didn’t seem to have a specific reason for taking him. It looked like they were just grabbing people from a list of names.

Li believes that they just wanted to extract some information on lawyers in general, and also to scare him so that he would help the police in the future.
They asked him to provide information on other rights defence lawyers. They were interested in how they would meet and what they would talk about. One interrogation lasted for 30 hours straight. They threatened him that if he did not cooperate they could keep him as long as they wanted, and could even put his family members in prison. If they didn’t like his answers, they would slap him around.


Handcuffed at night

He slept with one hand tightly handcuffed to a chair next to the mattress. He always had to keep both hands and his head above the covers. He was watched 24 hours a day by at least two guards, who usually took six-hour shifts. What was worse was that the lights were kept on all the time. During the day, his mattress was leant against the wall. Other than that, the room only had a chair and a writing desk.


He never knew exactly where he had been secretly detained, but he thinks it was somewhere in the chain of mountains north of Beijing. Although the curtain in his room was kept tightly closed at all times, he could make out the outlines of mountains through the small window in the bathroom.



Release after forced confession

A little less than a week since he had been abducted, he was told he would be released but not before he had met some conditions. First, he had to promise to explain his disappearance by saying he had just been travelling. He was also forced to write a statement saying he would not give interviews to foreign media and to stop attending meetings with other rights defence lawyers. Writing the statement was not enough; they also forced him to read it out in front of a video camera. They threatened to release that recording if he disobeyed them in the future.


They dropped him off alongside Beijing’s North Third Ring Road and Li had to find his own way home. They didn’t give him any documentation to explain why he had been taken. There was absolutely no legal basis to the “Enforced Disappearance” of Lawyer Li Fangping.


The experience taught him he had to take his phone and computer security more seriously; for example by deleting records of sensitive communications on message APPs and emails. Perhaps more than that, he realized the importance of staying calm in such situations. Although he was very afraid, Li’s RSDL ordeal ultimately helped him become better at controlling his fear.



I didn’t see sunlight for six months


Last week we republished extracts from Lawyer Xie Yanyi’s ((谢燕益) record of secret detention under China’s Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) and originally translated by China Change.


This week, we are staying with Lawyer Xie and posting a link to a rare interview to camera he gave to a BBC journalist in Beijing earlier this year.


Xie was eventually released in January 2017, months later Chinese security still keep Xie’s apartment under surveillance. The BBC had to sneak in the back way.  Of the many 709 lawyers who were persecuted in 2015 and in the years afterward, Lawyer Xie, a softly-spoken father of two young children, is one of the very few who continue to speak out.


Watch his BBC interview here.


About Xie Yanyi


Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a prominent and outspoken human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He gained notoriety in 2003 when he attempted to sue former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for staying on as Central Military Commission Chairman after he stepped down from power. He has also represented rights activists and villagers battling illegal land seizures and has published articles supporting freedom of speech and democracy for China.



Xie was disappeared along with hundreds of other lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under RSDL and was beaten, starved, tortured and forced to take “medicine”. He was incarcerated for 553 days, during which time his wife gave birth to their baby daughter and his mother died.


Starved, beaten, and forcibly medicated: Xie Yanyi’s story of RSDL (part II)

This is part two of Xie Yanyi’s RSDL story. For part one please click here.

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), is a prominent and outspoken human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He gained notoriety in 2003 when he attempted to sue former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for refusing to quit as Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2002 when he stepped down as leader. He has represented rights activists and villagers battling illegal land seizures. Xie is also known for publishing articles supporting freedom of speech and democracy for China.


Xie was disappeared along with hundreds of other lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location where he was beaten, starved, tortured and forced to take “medicine”. He was incarcerated for 553 days, during which time his wife gave birth to their baby daughter and his mother died.


China Change has kindly given us permission to use Xie’s story which is an extract taken from A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China (Chinese language) that he posted after his release.  This version for RSDLMonitor is slightly edited for style.


