Warning to Writers At Festival

China rounds up petitioners during an autumn holiday.
2010-09-22
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Xu Pei protests the Chinese government's detention of writers at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair.
Photo appears courtesy of Tianyi Chang

HONG KONG—China's Mid-Autumn Festival of moon-viewing, lanterns, and poetry was marked on Wednesday by calls from a prominent poet to drop any idealism surrounding the ruling Communist Party, as authorities in Beijing detained dozens of protesters calling for human rights.

Germany-based poet Xu Pei said that she would be using this year's festival, in which images of the moon are used to evoke memories of far-off loved ones and times gone by, to remember jailed dissident author Huang Jinqiu, known online by his pen name Qing Shuijun.

"I hope that people will learn from his case," Xu said. "Fellow writers should take it as a warning not to retain any ideal image of the Communist Party."

"He thought that they didn't know he was Qing Shuijun," Xu said.

"Don't think that if you use a pen-name that the Communist Party won't know who you are ... They have spies everywhere."

Huang was sentenced to a 12-year jail term on Sept. 27, 2004 for "organizing, planning, and carrying out subversive activities" and writing "reactionary" articles on the Internet.

Huang, who worked as a journalist for the U.S.-based dissident website Boxun while overseas, hoping that his pen-name would disguise him, was transferred to a prison near Nanjing sometime in 2005, according to the U.S. PEN authors' network.

Dozens detained

In Beijing, authorities detained dozens of people who sang Maoist songs outside the capital's southern railway station in honor of the moon-viewing festival.

The group shouted slogans like "We want human rights" and sang songs of lament for times when life was easier.

"They were detaining people over at the southern railway station," said Liaoning petitioner Xu Fengru. "There were some petitioners who took a tape recorder and sang the 'Internationale' and the Chinese national anthem there."

"This is Mid-Autumn festival, and we are all united. We were all eating moon cakes together ... and thinking of home, and we started to sing revolutionary songs."

"They started off singing Maoist songs. Now they are detaining them," Xu Fengru said.

She said she saw between 200 and 300 people take part before leaving the scene herself. "They called me later to tell me that it was safe to go back, that they had finished detaining people."

Among the songs sung by petitioners was "The Song of the Prisoner," penned by former convict Chi Zhiqiang. Others were shouting slogans, surrounded by national security police in plainclothes.

The petitioners who shouted the loudest were taken away by black-clad security guards in an unmarked Audi, which was promptly surrounded by their fellow demonstrators and had to be rescued by local police, eyewitnesses said.

"There were [altogether] about 30 people taken away who had been singing revolutionary songs, taken to the Jiujingzhuang holding center, on the same road as the Yongdingmen long-distance bus station," Xu Fengri said.

A second petitioner at the scene also said around 30 people were detained. "When I got there everyone was gone, but there were a few people hanging around the pavilion, and they told me about it."

Beijing-based rights activist Yao Lifa said some of the petitioners, many of whom sleep on the streets of the capital or in rough shanty-towns, had been shouting "We want human rights."

Growing numbers

Beijing authorities are dealing with an increasing flow of petitioners to the capital ahead of China's National Day holiday celebrations.

A petitioner surnamed Zhu said she had heard of a number of detentions in the past few days.

"They have rounded up a few groups in recent days," she said. "They told me after they were released that they were letting out the old and the sick but holding the younger, healthier people [in makeshift detention centers]."

"They wanted them to sign promises that they wouldn't cause trouble in future," Zhu said.

Police in Beijing detained a group of protesters outside the city's parliament building last week, after they tried to use a meeting about judicial standards to highlight grievances against the government.

These grievances often include forced eviction, inadequate compensation for land or property, beatings and deaths of loved ones in official custody, and alleged official corruption.

China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.

Many are picked up by officials from their hometowns and escorted back home, where they can face beatings, surveillance, and further detention.

Last December, more than 200 petitioners called on China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to ratify two United Nations human rights covenants that would give further legal recognition to their struggle to protect their rights.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Tian Yi and Qiao Long. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.