Persian Xiaozhao: My First “Tea” Experience (Part I)

Blogger Persian Xiaozhao wrote the following post after she was “invited to tea” by state security agents in Shanghai on Feb. 5, 2009 and questioned about her signing of Charter 08 and her interview with the Washington Post. The following excerpt has been translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan; we will post additional segments in coming days:

I got out of the Dashijie Station of the Subway Line 8 and walked east along Jinling East Road. I was calm, as if I was going to meet a friend and have some tea. However, it was not quite like that. I can decline the invitation when a friend invites me for a cup of tea, if I am unwilling to go. But when a policeman invites me to “have a cup of tea,” I have to go.

Ever since I’ve signed my name to Charter 08, I have been waiting for this day. So many people have been invited for “tea,” there is no reason that I don’t have my share of it.

The police called me in the morning, and asked, “Where are you?”. I didn’t want either my apartment or office to become their “law enforcement” location, so I said generously, “Let me go to your office.” It seems to me that many people loathe going to police stations, from the stories I read on the Internet. But I don’t care. It doesn’t matter much where I have the cup of tea.

The Police Department of Huangpu District is now in front of my eyes. A policeman in a leather jacket was waiting for me beside the reception office. He greeted me before I got close.

“Are you Miss Tang (Xiao Tang)?”

“Yes,” I walked over to him.

Xiao Tang, such a warm address! How come you do not regard me as a “class enemy”? But of course I am not an enemy of theirs. He took me to a room by the left side of the gate. There was a person sitting inside, with a serious look, with some sheets of paper spread in front of him. He must be there to take transcription.

Here I decide to conceal their names because I want to be somewhat polite with them. Let’s call the policeman that called me on the phone the Leather Jacket. He was about 40 years old. (Later on he told me that he was born in 1969.) He is the one that asked me questions. The other one was a few years older, and mainly was just transcribing. Let’s just call him the Recorder.

The room was about 20 square meters. A huge police badge was hanging on the wall. The badge made me a little sentimental. It should be my god of protection, staying on my side. But now, it has become an intimidating power over me, hanging heavily over my head.

I sat in front of the Recorder. The Leather Jacket sat on the side. He was quite active. He got up often and walked around, not as composed as the other policeman.

Both of them had tea cups in front of them, but none of them served me a cup of tea. I thought to myself, why did you say you invited me over to have a cup of tea, when I got no tea? Since I came here not as a guest, perhaps I should be low-key. I felt thirsty after I talked with them for a while. I predicted that this conversation would last a long time. So I asked, “Do you have a cup? I want to have some water.” The Recorder then got up and poured some water into a cup for me. He also asked me politely whether I needed some tea. I said, “No, I want to drink plain water.”

“You don’t have to be nervous. We just want to have a talk with you and get some information,” the Leather Jacket said.

Since I had already mentioned the Charter issue voluntarily during our conversation on the phone in the morning, they didn’t need to find a subtle way to bring it up.

“I am not nervous,” I said smilingly. “I have waited for you for a long time, ever since I signed my name to Charter 08. I have waited for a month and a half.”

The Leather Jacket smiled as well.

“We got to know your name as soon as it appeared in the sixth batch [of signatories] of the list. We didn’t contact you because the address on your ID is Chongqing City, X district, right?” he said.

Hah, they are even clear about the address on my ID! I was confused and asked a friend when I had dinner with him before the Spring Festival, “Why haven’t they asked me for a cup of tea?” He answered, “Perhaps they couldn’t find you. It seems that they search people based on their house registration. You are not registered in Shanghai, so they couldn’t find you. ” I did not believe him, and said, “You are too naive. How is it possible that they are not able to find me if they want to? It’s extremely easy to find people like me. They could get lots of clues from the information on the Internet. They don’t need house registration information at all.” The police have vast powers. Few people could escape from them. Plus I didn’t try to avoid them at all.

The reason why they didn’t contact me at the beginning is not because my house registration is in Chongqing, but because I am not important.

If I were to classify the subscribers of Charter 08 into several categories, I would divide them into three groups: The first group is composed of well-known people. Since they are influential, the government is quite nervous about them; the second group is the people whose lives have been damaged, such as laid-off workers, farmers who lost their land, and residents who lost their houses. They are emotional and could resort to extreme means, thus the government officials are uneasy about them as well; the third group is ordinary people like me. Neither are we well-known, nor have our interests been directly harmed. We are mostly peaceful, and don’t have a “criminal record.” Thus we tend to be ignored. If I had been quiet, I might not even have gotten the chance to have tea with the police. But since I had accepted an interview with some foreign correspondent, I could not avoid the tea invitation.

The Recorder raised his pen and spread his paper. He asked me my name and birth date first. I replied with truthful information. Then he asked me, “Which work unit?”

“The fact that I signed Charter 08 has nothing to do with my employer. It’s my private business. But since you could find out my employer anyway, I might as well tell you,” I answered.

[To be continued…]

Read also Persian Xiaozhao’s previous posts about Charter 08, “I Signed My Name After a Good Cry” and “We Are in This Together,” translated by CDT.