Translation: “Eight Years in Prison Hasn’t Frightened Me; It Has Only Made Me Stronger”

On May 18, 2023, blogger and activist Wu Gan was released from prison after serving an eight-year sentence for “subversion of state power.” Active in rights defense cases since 2009, Wu Gan (whose screen name was “Super Vulgar Butcher”) combined humor, performance art, and online and real-world advocacy to bring attention to cases of injustice and official malfeasance. His detention in May 2015 presaged the “Black Friday” crackdown on civil rights lawyers and activists that began on July 9 of that year.

During his detention, Wu Gan was repeatedly tortured, mistreated, denied access to legal counsel, and pressured to confess. He steadfastly refused to implicate his fellow activists or colleagues at Fengrui Law Firm, a practice known for pursuing human-rights and civil-rights cases (until its closure in 2018). Upon his release from prison, Wu Gan expressed his gratitude to friends, family, and supporters.

On June 10, 2023, Wu Gan wrote a letter to his friend You Jingyou describing his current physical and mental state, his relationship with his family, and his plans for the future. CDT has translated the text of the letter in full, below.

Dear Brother You,

Thanks to everyone for your constant concern and help! I’ve been out of prison for nearly a month now. There’s a lot to get used to. I have a lot to learn. I’m still adjusting. Times have changed. Places have changed. My body and mind aren’t yet back on track. There are many things I need to do. Physically, I need to rest and recuperate. I’ve been dealing with a huge pile of things at home. I haven’t had much time to interact with everyone. Please forgive me! I’m in good spirits. I’ve been “retraining my brain,” so to speak. It has been eight years, after all, and a lot has happened. So much has changed. I have to update my thinking, or I’ll run the risk of becoming an ignorant moron. For example, I’ve discovered that many people I once admired have become Trump and Guo Wengui supporters. This phenomenon is baffling,  but it also makes me wary. I think I need to spend some time retraining my brain in order to maintain my common sense and awareness. Otherwise, I worry that I really will suffer some cognitive impairment.

Eight years in prison really wasn’t that bad. Though every day felt long behind bars, I’m out now. My wife and child never left me, and I still have the support and companionship of you all. Looking back, eight years wasn’t that long. My life has been diminished, but it is still quite strong. I just feel guilty for the irreparable harm caused to my family. You, all my friends, have never abandoned me. Neither has my family, who have silently endured all sorts of hardship. You are all like family to me. You are the source of my spiritual strength. Some of you have suffered a lot because of me. For this, I feel a deep sense of sorrow and guilt. I also feel deeply guilty for getting my colleagues at Fengrui Law Firm into trouble. Although the authorities would have come down on Fengrui eventually, I was the one who lit the fuse, so I bear responsibility.

In truth, throughout all these years, I’ve strived to do nothing more than live a life of basic common sense and human decency. I’ve never subscribed too much to grand, noble ideals and belief systems—things that, to this day, I still do not fully understand. I just think that one should do as much as they are able to help the weak, reverse injustice, and spread common sense. I put myself on the line to be a model for others, but in the process, I’ve also personally learned a great deal. I now demand more of myself morally, and I’ve grown in terms of my cognitive abilities. But I’m still learning. After all, I am not a highly-cultured individual. There are a lot of gaps in my knowledge about the world. All I can do is keep learning, maintain my common sense, enhance my understanding of the world around me, and hold fast to my sense of morality and justice. In prison, there were times I felt helpless, cowardly, and frightened, but I overcame that in the end. I recognize my limitations and shortcomings. There is still a huge gap between me and the truly courageous ones, I’m ashamed to say! I am not as great as everyone says I am. I just strive to maintain my basic human decency and sense of justice. I would never frame, slander, or betray others for the sake of reducing my sentence. I’ve already let go of Zhai Yanmin’s transgressions. But I think about Hu Shigen, how he had already been in prison for over a decade, only for [Zhai] to make false charges against him, condemning him to many more years behind bars. And I worry about Hu’s health. As I said on Twitter before I went to prison, I’m fine with admitting guilt or making compromises, as long as it doesn’t hurt others. In prison, two years before I was released, they had already given up hope that I’d cooperate. No one was trying to force me to do anything anymore. It was only then that I voluntarily asked to admit my guilt. I did so because I wanted to help those around me in prison. There are fellow reformees on the inside I can vouch for, friends I’ve met on the outside, and other kind-hearted, upright people out there. I admitted guilt not for the sake of lessening my sentence or other personal interests. I’m not afraid of damaging my own image. Rather, I admitted guilt because, in my view, as long as I can help others, as long as they are kind, upright people worthy of my help, then yes, I will do it—even admit to crimes. This action is in line with the values and practices that I have always maintained. Whether or not someone’s truly guilty—that’s an opinion held in one’s heart. So, why speak out now about my confession? Because I’ve always asked myself to be real. I have the responsibility to face my friends and the public honestly. I do not seek to beautify or elevate myself. I merely try to be the person I ought to be. Over the past eight years, I have learned the courage to face myself. Only truth and honesty can survive. Falsehoods will inevitably crumble away before too long.

Eight years in prison hasn’t frightened me; it has only made me stronger. As Nietzsche said, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, I think I survived. Eight years behind bars did not distort my mind or instill resentment within my heart. I still harbor gratitude and infinite love in my heart for freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and justice. I never lost my common sense, cognitive abilities, universal values, or passion. I never lost sight of my original aspirations. I will continue to contribute what little I can to help improve this country. For now, I will spend time with my family, because I owe them so much. There are some basic needs I need to address. Those in my family have sustained a lot of damage over the past eight years, and I need to make it up to them. I must work hard and make money to support my family. As a result, I don’t have the energy previously at my disposal to “lead the charge.” Nor will I have much time to frequently meet up with friends, let alone be able to participate in public affairs. I am still deprived of my political rights for five years (not that I had any to begin with), so I don’t want to add unnecessary trouble or make my family worry. I hope everyone understands. I am still the same person I used to be. I did everything I could for the greater good of society, but now I need to try my best to fulfill my responsibilities to my family, as a man should. I also want to thank the friends who have offered help since I was released. I have already asked Sister Wang Lihong to express my gratitude to them. Their kindness was much appreciated. I am not accepting donations at present, but thank you, anyway! If at some point, I need to open up a small shop or something to support my family, I may ask everyone to help promote and support it. Thank you! Finally, I would like to thank once again all the friends, lawyers, and everyone else who has shown their care and concern and helped me and my family, especially Sister Wang Lihong and yourself [You Jingyou]. I cannot thank everyone in person, so I bow before you all here—I will always be deeply grateful for your help!

Wu Gan
June 10, 2023 [Chinese]

Translated by Little Bluegill.


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