How do you get fifteen years in a Chinese prison?

Former Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun (王立军) was sentenced to fifteen years in prison yesterday for ”bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking” (徇私枉法、叛逃、滥用职权、受贿). A detailed account of the trial was also published by the official news agency Xinhua. Without mentioning him by name, only by position, it was revealed during the trial that Bo Xilai had literally ear slapped Wang Lijun when he told Bo of his wife Gu Kailai’s alleged involvement in the killing of British businessman Neil Heywood. How will Bo Xilai be punsihed for that – or will he? Hopefully People’s Daily offspring Global Times is right when saying ”… justice will eventually trump over any privilege”.

Actually, Wang Lijun got several sentences of seven, nine and two years, that would combine to 20 years in prison, but he was instead given a total of fifteen years, and one year deprivation of political rights. It is likely that his revealing of facts around the Bo-Gu affair helped reduce his sentence.

Besides the bizarre setting of the whole case, it gives some perspective to Chinese criminal punishment. In 2009 Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit (阿里木江·依米提) was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for ”illegally revealing state secrets to a foreigner” (向境外人员非法提供国家秘密). He had told his American friend of the pressure he received from the local religious affairs office. Is that a state secret? In 2010 Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz (海莱提·尼亚孜) was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for ”endangering state security” by talking to Asia Weekly (亞洲週刊).

Abuse of power is a central issue in all these three cases. Global Times writes also on this: ”Is such abuse of power by Wang [Lijun] an individual case, or is it typical?”. It seems typical to me.

A good read – China in Ten Words

I buy too many books, and often there is no time to read them directly. I bought Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words (十個詞彙裡的中國) while visiting Hong Kong in April this year, but only started reading recently, bringing the book back to Hong Kong… Yu Hua (余华) is one of China’s best known writers, and has had great success with novels as Brothers (兄弟) and To live (活着), of which the later was filmed by Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) and became a great success around the World.

One of Yu Hua’s ten words is ”reading” (阅读). Nowadays, when an ebook is only a click away on your ”pad”, it is a necessary reminder to read his story of how people lined up outside the bookstores days ahead of a new release when censorship eased after Mao’s death in the late 1970s. Being here in Hong Kong is probably a good environment to read this particular book, in China but still not, just as the book is written in China but not published in the PRC.

Many of the stories relate to Yu Hua’s youth during the Cultural Revolution, but are also highly relevant to contemporary China. The ten words point to many of the current problems in China, such as ”disparities” (差距) and ”leader” (领导). The cult of Mao as ”the great helmsman” seems absurd and frightening today, but recent events around the ”disappearance” and ”reappearance” of supposed new leader Xi Jinping (习近平), and the mystery surrounding it, tells us that the word ”leader” is still of great importance.

One story tells how Yu Hua escapes the summer heat in his southern hometown by napping in the mortuary of the hospital where he lives, both his parents being doctors. On ”the clean, cool cement bed” he could find some peace. When Yu Hua visited Sweden a few years ago, I interpreted for him as he spoke on ”the imagination of a writer”. Not an easy task, and when he then told this same story the word ”mortuary” (太平间) was one (of several…) that escaped my mind. A senior colleague in the audience gave me the word, and the lecture went on as normal. Now that I read Yu Hua’s book and recognize this story, I realize that I will never forget the word ”mortuary” in Chinese.

Sensitive politics? Culture, weibo and 9 September

Today is a special day, 9 September. Here in Hong Kong elections are under way, and the  government yesterday backed down from the idea of introducing compulsory ”moral and national education” (德育及國民教育科). Massive demonstrations and today’s elections were probably the main factors behind this decision. Perhaps also concerns from Beijing about possible unrest in Hong Kong so close in time to the upcoming Communist party congress in October? It will be interesting to see election results.

Today is also the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death. People’s Daily (人民日报) does not promote it at all, but interestingly a People’s Daily affiliated blog yesterday had a post about ”Mao Zedong’s six most beautiful dance partners” (毛泽东一生中最漂亮的六个舞伴) ! Ironic and strange, and not quite a ”harmonious” topic on the anniversary of Mao’s death.

It is also a little strange that Weibo, the Chinese micro blog, seems to be very picky with words today. Probably not because of Mao Zedong, but more likely because of Hong Kong and the elections. This morning I wrote a short Weibo on the somewhat tragic but fascinating story of artist Sun Guojuan (Son Kok Gyon 孙国娟), and how she was denied visa to exhibit in Sweden, most likely because she has North Korean citizenship.

Dangerous words?

When I published, it came out as of above, ”limited to private viewing” (仅自己可见)! I have had Weibo post censored before, but then they were published first and then erased. I immediately republished, but this time without the words ”citizenship” (国籍) and ”political” (政治) and it came out normal (as you can see in the Weibo feed on the right). Do they censor the words ”political” or ”politics”? The ways of Weibo and Chinese Internet censorship are truly mysterious.

Elections, brainwashing and hunger strike – Hong Kong thoughts

Arriving in Hong Kong to work a year at City University of Hong Kong (香港城市大學), it is definitely time to start blogging again. The first week has been full of practical things, but also many thoughts on Hong Kong society as I and my family face the various bureaucratic and other obstacles to overcome before a more ordinary life can start.

One major event these days is the election to the Legislative Council  (香港立法會) taking place on 9 September.

Hong Kong voters can cast two votes, for geographical and functional constituencies. Will that give them more influence?

Interestingly, my new colleagues and other local friends have yet to mention the elections in our conversations. Newspapers and other media, however, are full of interesting stories. Just a few days ago several people were sentenced for election fraud, in regard to district elections in 2011. Reports specially pointed out one woman as having a PRC background, and speculated that she was ”brainwashed” as a child in mainland China. She described herself as a ”Post-80 refusing to be brainwashed” (拒絕被洗腦的80後), but acknowledging her father’s ”patriotism and love of the party” (愛國愛黨).

”Be on guard against pickpockets” 提防扒手 (grabbing ”freedom” 自由) and ”beware of brainwashing” 小心洗腦 – poster for the Civic Party (公民黨)

”Brainwashing” has become an issue after the government proposal for revision of the compulsory ”moral, civic and national education” course (德育及國民教育科) for primary and middle schools. One proposed teaching material is called The China Model: Handbook for Teaching National Conditions [Sentiments] (《中國模式》國情專題教學手冊), which, among other things, describes the Communist Party of China (CPC) in very positive terms.

This led to huge demonstrations in July, and recently – ahead of term start – protests outside the government buildings. A couple of middle school students even started a hunger strike (絕食). The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (香港教育專業人員協會) has also been especially outspoken on this issue, which has led to very harsh, but revealing comments from Beijing, voiced through Ta Kung Pao (大公報) and relayed by China Daily. It will be interesting to follow developments on-the-spot!