Different ways to torment


Day after day the interrogations went on. Starting with my lawsuit against Jiang Zemin (江泽民) for violating the constitution and popular will by staying on as chair of the Central Military Commission in 2003, to the 2005 signature campaign to help lawyer Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), to advocating for direct election of members of the Beijing Lawyers Association in 2008, to signing Charter 08, to the China Human Rights Lawyers Group [an informal network of lawyers in China] , to human rights cases I had taken on over the years, to rescuing fellow lawyers, to petitions, to letters of appeal I had written, like the one calling for Tang Jitian (唐吉田) to have his right to practice law reinstated, and the one calling for the release of Chen Yongzhou (陈永洲) and the protection of his rights as a journalist; from raising funds at a seminar in Zhengzhou for the lawyers detained in Jiansanjiang (建三江), to Liu Jiacai’s (刘家财) incitement of subversion case, to Zhang Xiangzhong’s case (张向忠), to Falun Gong cases, to Xu Dong’s case (许东), to the Qing’an shooting (庆安), and on and on, and then to taking the position of legal advisor in Qin Yongmin’s organization Human Rights Observer (秦永敏,人权观察), to helping Qin Yongmin himself; from giving interviews to foreign media, to my participation in academic symposia in Hong Kong, to my compilation of Roads of Faith (信仰之路), to the articles on peaceful democratic transition I had posted online, and even to a dinner I had organized in Beijing in early 2015—they asked me about all of these.


When they asked about other people—who was at a particular event, who had participated—my default answer was: I don’t know, I couldn’t quite remember. I insisted on this during the endless interrogations, but as long they didn’t get what they wanted they wouldn’t stop. When they had tried everything, when they had asked me repeatedly and I wouldn’t comply, they brought printouts from the internet, my communication history, online records, to verify with me one by one.


They were the ones who brought up these names, but in the interrogation transcripts, they made it look as though I had given these names to them. Later, they didn’t even bother to play this trick; instead they would simply type up “transcripts” and have me sign them.


But early on and often, I vowed to them that I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I insisted that my actions had nothing to do with anyone else, that I’d take full responsibility for all my deeds, that I respect the facts and the law, and that I would not shirk my own problems.


They took great pains with me, because they also had to report to their superiors. If I didn’t sign, that meant I didn’t comply, and that would be their failure. They told me if I made it difficult for them, they wouldn’t let me go. If I had a bad attitude, they had all sorts of ways to torment me. Once you’re in the detention center, if you don’t cooperate, they punish all the inmates in the same cell and don’t let them have daily yard time.


In short, they had a thousand different ways to force me to submit, but one thing is certain: during more than a year and a half of interrogations, I didn’t identify a single person, and I didn’t give them a single piece of information that would implicate anyone else.


Their method is to turn everything upside-down inspecting your computer, your phone, your books, your possessions, your contacts, all records of your life. From elementary to high school, your parents, your family, your relatives, your friends, everything about you is in their grasp. It is a boundless war (超限战), meaning there is nothing they won’t do to get what they want. For example, they showed me photos of my newborn daughter, videos of my son in class and playing the horsehead fiddle; and they threatened to detain my wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). That nearly broke me.



Xie’s one tiny freedom


Walking was the only diversion I had.  Except for when they forbade me to move at all, every day I asked the two soldiers for permission to walk back and forth the 2 or 3m between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand km during my six months of secret detention. At first walking was one of the greatest pleasures, but later on I walked so much I hurt the ligaments in my knees. But still I told myself to keep walking. I was afraid that they would take away this one small freedom from me.


In February or March 2016, Lieutenant Yan and Officer Li came and had me inventory my credit cards, bank cards, ID card, household registration, and personal records, and had me sign a statement about my confiscated possessions. They said as soon as I signed they would send everything back to my wife. I noticed right away they didn’t have a laundry list of the items, yet this document I had to sign stated that “all of the above-mentioned items were on my person [at the time of my detention].” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I objected immediately. It was summer when they detained me and I was only wearing shorts. I had had nothing on me besides my keys and some loose change. In any case, it makes no sense for anyone to carry his or her household registration and personal files. But if I didn’t sign they wouldn’t send anything back.


My wife had to care for our three children and she doesn’t work. She needed those documents. I had no choice but to sign. When I got out, however, I saw that hundreds of thousands of yuan had vanished from my bank account. I heard that Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), lawyer Xie Yang’s wife (谢阳), also saw all her savings evaporate overnight. To this day, the bank has been evading my inquiries about my account activities during my detention.


Vest number 166


All of the 709 detainees wore red vests in the detention center. Ordinary criminals wear blue vests; death row inmates and people convicted in certain corruption cases, like the 2015 Tianjin explosions, wear yellow; and inmates who are ill wear green. Red is for the highest level of inmates, the ones dealt with most strictly. My vest number was 166. I know that Wu Gan’s (吴淦) is 161 and Xing Qingxian’s (幸清贤) is 169. I was in cell C5. One of them was probably in C6, the other in C7. We were all close by, but red vests were forbidden from seeing each other and were questioned separately. I had to ask permission to do anything, including drinking water or using the toilet.


