Book Details Mental Hospital Abuse

A new book describes how some Chinese who complain about the government are mistreated in psychiatric settings, while the author calls for better regulation of mental health services in China.

petitioner-305.jpg Police question a petitioner in Beijing, Aug. 3, 2008.

HONG KONG—Chinese citizens trying to pursue complaints against authorities can find themselves confined in mental hospitals where they are forcibly medicated and subjected to electric shock, according to a new book published by a human rights group.

Psychosis: the Social Disorder of China’s Mental Disease covers 57 such cases. It was written in Chinese by Liu Feiyue of the rights group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch.

Allegations contained in the book echo those made in recent interviews by petitioners seeking redress from the government who have been held and released—as well as by several officials.

The 300-page English edition is distributed online in the United States by the California-based U.S.-Japan-China Comparative Policy Research Institute.

“We wish it could be published in China, but for now it can only be distributed there through secret channels,” Zhao Jing, director of the Institute, said in an interview.

Written in three parts, the book contains accounts provided by victims of confinement, case studies from a mental hospital in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and further cases of abuse reported by rights groups and the media.

Many of those confined had previously challenged authorities over abuses of power. Others had merely quarreled with their supervisors at work.

Held for weeks

One of those profiled, a man named Hu Guohong, was confined in 2008 in Wuhan Mental Hospital after pursuing compensation from provincial authorities following a physical assault.

He was held in the hospital for more than 70 days.

“They gave me two hours of electric shocks every day,” Hu said, also in an interview. “Others, who were genuinely disturbed, were given only two minutes.”

“I cried every day because of my suffering, but no one cared.”

Another petitioner, Liu Xinjuan, was confined six times from 2003-2009 in Shanghai mental hospitals for pursuing complaints related to the ownership of her home.

“The tortures used by mental hospitals make you feel like you are hovering between life and death,” she said. “They gave me an injection that made me feel as if I were being stung by thousands of insects.”

“They do this to make you give up petitioning,” she said.

Author Liu Feiyue called for legislation to regulate the treatment of mental patients in China.

“We need a law to regulate the acts of hospitals and the government, and to prevent them from jailing normal people in mental hospitals.”

“If a law like this could be enacted, it would certainly benefit real mental patients as well,” he said.

Similar allegations

In a series of interviews with RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services, officials as well as petitioners have in recent months made similar allegations.

"I wasn't the only one. There were about a dozen others locked up in there," Tianjin-based petitioner Li Shuchun, 66, said in an interview in December.

Li said she had been sent to a psychiatric unit once before, after petitioning outside the 17th Party Congress in Beijing last year.

Then she went to Beijing in July to continue her complaint about the forced demolition of her home and was removed from the city by complaints officials from Tianjin.

Li said she was told she would have to attend study sessions. But when she refused to give up her petition, she was beaten by three government officials with sticks, then taken to a psychiatric hospital where she was held for more than three months.

Inside the hospital were around a dozen other petitioners, all of them held as patients against their will, Li said. All were force-fed medication.

Further north, in China's former industrial heartland, the family of "diehard" petitioner Wang Taihe said he had been held in a psychiatric hospital in Wafangdian city, near Dalian, since he was brought back by local officials after trying to protest during the Olympic Games in Beijing.

A police officer surnamed Gao at the Xinhua police station in Wafangdian called such practices an "open secret."

"We call people like Wang Taihe 'old diehards,'" Gao said. "He continued to cause trouble after he was brought back from Beijing during the Olympics, waving placards outside the municipal government and so on. He was having a bad effect on society."

In a highly unusual news item, a Chinese newspaper, New Beijing News, reported that another man, 57-year-old Sun Fawu, was twice forcibly committed to the Xintai Psychiatric Hospital in Beijing after trying for years to obtain compensation for houses and farmland lost to the coal-mining industry in his village.

A landmark 2002 report, Dangerous Minds, prepared by Human Rights Watch and the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, said that "since the earliest years of the People's Republic [of China], political dissenters, religious nonconformists, whistle-blowers, and other dissenting citizens have consistently been viewed by the Communist Party of China as posing a major political threat to society."

Such people are often "forcibly committed to various types of psychiatric institutions," the report said.

Original reporting by Xing Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translations by Chen Ping. Written in English by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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