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.
“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.
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.” 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.