Writer and social critic Wang Xiaoning is released after ten years in prison
Yu Ling is a bit out of breath; the thermometer has almost climbed to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, totally unusual in Beijing. Maybe by end of the month it will be cooler, she thinks. And although she does not clean alone, as her son and daughter-in-law are with her, Yu is still tired. They have repainted the inside of the house, repaired the leak in the bathroom, and even replaced the old sink in the kitchen. Wang Xiaoning, her husband, will like it, she thinks. He should have a good impression of their home. After all, it has been ten years since he last saw it.
On August 31st Wang Xiaoning will be released from prison. In September 2002, Wang was arrested at his Beijing home in front of his wife and son. Born in 1950, Wang, the son of a minister, was raised in a family of high cadres. Had he behaved obediently, he could have had a good career enqueued among the “princelings.” Instead he chose a thornier path: Advocating for freedom and democracy in his country.
In the 1990s Wang studied engineering and worked as technician and businessman. In 1999 he created a website and started writing political commentary and analysis criticizing corruption and the government’s policies behind building the Three Gorges Dam. He also wrote a series of articles emphasizing the necessity of political reform in China.
His articles touched on sensitive topics like publication law, election regulations, and the corrupt military system in China. Wang even drafted a constitution. But his “anti-party and anti-socialism” writing alarmed the authorities, and his house was raided. Files and computers were confiscated. When Wang’s articles were published in the overseas online journal Democratic Forum the authority accused him of collaborating with foreign anti-China forces and arrested him. Because Wang disseminated his writing online and through his Yahoo account, the police pressured Yahoo to give Wang’s IP address to them. The court used this information as evidence of his crime and sentenced Wang to ten years in prison, accusing him of “inciting subversion of state power.”
China began the millennium with an image of iron and blood. Criminal law was amended in 1997, and the old terminology “counterrevolutionary propaganda crime” has been baptized with a new name—“inciting subversion of state power.” Nevertheless, the substance remains the same; it is still the state’s handy instrument to tame dissidents. Wang Xiaoning was one of the first severe cases of political persecution under the amended law, though there have been dozens of other cases of literary inquisition since the beginning of this century. If you break the will of the people and tread down their dignity, then they become a kind of dough that you can form as you like.
This is the secret of the Chinese Communist Party. With this tactic they have ruined generations of intellectuals. Yet there are still enough individuals made of special material who are irrepressible. In Chinese terms, these people would be called “ineducable” even when they are thrown into the “reeducation camp” and brainwashed for years. Wang Xiaoning is this kind of person. He has refused to show any regret or admit that he committed a crime. Had he bowed to the pressure his sentence would have been reduced to three years, but Wang stayed firm and served the full ten year sentence.
At the end of August, when he comes out of prison, we will see a thin, fragile man with grey hair whose eyes are still bright and sharp. His brave, slim wife, also in grey, will welcome him warmly. The pressure she has suffered over the past ten years has been no less than his. And while time does leave traces on their appearance, neither their spirit nor their will have been broken. They are higher then ever.
Updated on September 5, 2020:
In 2007, Wang’ wife, Yu Ling, filed a lawsuit against Yahoo! for providing her husband’s IP and information to the authorities. The suit was settled out of court, Wang received compensation from Yahoo!
In recent years, Wang Xiaoning has been criticized for his pro-Mao writings. Li Nanyang, daughter of Mao’s private doctor, Li Zhisui, an aesthetics scholar, described Wang as “self expelled from the ranks of intellectuals and stepped into the rogue literati”. The change of Wang’s critical attitude to the CCP has indeed changed after ten years of imprisonment.
First published at Sampsoniaway.org on August 29, 2012.