Records of “Drinking Tea”

In two posts at Seeing Red in China, Yaxue Cao presents an overview of over 30 accounts of “tea drinking”—interviews, typically conducted by State Security police or ‘guobao’ 国保—from the Chinese-language site, He cha ji (Records of Drinking Tea). The first post explores the many reasons for which people may be invited to drink tea:

  • Signing 08 Charter (the document for which Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 10 years in jail);
  • Attending, or expressing interest in, Jasmine gatherings;
  • Signing online appeals, in one case, for improving prison management; in another, against the detention of a Uighur scholar;
  • Intent to attend events organized by Ai Weiwei (this was before Ai Weiwei was detained and held for 86 days last year);
  • Attending the memorial of a woman who self-immolated to protest against violent demolition;
  • Writing blogs or articles on the themes of democracy and freedom, about June 4th, Tibet or Xinjiang;
  • Twitter expressions;
  • Sending a bouquet to the Norwegian Hall of Shanghai Expo in connection to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo;

Cao’s second post describes the typical content of a tea-drinking session, and the spectrum of invitees’ reactions, from defiance to fear or sadness:

Hecha, it appeared, doesn’t involve beating or sustained verbal abuse. That’s because it is the “low end” of the government intimidation and persecution, and depending on how big a threat you are in their perception, things can become much worse ….

Some people dealt with their hecha sessions with composure and even playfulness, others left useful advice, such as “be firm and you have done nothing wrong ….”

One way or the other, it is hard to exaggerate the kind of fear hecha can strike into ordinary people. It lays bare the fact that the state has every power over you, is prepared to use it in the most wanton way, while you no power, no rights, and there is nothing you can do to protect yourself.

See more on tea-drinking at CDT, including the Grass Mud Horse Lexicon’s entry on the term, translations of several first-hand accounts, and some tongue-in-cheek advice for tea-drinkers.


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