China Geeks translates a lengthy essay by Ai Weiwei about his experiences trying to document the names of students killed in the Sichuan earthquake and about the political system that allows “hoodlums” to run the show:
In the town of Taiping, I was besieged by a group of government and middle school officials; at the police substation in the town’s outskirts, I was forcibly searched and some things were taken from me; on a rainy night four strangers dragged me into a car and told me they were taking me to “you’ll know when you get there”; I was besieged again by officials in Taiping, with many students and parents watching; I reported [these things] to 110 [emergency phone number] but no police were sent; I was beaten and robbed [by people] under the direction of the school president with students watching. I reported this repeatedly to 110 but no police came. City PSB official Zhang Xing illegally refused to provide the “Report of Offense to Police Superintendent Registration Form” and also refused to provide the paperwork necessary for an appeal; city education bureau leader Wang Yangjin said: the names of the students who died on 5/12 [the earthquake] are still a state secret and the information won’t be revealed until the government reveals it.
These few days experience in Jiangyou and Taiping make Jiangyou and Taiping seem like an autonomous, self-governed region on Mars. There is a “Taiping township” but no “peace”***, there are humans but no “human rights”, there are law enforcement officials but no laws. In Jiangyou there are government officials, justice department officials, education department officials and even the school janitor, who make impromptu self-governing ‘laws’ and announce them as they are needed. In my experience, this is not uncommon; for example, there’s the “Government officials obstructing pedestrians don’t need to produce identification” law, the “police needn’t provide identification when carrying out public affairs missions” law, the “wearing a police uniform is the same as providing ID” law, the “don’t need to provide a cause to body search” law, the “if we say you’re breaking the law then you’re breaking the law” law, the “when we get there you’ll know [where we’re taking you]” law, the “here you can’t take photographs” law, the “you can’t leave” law, the “we’ll beat you if you don’t come with us” law, the “we don’t have the paperwork you need to file reports or appeals” law, etc. etc.
These laws are indeed effective, I was shocked to discover that the “gangsters and legal gangsters” had won a great victory. But actually it’s more complex than that; these people are all regular Chinese citizens, not professional criminals or expert scoundrels. In comparing them, I realized it’s not that my own rights have decreased, it’s that the rights they’re granted as representatives of the government allow them, those tramplers individual rights, to ravage and encroach on [my rights].
Read more about Ai Weiwei’s project via CDT.