Who “Harmonized” Us? – Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)

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The following was originally posted on Beijing based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan’s blog and translated by CDT:

On the afternoon of November 2, a lawyer named Mr. Li received a phone call from a lawyer friend with another law firm, notifying him that a funeral for Mr. Bao would be held at Dongjiao Funeral Parlor. Li was asked whether he would like to go along to honor the old man who fought for democracy and civil rights.

Around 7:30 that night, our landlady came up to ask us to renew the lease, three months shy of expiration. She said we’re supposed to renew the lease three months in advance. Also, she said, there will be a hike in the rent.

We have been living in her apartment for more than three years and there has never been a rent increase. And it is time for one. We agreed and said we will renew the lease and have no problem with the raise.

Right after the landlady left us, we heard people knocking at our door. When we opened the door, three strong men, two in uniform and one in plain clothes, burst in with walkie-talkies in hand. Without asking if they should take their shoes off, they abruptly invaded our private space. Scanning the whole room, they half-jokingly and semi-professionally asked, “All men here, no women living with you guys?”

I was very annoyed by these uninvited guests. But they weren’t that arrogant. After all, we didn’t break any law and they didn’t have an excuse to do anything too crazy.

The three men went into Li’s room and started a conversation with him. They started off by saying that it’s so difficult for a non-Beijinger to work in Beijing and that other lawyers from elsewhere had had difficult experiences. They also offered to befriend us, and to be “helpful” to us. Slowly, they cut to the chase, educating us with words of persuasion. Don’t bother to be involved with “trivial matters” (Èó≤‰∫ã) in the society, they said. The world is what it is, how can you lawyers change it? Then, they directly asked him not to attend the funeral for Bao, who was not his relative, they said.

After receiving another call, Li asked me whether I would like to go with him the next day. I had to go to the 2007 bloggers conference, I said. It turned out that Li had other business to do the next day and couldn’t go himself either. Those uniformed men came once more and Li told them that even if they didn’t come again, he wouldn’t be able to go because of other obligations.

They talked with Li for another hour and left. What puzzled me was, how could they know that Li was told about the funeral and that he wanted to go? Soon I figured that it was the second call Li answered that turned him in. The phone call was tapped.

We thought this was the end of the story….

On the night of November 5, our landlady made a visit, and I thought she had come to renew the lease. What was surprising was, she put on a serious face and said, “My grandson will get married next January and you guys must pack up and leave in a month.”

Her ultimatum stunned us. We had just talked about rental renewal a couple of days earlier, and never talked about her grandson’s marriage. Were her children hiding the wedding plans from her (She lives with her son and daughter-in-law)? We figured that the old lady didn’t come for money.

So we said, the contract was supposed to end in March next year, and we are supposed to move out then. The lady didn’t explain any further, and insisted that we couldn’t stay.

The lady has been a nice woman and has helped us a lot. No matter what we asked of her, she has always been helpful. A friend of ours was looking for a place to live, and she immediately offered to help. She later heard that I wanted to buy an apartment, and she said her grandson works at a real estate firm and could help with leads. We needed to buy train tickets before the spring festival (the busiest time for travel when train tickets sell out very soon), and she said her niece works at the train station and could help out with tickets. Young lawyers in our company were looking for girlfriends and she has been also very forthcoming in helping them out.

I asked her to help us find a new place, as she suddenly decided to kick us out. Unexpectedly, she refused to help at all.

We wanted to know why she wouldn’t keep us. We asked her for the real reason. She just said, she simply didn’t want to rent the place any more.

As far as this went, the truth became clear.

When the landlady left, young lawyers in our firm said, she’s been evil for not honoring the rental agreement. I said, we cannot blame her. She just gave in to external pressure. How could she, as a landlady, resist the authorities?

Our experience reminds me of that of another lawyer, also surnamed Li. He often takes up “sensitive” cases and is not afraid of saying “no” to the powerful. Wherever he goes, there are “bodyguards” tagging along. Over a month ago, he was kidnapped by a bunch of unidentified men and was beaten up at a suburban location. He was told that if he wouldn’t leave Beijing, he would have to watch out for his life.

Beijing is China’s capital where goodness prevails. In ancient times, it was considered the land of vast royal blessings.

As I was writing this, the air in our office felt very stuffy, and I opened a window on the side of my desk for a breath of fresh air.

I saw the main building of the West Train Station through our window, and saw the crowds entering the station. Beijing is our capital, and a place that outsiders want to come to.

Standing in front of the window, mild sunshine hit my face, but I didn’t feel any warmth.

The air out of the window was smoggy. I had to close the window, and continued to finish this short article. [Original text in Chinese]