The HD cameras set up in the cell monitored our every move. Every day when I had to relieve myself, the on-duty cellmate would go to the intercom by the door and report this to the discipline officer. Once the discipline officer approved, two cellmates would lead me to the bathroom, one in front of me and one behind. I never spent a cent on anything in the detention center, both in protest of the substandard meals and of the unsightly one-upmanship that went on among my fellow inmates. I went on eating my ration of cabbage every day.


It was true that, several times, the detention center sent me food and supplies (I suppose they did the same for the other 709 detainees, too), and on those occasions I’d have a share for myself and distribute the rest among my cellmates. And the moldy peanuts my cellmates threw away were my favorite treat.


Notes of repentance


People have asked me if I gave any oral or written confessions. In those 500 long days, I wrote at least two notes of repentance. For the first one I wrote the bare minimum. I didn’t use words like “confess” or “repent,” and I put the primacy of human rights, peaceful democracy, and the rule of law at the core of my self-criticism. They weren’t satisfied and forced me to write another note. In the second one I admitted that I had incited subversion by advocating for peaceful democracy in my writings. At last, when I had done what they had asked, they didn’t forget to make me title it “Note of Repentance.”


“Except for when they forbade me to move at all, every day I asked the two soldiers for permission to walk back and forth the 2 or 3m between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand km during my six months of secret detention.”


Let me explain my thinking at the time: First, I wanted to make things a bit easier in case I had to stand trial, the sooner to rejoin my family. Second, I told myself that I had to get out and bear witness to the torture we were suffering, to keep the public’s attention on my peers still in prison, to help others avoid this treatment, and to pave the way for this whole injustice to be reversed! Third of all, I was completely cut off from the outside world. They found all kinds of ways to keep me in submission: not letting the cell block out for exercise if I was uncooperative; telling me everyone else had been released except for me; showing me the videos of the trials of Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), and of Wang Yu’s (王宇) televised interview, and showing me their confessions and notes of repentance; playing me videos of my kids; showing me the photo of my newborn daughter; and on and on.


Once they dressed me up and taped me reading a statement they had prepared. They promised me up and down that the video was only for their superiors, not for the public. They made me write things and videotape things. I once told them in no unclear terms that all of this wasn’t about my own needs but about their superiors’. To me, whether I was inside or outside prison I would shoulder my responsibility just the same, and neither was easy.


Daddy hopes you will remember that conscience has no price


As I watched Hu Shigen’s trial, I was stunned and inspired, by the look in his eyes. I also made plans for the worst. In the court, Mr. Hu admitted that he was guilty of subversion of state power, but he also used the opportunity to lay out his political theory, turning CCTV and many other state media outlets into his podium. He expounded on the three factors of peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy and the five proposals.


I thought that if the day came for me to stand trial, I would do the same as Mr. Hu and present to the public the concept of peaceful democracy and the policies to implement it. It was just like they say, seek and you shall find, a result befitting my years of devotion to the effort to realize peaceful democracy in China. I imagined the scene in the courtroom. If my family could be there too, I would also tell my children, “Daddy loves you. Daddy can’t go fishing or catch grasshoppers with you anymore. Daddy is doomed to miss your childhood. But Daddy hopes you will remember that conscience has no price.”


Tormented interrogators


The interrogators, I sensed, were not at ease doing what they did. From the highest to the lowest, they were beholden to personal interest, force, and power. They had no moral sense, each ready to jump ship if he had to save himself. The 709 case, I would say, was a hot potato from the very start. I was questioned by people who called themselves Old Jiang and Cao Jianguang (both from Beijing), Old Wang (who turned out to be surnamed Yan), Liu Bo (Lieutenant Liu), Officer Li (Tianjin), and two or three others whose names I don’t know. There was also one from the Ministry of Public Security who might have been surnamed Liu, who recited the Heart Sutra [a Buddhist prayer] for me.


They said that, year in and year out, they dealt with cases involving the big tigers, the highest-level officials. They were clearly not just ordinary public security bureaucrats. The thing is, though these insiders looked and acted strong, they knew full well that they were breaking the law and that this time they were facing extraordinary opponents. I could sense that nearly every one of them wavered at one time or the other, feeling tormented themselves and not knowing what to do.


