Chinese authorities in the eastern province of Shandong have sent a prominent Muslim poet for "re-education," but police in Jiangxi detained and searched him en route, in a move he said could be linked to his recent writings on the Uyghur ethnic group.
Cui Haoxin, a member of the Hui Muslim ethnic group known by his pen-name An Ran, was asked to attend a week's "red" ideological education by the Lu Xun College of Literature, which is officially sanctioned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
He complied but was detained, searched, and questioned by Jiangxi state security police as he got off the plane en route to the event at Jiangxi's Jingangshan airport on Sunday.
"I'm not really sure what happened yesterday," Cui told RFA on Monday. "I traveled to Jingangshan as part of an official delegation, and yet I was suddenly apprehended by police, who deprived me of my liberty."
Cui said he refused to cooperate, because nobody else in his delegation had been subjected to similar treatment.
"They said they wanted to investigate me, and search my luggage, which I thought was very strange," he said. "They had no warrant or summons. They just waved their police ID at me, which said Taihe county police department."
Cui, 39, said he was attending the event because he had been told to do so by the authorities.
"Of course I'm not interested in singing revolutionary songs or events of that kind where you have to act a certain way," he said. "I don't have that kind of mindset, and I'm not cut out to be an actor."
LInk to article
Cui refused to cooperate with the search or interrogation, insisting on a search warrant and other legal documentation, and was released only after other members of his delegation intervened with the police at the airport.
He said he believes the reason for his detention was a recent article he penned looking back at his collection of poetry, which contains a number of poems referencing the troubled region of Xinjiang, home of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group.
"I wrote a piece called 'My Poems,' looking back at the time when I wrote them, and talking about the theme of Xinjiang that runs through them," Cui told RFA. "From today's point of view, those poems are still very sensitive, but I think that they are meaningful to anyone. I wanted to encourage people to reflect, and for them to resonate with the majority of people."
At one point, the article references the conflict in Syria, to which Cui describes himself as "almost a witness, in this high-technology information age."
"I witnessed the Arab Spring, which mutated from marches, suppression, and protest backed by the West, into the worst humanitarian crisis in history," the article reads. "I witnessed the cruelty of dictators, the fickle nature of politicians, and the people's pain and helplessness."
A massive presence
In the same article, Cui describes Xinjiang as having left a "planet-sized impression" on him.
"Xinjiang, that massive presence that defies expression, left a planet-sized impression on me that is ineradicable," Cui wrote.
"This is a land of poetry and song ... when I headed out west to the Central Asian city of Kashgar, no sooner had I arrived than I made straight for the tomb of an ancient poet, and raised my hands in prayer for him beside the dusty tomb swathed in green silk."
Sulaiman Gu, a rights activist currently studying in the United States, said he sees Cui's invitation to "re-education" as part of the ruling party's "united front" work under President Xi Jinping, who recently began an unlimited term in office, and who is extending ideological controls throughout Chinese society, particularly in education, the media, internet, and the publishing industry.
"[I think they thought] let's bring him into the Lu Xun College of Literature, put him through some political education, and make him part of the establishment," Cui said.
"This is how the [idea that the] party leads in everything manifests itself in the Xi Jinping era, and it's a Chinese Communist Party tradition to make literature and culture serve the interests of socialism."
"But An Ran refused to surrender, and actually spoke of his concern for the plight of Uyghurs within the Lu Xun College of Literature," Gu said.
Xinjiang—where Uyghurs complain of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule—has become one of the world’s most heavily policed places and a testing ground for increasingly restrictive policies since the region’s party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August 2016.
Around 120,000 ethnic Uyghurs are currently being held in political re-education camps in Xinjiang’s Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture alone, a security official with knowledge of the situation told RFA in January.
Independent Chinese PEN secretary general Zhang Yu said authors who refuse to be coopted by the ruling party's ideological outreach programs, especially those who write about politically sensitive topics, run the risk of becoming targets for "stability maintenance"by the state security police.
"Anything to do with Xinjiang is sensitive, and [Cui] is also a Hui Muslim," Zhang said. "I'm guessing that has something to do with it."
"Political education is taking us backwards to the Cultural Revolution and before that. Everyone should be treated with dignity, and this crosses a line for too many people."
Chinese writers have been targeted by the Communist Party since the 1950s for their "bourgeois" insistence on artistic freedom and creativity, for failing to represent the experiences of the masses, and for criticizing the party after late supreme leader Mao Zedong called for an intellectual renaissance in the "Hundred Flowers" movement.
Writers have been sent to the countryside for "re-education," banned from publication and academic posts, and even subjected to torture and other abuses, most notably in the "anti-rightist" campaigns of the 1950s to the violence and turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.