The following translation is an account of activist Lu Yuyu’s recent expulsion from Guangzhou. In 2017, Lu, a citizen journalist who documented labor unrest across China on the “Not News” (非新聞) blog and @wickedonnaa Twitter account, was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced to four years in prison. His online prison memoir, “Incorrect Memory,” was translated in full by CDT. He currently tweets from @darkmamu6.
Translation: Lu Yuyu, “Goodbye, Guangzhou!”
“Up until that moment, I held onto the flukey hope that they’d get tired of yelling and leave, like last time; that afterwards I’d again pack my suitcase in the dark of night and escape to the next city.”
You’re not welcome in Guangzhou, the Guangzhou Domestic Security Department [DSD] agent said to me. There was no reason behind it, but in a sense it was entirely true.
Before 2021, I’d been to Guangzhou twice, and the DSD drove me out both times, which meant I didn’t have a particularly good impression of Guangzhou beyond the delicacies in its teahouse and a few friends.
The thing that pushed me to visit Guangzhou a third time was harassment by the Guizhou police. When my lease ran out in late December of last year, I started surreptitiously searching for a new place, partly because my landlord ruled out extending my lease under duress, and partly because I wanted to escape their harassment, to escape the feeling of panic and fear each time someone knocked on my neighbor’s door. The police once promised that they’d stop seeking me out, but I don’t think even they believed that. I used only cash to pay for breakfast and went to the farthest supermarket to buy anything, all in hope that they wouldn’t be able to find me. It was useless, surveillance cameras are everywhere.
Only one week passed between rejecting their demand that I meet them at my apartment and them knocking on my door. Of course I knew that they wouldn’t actually do much if they entered. But my fearful instinct, as well as a disgust that went beyond fear, made me unresponsive. I hid behind the door, waiting for them to leave. Luckily, after knocking for a bit, they left. Then I quickly packed up everything I could carry and once again set off for the city that had already expelled me twice—Guangzhou.
After arriving in Guangzhou, I didn’t immediately rent a house. I tried out a couple different places to feel them out. After realizing that all was okay, I tramped over to an island on the outskirts of the city to sign a one-month lease on an apartment. This might have been a bit too extravagant on my part—New Years was right around the corner, and that’s the moment they expel people. But on occasion the unexpected occurs, as it did this time. Not a single person came to kick me out through the New Year, possibly because they were responding to the new “Stay-At-Home New Year” slogan.
The only thing that scared me so badly I didn’t dare to return to the apartment for two days was when the landlord asked me to register my ID card again. What else would happen?
Apart from that one incident, everything was picture perfect: sunlight, scenery, petting the wild cats that roamed everywhere, hiking with friends, riding sharebikes through the lanes along the river and romping in the fields. When, for example, the auntie in the corner store said thanks after I paid for my things, or when the waitress at the pork and goji berry soup [a popular Hakka dish] place said that we need to add pepper to make it delicious….
After New Year, I stumbled upon an old house in the village. Even though it was dirty and broken down, it had a big open sun porch. With a little bit of touching up it would be an ideal place to live. I was a bit hesitant. I feared that I’d be forced to move before long, but after a few days of agonizing I decided to rent it. I busied myself for a week wiping down the walls and windows, washing the floors, buying second-hand furniture.I even asked my old landlord to send me my guitar. Everything went smoothly until the afternoon of March 9.
At noon of that day, I watched my landlord and two strangers walk past from my balcony. I assumed it had something to do with renting a room, but when my landlord called it raised my suspicions. She said, “Are you there? If you are, open up the door and I’ll come up to get the bed frame.”
I said I wasn’t there and hung up the phone.
After she left, I decided to go downstairs to have a look around.
I was living in a stand-alone two floor bungalow. I had the entire second floor to myself, and the stairwell between the first and second floors was closed. The stairwell’s first floor entrance had a door that could be locked from outside and in.
I couldn’t open the door, so I ran back up to the second floor sunroof to look down. The door had been fastened shut. For a moment I was dumbfounded. The people with the landlord were almost certainly from the Domestic Security Department [DSD], but why didn’t they directly identify themselves instead of instructing my landlord to pretend to grab a bed frame?
I thought about jumping from the building to escape, but my backpack would be too heavy, not to mention my slight fear of heights. I had no choice but to abandon that train of thought. After a while, a guy renting a room in the building behind mine walked by and I asked him for help. It was too late, the DSD agents had already purchased their own padlocks and locked the door.
I went back into my room, and sent out a call for help on Twitter while I lay on the bed waiting in despair.
Not long after, the rattle of activity picked up outside. They’d come back, this time with more people in tow. The sounds of knocking and yelling tumbled together. A neighbor turned me in, saying, “He’s inside.” Not long after, a yell came from the building behind ours: “Lu Yuyu, we are Huangpu Public Security Bureau police…” What a familiar phrase.
It shows up during hostage crises, right before the police put a bullet through the hostage taker’s head and the crowd claps. Or maybe during some huge drug deal case, right as armed police prepare to lob smoke bombs and breach the door.