Then there were the armed police who guarded me. Except for the cruelty of the imprisonment itself, I clearly sensed their conscience, their natural goodness, and their disapproval of the atrocities perpetrated against me.


Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location


This coercive practice known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated [Location]” is probably rooted in intra-Party struggles and corruption investigations. In recent years it has spread and been legalized. In Party parlance this form of custody is known as “double designation” (双规) or “to be isolated and investigated.” It can be perverse or straightforward, lax or strict. It all depends on the demands and preferences of whoever’s in charge. It is essentially domestic discipline—extrajudicial punishment.


When you are under residential surveillance at a designated location, such as I was, there is no outside mechanism to monitor the process, no channel for relief, not even a legal mechanism to protect your health or your sanity. Your family and your lawyers are left in the dark, unable to meet or communicate with you. No one even knows if you’re alive or dead. In the process, abuse and torture are inevitable. This is why cases continuously emerge of unusual deaths, mental illness, and bodily harm occurring during the residential surveillance.


Questions for Tianjin Public Security Bureau Zhao Fei


Since I was released I’ve felt conflicted. I wanted to expose these crimes, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even the perpetrators. After much consideration, I still decided to speak what I know, because even exposing the criminals would benefit their children and their grandchildren. I would like here to address the head of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau, Zhao Fei (天津市公安局局长赵飞), and his subordinates: I believe that yourselves and the special investigators all have the qualifications, as well as the duty, to stand up and explain the 709 case to your superiors, including the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Central Committee of the CCP, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the entire nation.


“When you are under residential surveillance at a designated location… there is no outside mechanism to monitor the process… Your family and your lawyers are left in the dark, unable to meet or communicate with you. No one even knows if you’re alive or dead.”



What happened? What exactly did these lawyers and citizens do? Is what they have done legal or illegal? Reach into your conscience and tell us: Are their actions and conduct truly harmful to a country, a people, a society? Were they defending the rule of law and human rights, or were they committing crimes? Who exactly is afraid of them? Who ordered you to torture these lawyers and citizens? What were you trying to accomplish? Why did you pick Tianjin to handle the 709 case, as it went against procedural law? Who made that decision?


Director Zhao Fei, I demand that you stand up and tell your fellow countrymen why you let torture happen under your watch. What was going on in the room (the torture chamber) above Room 8 from October 1 to 10? What happened to Hu Shigen? What happened to Wang Quanzhang? What was the plan for the 709 crackdown? Who planned the Cultural Revolution-style trials of public opinion and the media smear campaigns? How did you get government-appointed lawyers involved? Whose despicable idea was it to force some of us to confess and to televise the confessions? Who gave you the right to tape the 709 detainees?


Who ordered the cruel and criminal treatment of the detainees—the secret detentions, the starvation, the sleeping postures, the ban on movement, the 16-hour sessions of sitting like a soldier? Who ordered that we be forced to sign the transcripts of our interrogations, deprived of our right to petition, deprived of our right to defense, forced to take medicine? Who ordered you to appoint lawyers for us against our will and devise all kinds of tactics to intimidate us?

Starved, beaten, and forcibly medicated: Xie Yanyi’s story of RSDL (part 1)

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a prominent and outspoken human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He gained notoriety in 2003 when he attempted to sue former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for staying on as Central Military Commission Chairman after he stepped down from power. He has also represented rights activists and villagers battling illegal land seizures and has published articles supporting freedom of speech and democracy for China.


Xie was disappeared along with hundreds of other lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location where he was beaten, starved, tortured and forced to take “medicine”. He was incarcerated for 553 days, during which time his wife gave birth to their baby daughter and his mother died.


China Change has kindly given us permission to use Xie’s story which is an extract taken from A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China (Chinese language) that he posted after his release. This version for RSDLMonitor is slightly edited for style.


Suffocating in the black hood


I got home in the middle of the night on July 11, 2015 and fell asleep right away. The next morning, not long after I had gotten up, I heard a knocking at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw Captain Wang’s men from Domestic Security. I tidied up a bit and opened the door. They wanted me to go to the office of the neighborhood committee for a little chat. I went there with them, where Miyun District Domestic Security personnel had been joined by Beijing Domestic Security. They asked about the same old things. At a break in the conversation, I went to relieve myself and discovered that people from Domestic Security were following me into the bathroom. It was then I realized the gravity of the situation.


