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 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.
They were not familiar with the name of my employer, and asked me to write it down.
After the Leather Jacket heard that I worked for a non-profit organization, he said slowly, “It’s good to work for non-profit groups. I know many people who work to promote the public interest. They are very warm-hearted.”
Clearly he was trying to get some further information from me. I smiled, “Don’t think I am ignorant. I know that some non-profit organizations are regarded to be sensitive, such as AIDS prevention and environmental groups. But my organization does not engage in any sensitive activities at all.” I have worked in Shanghai for quite a few years and I know that a few directors of non-profit groups are frequently called over for “tea” by the police.
“No, no. I support the groups who aim to promote public welfare and do charity work. They benefit the society. There was some charity event at the People’s Square recently and they distributed lots of leaflets…”
I stared at him, “What kind of event are you talking about? I have no idea!”
I guessed that the charity activity he mentioned was being monitored by the government. If I had participated, my scale of “sensitivity” would have been “upgraded.” But I couldn’t figure out which event he referred to, for there are numerous non-profit groups in Shanghai.
The Leather Jacket continued to talk about the event and added, “After I talked to them afterwards, and got to know what they aim to do, I became supportive of them.”
I just listened to him and shut my mouth. I thought that he was trying to set a trap. As long as I said that I knew a little bit about the event he talked about, he would get a chance to ask me more questions and dig out more “sensitive information.” But I was truly ignorant about the event.
“Where do the funds for your organization come from? Are they raised from the public?” he asked.
“Yes. It’s the case for all non-profit entities. Some of the funds come from individual donations. Some from businesses or charity foundations,” I answered.
“Some non-profits accept money from abroad as well,” he said.
Ha! Here it came. I knew what he really meant to ask. I smiled and said, “Don’t think I am naive. I know that it’s also regarded as ‘sensitive’ to accept money from overseas sources.”
He smiled, and then asked directly, “Do you apply for financial support from agencies overseas?”
“We don’t engage in any sensitive business. You can go and investigate this. Even the municipal leaders know about us. I went to the City Government for a meeting with my boss just last week,” I said.
Thus the questioning about my employment finally ended.
He went on to ask about my educational background and the name of the college I graduated from.
“The college is not well-known. You wouldn’t know it even if I tell you its name,” I said.
I told him the name. They had not heard of it, as I expected. So they requested me to write it down, as well as the years during which I was studying there. I did all that.
“Which high school did you go to?” he asked. I wrote the name down. “From which year to which year?” I put that down, as well as my middle school years, and I explained to them, “I went to the same school for my secondary education.”
There was a year I wrote down that caught their eye, and they read it out. “1989?” I didn’t care what they said. “Relax. I didn’t participate in any movements back them. I didn’t see anything. I know nothing about it.”
“How come you don’t know anything about it?” The Leather Jacket said in disbelief.
Yes, a middle school student would at least watch the movements back then, even if he didn’t take part in it. But I didn’t even watch them. I have to tell people the geographical location of my school to explain this. “My school is located in the suburbs, instead of the city,” I said. I draw a circle in the air with my hand. “It’s surrounded by rural areas. It’s a few kilometers away even from the closest town. It’s quite remote and closed off from the outside world. We students all lived on campus. We could read newspapers at school, and watch TV only on weekends when we were home. The information in the papers and TV was what the government wanted us to know. Thus I don’t know anything about it, until I found out about what really happened from the Internet in recent years.”
Fortunately he didn’t go on to ask me “What happened then?”. I wouldn’t have answered even if he had asked. This question should not be answered by me, someone who had been kept in the dark for 18 years. It should be answered by those who experienced it themselves.
After he finished asking about my schools, he said, “What’s your father’s name, and his work unit?”
It angered me instantly. “This is my own business. It has nothing to do with my family. You can’t ask questions about my ancestors for the past centuries simply because I signed the Charter,” I protested.
The Recorder explained to me, “We won’t go to Chongqing to look for your parents. This is standard procedure that everyone needs to follow.”
“Can I decline? If you find out their names, it’s your business. But I don’t want to answer this question. It’s my own business that I signed the Charter. It has nothing to do with my family. They don’t know about it at all!”
I couldn’t help but to burst into tears as I said this. There was a box of tissues on the table. I quickly took one to wipe my tears away.
I believed that they could find out anything they wanted. But do not expect me to tell you. I hate the ancient practice of punishing the whole family when just a single member broke the law. It is now the 21st century, not the feudal era. I am willing to take full responsibility for what I have done. But I hate to trouble my parents for it.
When he saw that I had broken down in tears, the Recorder said immediately, “Okay, okay. Let’s not talk about that.”
I scolded myself as I wiped my tears. How come I cry over such a trivial thing? What a shame!
The only thing I was worried about before I went to the tea appointment was whether I would cry or not. I cried before I signed my name. I cried again when I was talking to a correspondent from the Washington Post, thus my eyes were swollen and nose red when I appeared in the photo. I had been afraid that I might break into tears when I “had the cup of tea.” It wouldn’t be my best image. I said to myself: I should behave more courageously in front of policemen. But I was not sure whether I could manage to control my emotions. A woman should not cry easily, but that’s only because her emotion has not been really touched. When I feel vulnerable, I burst into tears.
The policemen continued to ask me questions. I wept several times later. Actually I was in tears almost from the beginning to the end. What a shame! Among the 8,000-plus people who signed the charter, I must be the one who shed the most tears!
[Photo source: The Washington Post]