Life On The Outside

On Monday, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos linked back to a 2007 article in the magazine by Jianying Zha. This described her brother’s nine-year detention for subversion and, in Osnos’ words, “remains the definitive discussion of the most difficult question facing anyone who runs up against the outer limits of politically tolerable criticism: How can it be worth it?”. In response, the author sent an update on Zha Jianguo’s life after his release in 2008, including a striking account of his constant police escort during the Olympics that summer:

The policemen were friendly and polite: they accompanied him on shopping trips, carried heavy bags for him, even bargained for him at stores and helped him install an air-conditioner at home. Since they followed him anyway, at my suggestion, Jianguo would sometimes ride the police vehicle when he went out. I did it with him a few times as we went to meet friends at restaurants. In the restaurant, the policemen, usually two on a shift, would take a table at the other side of the room, and eat their meal while keeping an eye on us.

“They called me dage (big brother),” Jianguo told me, “but of course they are just doing their job, and they would ransack my place or arrest me anytime if an order is issued.”

The escort vanished after the Olympics, with sporadic reappearances:

Once in 2009, for reasons not completely clear, they took him to the police station for a twelve hour “inquiry,” and confiscated his computer and mobile phone. But when I asked him what happened at the police station, Jianguo laughed: “Oh, I just gave them a big long talk about my views on politics and democracy, while they kept filling my tea cup, and also let me take a few breaks.”

The account is taken from Jianying Zha’s Tide Players, to be released in Spring 2011.