Our conversation continued until noon, when we had fast food in the office. We had just finished eating when ten or so plainclothes officers burst in. The first one flashed his badge at me. He said he was from the Tianjin Public Security Bureau and asked if I was Xie Yanyi. I said yes. I saw from his badge that he was surnamed Liu. Then he handcuffed me. I protested, but no one paid attention. They swarmed around me as I was led downstairs. We got into an SUV, where I sat in the backseat between two men. There were about two or three cars following behind us. We sped off.


Soon we arrived at the Miyun Chengguan Police Station (密云城关派出所). There was an interrogation room equipped with an iron chair that the suspect could be buckled into. They made me sit there to begin my questioning. This was the first time in my life I had been handcuffed and interrogated. At first I was confused, but once I was sitting I calmed down. I had no idea that it was just the beginning of a long ordeal and contest.


At nightfall I was taken out of the police station. Not only did they handcuff me again, they also put a black hood over my head. I was escorted to an SUV. It sped off as soon as it hit the highway. I naively wondered if they were just doing this to frighten me. Maybe they’ll just drive in a circle and then bring me home? But the car kept going at top speed, and there was no sign of stopping.


I was cramped, wrapped in place by the people on either side of me. And I was nervous. I felt like they had tied the hood too tightly and that it would suffocate me. I asked them politely if they could take it off, promising I wouldn’t act out if they did, but they said it was an order and they had to follow. I then begged them to loosen it a little so I could breathe, but they didn’t pay any attention to me. Then I reasoned with them, trying to win their sympathy, and asked again if they could loosen it a little. The man in the passenger seat shouted, “You won’t suffocate to death!” When those words fell on my ears, I realized that pleading was no use. I should instead stay as calm as possible.


About an hour later the car reached its destination. I couldn’t see anything and had no way of knowing our exact location. They had me get out of the car and squat down. Soon a few people came and did what seemed like a handover procedure. As they talked, I sensed I was being handed over to army troops. They changed my handcuffs but didn’t remove the hood. After we had gotten into another car, I turned to the soldier on my left and mentioned my difficulty breathing. Would he mind loosening the hood a little so that I could breathe through the gap? This soldier pulled the black hood up a little bit. I took the opportunity to thank all of them profusely for their kindness. In response, the soldier on my right pressed a little bit less against me.


Not long after, our car entered a compound. We were let in by the gatekeeper, then drove up to a building. After a bit, someone called me out of the car. The men on either side of me took me into the building and told me to watch my step. We went up to the second floor and turned right into a room, where they told me to stand facing the wall. Someone came and took the hood off my head, then told me to strip naked. Then I was asked to squat twice. They searched my body to see if I had hidden anything.



The padded room


When they were done inspecting me they had me turn to face them, then started taking photos. They took away my clothes and gave me two sets of soft, casual clothes. One man announced the daily schedule for me and informed me that the next day I was to study the prison rules and regulations posted on the wall. Everyone left except for two soldiers, who stood on either side of me. I asked them if I could rest. They said no, that according to the rules I had to wait until 10:30. So I sat down and read the rules.


I sized up the room. It was not quite 20 sqm. To the right of the entrance was a bathroom. A single bed stood against the outer wall of the bathroom. To the right of the bed was open space. Opposite the bed was a padded desk draped with a blue tablecloth. In front of that was a soft high-backed chair. At the far end of the room a heavy curtain was pulled over the window to keep out the light.


“They did all sorts of things to get me to confess: starving me, forbidding me to move my legs, beating me, intimidating me, forcing me to sleep in a fixed posture, disciplining me. For half a month I was made to sit on a block for 16 hours straight every day.”



The walls were completely padded. Even the corners of the desk, the foot of the bed, and the chair were padded and rounded. Around 10 they told me I could get ready for bed and gave me a toothbrush, a towel, and a spoon. Even the handles of the toothbrush and the spoon were rounded and made of rubber.


If I wanted to use the bathroom or do anything else, I had to announce my intention and be granted permission before I could proceed. There were always two soldiers guarding me. When I slept at night one would watch me from the head of the bed, the other from the foot. It seemed all these measures were meant to keep me from killing or mutilating myself.