I became even more terrified. I completely missed what was said afterwards. It was chaotic—the sounds outside made my brain uneasy.
Up until that moment, I held onto the flukey hope that they’d get tired of yelling and leave, like last time— that afterwards I’d again pack my suitcase in the dark of night and escape to the next city.
But they were tough and wouldn’t give up easily. They climbed up to see me—not sure if they used a ladder or directly scaled the building—but anyways, they climbed right up. Next they went downstairs to open the door, making way even more to come up. Right as I began to wonder about whether I should open the door and leave, the door opened. They had a key!
So many people, three standing in front of the store, one cop carrying a gun, two plainclothes guys who were obviously DSD agents, the cop with the gun in the middle, the two plainclothes by his sides, I’m face blind, all I can remember is one was a bit taller, the other a bit shorter.
I had nowhere left to run.
I loudly asked them: “What sort of people are you? You’ve barged into a private person’s home without permission, what do you plan to do?”
They didn’t answer
I kept at it: “How about your documents? Please take out your documents!”
The taller of the two DSD agents said: “Why do we have to take out documents!”
“If you don’t take them out, how will I know what sort of people you are?”
“He’s wearing a uniform. He’s police. He doesn’t need to show his documents,” said the taller of the DSD agents while pointing at the cop with the gun.
I didn’t know what to say all of a sudden. It was awkward.
The cop with the gun pulled out his documents.
“Fine. What do you want to do? If I’ve violated one of your laws, please show the warrant for my arrest.”
Nobody answered my question. The taller one said they wanted to speak with me.
I thought it over and then told him: “So come in and let’s talk then.”
The shorter one came in first. The taller one held back at first, but after seeing the shorter one step inside, came along as well. The two in police uniform came in after. Somebody in casual clothing kept coming in and out, obviously irritated. There were a couple more outside, probably about eight people. Afterwards my neighbors, that peanut gallery, told me it was a huge scene, with lots of cars and over a dozen people.
The conversation was led by two DSD agents: one tall, one small. The entire thing was chaotic. In the middle of it, people came in and quietly took away my scissors and cleaver. At one point I was on the phone with my older sister. I’ve approximated the rest of the conversation as follows:
Their demand was: I must immediately take everything I have and get out of Guangzhou, whatever I can’t take with me is not their responsibility. In the future, I will never be allowed into Guangzhou. Where I go is my own choice. I can leave with dignity or without it. They also asked whether I wanted to see the people [police] who had come from Guizhou to see me, that was also my choice.
I asked them why they were telling me to leave Guangzhou, and under which law? Or were there no official documents?
They didn’t give a reason. Instead they repeated incessantly that I was not welcome in Guangzhou.
I again asked, “Are you not welcoming me, or is it Guangzhou that isn’t welcoming me? If it’s private people not welcoming me, what right do you have to force me to leave? If it’s Guangzhou not welcoming me, can you give me an official statement?”
They couldn’t answer and again said the landlord doesn’t want to rent to me.
I have an agreement with the landlord, what does that have to do with you?
We went on in this meaningless struggle for some time. The conversation drifted to why I didn’t open the door. I asked them why they barged in.
I told them I didn’t open because I didn’t know who they were, and I was afraid. One of them said, “What’s there to fear from the police?” I said I fear police; I’ve suffered much at their hands.
I again asked them why they barged into a private residence, whether they had a warrant or not. The taller DSD agent said, “You are a renter, we can come in as we please, we don’t need to show a warrant.”
The obviously irritated DSD agent who kept coming in and out butted in and said: “It’s because you’ve committed crimes against the state.”
“How have I committed crimes against the state? Do you have any evidence?”
“You know exactly!”
“I don’t know! Please tell me.”
He turned and exited, like a spinning top.
After they received a call, their tone got warmer. They started calling me Mr. Lu. I was aware that carrying on like this was too tiring, too consuming, so I suggested everyone go downstairs, except one person who could speak with me. They insisted that two people stay. I thought it over and agreed.
Afterwards, we reached an agreement—well, in actuality I was forced to make an agreement— because I wanted to “leave with dignity”:
I must leave, but I don’t have to immediately give up the lease, the stuff inside can remain here and be taken care of later; they’ll pay the money for a bus ticket, and I can choose the place to go. No need to see the people who had come from home.
As I was packing, I saw the guitar I had sent for not a few days earlier, which I of course had no means of taking with me.
In the process of walking out of the alley, a tall woman with the air of a minor leader appeared.
I got in the car with them and, as they put it, “left Guangzhou with dignity.” During the ride, one DSD agent told me to carefully consider my own life, if whether doing this has any meaning. I didn’t care to argue. The other one told me that my expulsion was due to my online following, that if I delete my Twitter account nobody will harass me, that they’d discovered me while I was living in XX apartment.
The people who came from back home called me nonstop, demanding that I go to Guangzhou South Station to talk, but I refused.
It’s too tiring, I just want to keep to myself.
Goodbye, Guangzhou! [Chinese]