Hunan teacher who supported fired journalism lecturer released under surveillance

Li Tiantian is discharged from a psychiatric hospital but remains out of contact with the wider world.
By Qiao Long and Chingman
2021.12.27
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Hunan teacher who supported fired journalism lecturer released under surveillance Hunan schoolteacher Li Tiantian is shown in an undated photo.
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Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have released primary school teacher Li Tiantian from a psychiatric hospital following a public outcry over her detention, but restrictions on her freedom remain.

Li, who is currently pregnant, was incommunicado after issuing a cry for help on the social media platform Weibo Moments on Dec. 19 as officials from her hometown of Shaba in Hunan's Yongshun county committed her for psychiatric care.

A post to her WeChat account late on Sunday said she had been discharged from the Yongshun Country Psychiatric Hospital, and thanked people for their concern.

"I will continue to live in this world like a fairy," the post said, in a reference to her nickname "the fairy teacher," because of her retelling of local myths and legends.

"As I am still recovering, my mental health is quite poor, so I won't be replying much or giving media interviews for the time being," the post said.

People familiar with the situation told RFA that Li remains under close surveillance by the authorities, and hasn't been back in contact with friends.

"Several people have been to Li Tiantian's home to try to visit her, and according to a message from 9.00 p.m. last night, they are also now incommunicado," one person said. "We confirmed this morning that Li Tiantian was released on Dec. 24, and is currently under surveillance somewhere in Yongshun county."

"She is relatively free, but neither she nor her family is allowed to say anything publicly."

A second person who asked to remain anonymous said the authorities are treating Li as someone who has been "manipulated by overseas, anti-China forces," and were planning to revoke her teacher's license.

"There has been a huge international outcry and a lot of media reporting of this case," the person said. "Based on the way they deal with similar incidents, they were never going to allow Li Tiantian to speak publicly following her discharge from the hospital."

Li's mother and fiancé are also believed to be incommunicado.

Activists beaten, blocked from visit

Rights activists Ouyang Jinghua, Cheng Xiaofeng, Xiangjun Wubai and lawyer Xie Yang were beaten by village officials when they tried to visit Li at her home on Sunday, in the hope of giving her more than 3,000 yuan in donated funds, a rights activist who declined to be named told RFA.

"There were five of them including Ouyang Jinghua and Cheng Xiaofeng; Cheng, Xie Yang and Xiangjun Wubai went into the village, and were beaten up and their cell phones broken," the activist said. "They left to report the incident to police, but we've heard nothing from them since."

On Dec. 25, Xie was photographed outside the Yongshun county police department with a placard calling for Li's release.

Ouyang, 80, went with other activists to try to visit Li at the psychiatric hospital, but was prevented from entering, with security guards citing the pandemic.

"You can't go in because of the pandemic; only if you're here to get medical treatment," a security guard is seen telling Ouyang in a video clip of the exchange sent to RFA.

Li's disappearance came after she commented on Weibo two days earlier, when Shanghai Aurora College said it had fired lecturer Song Gengyi for questioning the Chinese government’s official death toll of 300,000 for the 1937 Nanjing massacre.

An edited clip of Song's lecture was posted online by Dong Xun, one of her students, who informed on her. In the clip, Song calls the 300,000 deaths tally used by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a "rough estimate that lacks statistical support" adding that there is a very wide range of estimates of casualties.

Li chimed in on Friday, saying she didn't see any problem with Song's lecture, but rather with the student who informed on her and the school that fired her, and the Chinese intellectuals who have kept quiet on the matter.

But commentators said she could have been targeted by officials in the local education bureau in Hunan's Xiangxi prefecture, who used her support for Song Gengyi as a pretext for retaliation over a critical article she wrote about rural education in 2019.

In the 2019 article, Li Tiantian wrote: "What makes me feel most helpless and upset is that, while, as teachers, we teach students to be honest and trustworthy, we can't actually tell the truth ourselves. We have become captive intellectuals who are forced to live carefully."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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