Xie goes on hunger strike


On the first day, I got into bed as soon as it was time to rest. I couldn’t fall asleep right away, as my mind replayed the events of the day and I considered what fate could be in store for me. Everything felt like half-dream, half-reality. Just as I was about to drift off, someone charged into my room, booming, “Get up and clean up. The special investigation team (专案组) wants to see you!”


I had no choice but to get out of bed and get dressed. I moved the toothbrush and other things from the desk to the bed, then sat down and waited for the special investigators. I thought, “The grueling interrogation is about to begin.”


Two men came in. One looked to be over 40 years old, tall and strong. He said his last name was Jiang (姜). The other man was a bit shorter, wearing glasses, a little fat, around 30 years old. Later he would call himself Cao Jianguang (曹建光). The first night they questioned me until four or five in the morning. I had just collapsed into bed when the on-duty soldiers woke me up again. After breakfast the interrogators came back. A tall, skinny man wearing glasses had replaced one of the others from before. He said his last name was Wang (王), so I called him Old Wang.


Nearly a year passed before I learned from someone else that Old Wang isn’t surnamed Wang, but Yan [严], so now I call him Lieutenant Yan. The first two, if I’m right, were from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, while Lieutenant Yan is from the Tianjin PSB. I would see more of him after I was transferred to Tianjin.


They also asked me to confess, but I had nothing to confess. It was unbearable in the beginning. I became aware that I might not get out in the short term, and that I needed a plan, so I thought of writing a letter to my wife. My wife had just told me she was pregnant. We already had two boys and were supporting a large family, but our shared faith doesn’t permit abortion. She had secretly taken out her birth control ring.



Xie Yanyi.


Then I was taken away, and that was where our conversation ended. I told the special investigators that I wanted to write a letter to my wife. At first they said no, then added that they had to ask for instructions. That evening I started to fast. Besides protesting my illegal detention and demanding that I be allowed to write to my wife,  I also hoped to make my psychological crisis a physical one, to divert my attention from the mental pressure through the pain of hunger, and to give myself some happiness when I did eat again. I fasted for over 72 hours, until lunch on the fourth day. They gave me pen and paper. The guard added that if I fasted again they would feed me through a tube.


The interrogations continued as usual every day. Sometimes they would question me three times in one day, morning, afternoon, and night; or else twice in a day.


Torture begins after transfer to Tianjin


Just before noon on 8 September 2015, I was told to inventory the items they had confiscated from me and sign the list. That night I was informed that due to building renovations I was to be transferred. Right then we left the residential surveillance location in Beijing, and I was secretly transferred to a residential surveillance location in Tianjin. It must have been in a People’s Armed Police (PAP) building, since I was guarded by armed police officers. (The place in Beijing must also have been a PAP building, too. I think it was in the Xiaotangshan area of Changping, Beijing. I remember when I was there often hearing the sound of fireworks nearby. Perhaps it wasn’t far from a cemetery or a crematorium?)


In Tianjin they took off the white gloves. They did all sorts of things to get me to confess: starving me, forbidding me to move my legs, beating me, intimidating me, forcing me to sleep in a fixed posture, disciplining me. For half a month I was made to sit on a block for 16 hours straight every day.


I was kept in Room 8, facing rooms 11 and 12. I saw these numbers once through the gap in my blinders when I was taken out for my room to be disinfected.


Howling from the room upstairs


At about 9 am on 1 October, I distinctly heard someone above me fall hard onto the floor. There was a soft groan, then no more sound. It seemed like someone had just been given an electric shock. From 1 to 10 October, nearly every day I heard interrogations, howling, and moaning in the middle of the night in the room above me. That was when I decided that I absolutely had to control myself, find a way to get out as early as possible, and expose this torture.


I guarantee this is not a hallucination. I hope the day will come when people on the outside can see the site of this terrible torture with their own eyes: the room above Room 8 at the 709 residential surveillance location must be a special room. I often heard them moving all kinds of equipment, dragging it here and there. There was the incessant sound of installation and adjustment, lasting for two months straight at least. I don’t know what happened up there.


Just before the 709 residential surveillance came to an end—that is, in the last few evenings before the 709 detainees were formally arrested in early or mid-January 2016—from Room 8 I heard people organizing files, stacking papers on top of each other. It often sounded like meetings were being held up there, too.


Xie is force-fed pills


After I was transferred to Tianjin, it was around October when they suddenly started giving me daily checkups. They would take my blood pressure and check my heart rate. I could tell they were nervous. Every other week or two they would bring in an electrocardiogram and check my heart. With this change I realized some among us must have started having health problems.


There was a Director Zhou, and a doctor who I think was named Liu He, who examined me. Every doctor and nurse was expressionless and stony-faced, like robots. They did not interact with me beyond routine business, and I never felt a drop of good will from them. I had no way of knowing their names or identities. This was terrifying. They did whatever the higher-ups told them to do, regardless of how I felt about it. If I made a request of any kind, they either would ask the special investigators for instructions or simply not respond at all. You would think they were angels in white, but the more I saw them, the more they seemed like devils in white.


While in Tianjin, nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine. Every day a physician would bring the medicine, and every time they would shine a flashlight in my throat to make sure I’d swallowed. It was about four white pills each time. They said I had elevated transaminases and that it could be a problem with my liver. But I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I’m in good health and haven’t had any health problems. I’m also not in the habit of taking medicine. I think everyone’s body is unique. Even if a certain indicator is high for someone else, for me that same reading could be just fine.



“Nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine.”


I tried reasoning with them several times and refused to take the medicine. Then the physician, the discipline officer and the warden had to come force feed the pills to me. I had no choice but to give in. After about two months the medicine stopped.


The block that crippled


At first I had a high-backed chair in my room. Then it was swapped for a block with nothing to lean on when I sat down. I sat there for at least 12 hours a day, sometimes as much as 16 hours a day. When you’re sitting on the block you are not allowed to rest your hands in your lap for support, and the on-duty soldiers carry out orders to the letter. You can all try sitting on a block, or a stool, without resting your hands, so that you only have the strength of your back to support you. An hour is fine. What about ten hours, a hundred hours, a thousand hours? Few of you will be able to imagine it. If you aren’t cooperative during an interrogation, all they have to do is to put you on that block, and you will succumb to their control.


I’ll give an example. Once I asked to revise an interrogation transcript. They beat me and boxed my ears. For more than ten days after they only gave me half rations, nothing more than a few bites of vegetables and one small steamed bun or a few mouthfuls of rice. For 16 hours, from morning to night, I had to sit, and when I slept I had to hold a posture as dictated by the guards. They asked me to sit on the block like a soldier: head up, chest out, back straight, hands on knees. Except for using the bathroom, I was not allowed to move at all from 6 am to 10 pm.


In the end, I sat so long that my legs tingled and went numb. When I had to relieve myself, I physically couldn’t. They don’t have to beat you and they don’t have to curse at you. All they have to do is make you keep sitting like that. You’ll either die or be crippled.


You can read the second part of Xie’s story here

My endless nightmare

Wang Yu, female, born 1971 in Inner Mongolia, is one of China’s most respected human rights lawyers. In the middle of the night, on 9 July 2015, Wang was abducted from her home in Beijing. Her sudden disappearance in the middle of the night sparked what would become the “709 Crackdown.”

It was 8 July 2015, shortly after 11pm. I had just said goodbye to my son [Bao Zhuoxuan], who was heading to Australia for study, and my husband [Bao Longjun [Chapter 11], who was accompanying him. Initially I had been planning to go with them to the airport, but since the flight was at midnight my husband worried about me returning home alone. We decided I would say goodbye at the house. After they had left, I called to ask them to call me after they passed immigration. I couldn’t control my sadness and cried on the phone. Even though I was trying to comfort my 16 year old son, I was the one choking. My husband couldn’t bear to hear our parting words and hung up. After the brief call I went upstairs to prepare for a trial the following day. Later, after having changed into my pajamas and gotten to bed, I still couldn’t stop thinking about Bao Zhuoxuan. I couldn’t fall asleep.

It was after one am and I still hadn’t received a call saying that they had passed immigration. I tried reaching them but neither of their phones connected. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t have signal, but I had called many times, up to and after their scheduled takeoff time, and it was the same. I was growing worried. I shared a message with some friends in a WeChat and Telegram group, hoping they could help with ideas. I called the airline, but couldn’t get through.

Without warning, the lights in my house were cut, along with the internet, and immediately I heard the sound of someone trying to force open the door.

Read the full excerpt of Wang Yu’s story from The People’s Republic of the Disappeared at ChinaChange.

You can read Wang Yu’s story, her husband’s and that of many other victims of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.

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