Eat and Get Drunk
Chinese protesters gather for food, drink, and crime.
The 2011 Jasmine Revolution succeeded worldwide. In its success it not only changed the geopolitical roadmap of the Middle East, it also generated an earthquake in China.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
During this period a new method of protest was launched by online activists. It was called the “walk and smile” campaign, and was adopted by hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens. During the spring of 2011, every Sunday afternoon at around 2 o’clock, people would walk to an appointed place in their town and amass together. This is known as the “circle and watch” method (weiguan) and happened in many large cities throughout the country. Nothing makes the government more nervous than when people gather in a public space; officials feel that the situation can get out of control. For this reason, government officials started to disperse the crowd, forbidding the assembly and arresting the instigators as well as the suspicious spiritual leaders involved. As a result, writers and lawyers like Ran Yunfei in Chengdu, Ye Du in Guangzhou, Teng Biao in Beijing, and others were put into jail prophylactically for several months.
After this, on the surface, the revolution died down in China. Yet a surging undercurrent of it exists all over the country because the economic situation is getting worse; deflation troubles banks and scares consumers; the government’s fight against corruption is faltering; polluted food makes people panic and causes them to buy foreign products.
So where can people share their agony, fear, and dissatisfaction? “To eat and get drunk in the same city” (Chinese: tongcheng fan zui) is a new citizen initiative designed to address this problem. There is no organization, no leader, just one sentence on a website which explains where and when they will meet for dinner.
In Chinese, the phrase “Eat and get drunk” (fan zui) is a homophone of “commit crime,” which makes the phrase really eye-catching. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of people come together for these events.
Of course people do not come together only to eat and drink. They have one common wish: To talk and share. They talk about politics and social issues. They discuss abolishing “re-education through labor,” forced evictions, education on the countryside, the East Turkistan issue etc. The movement’s main initiator, Li Huaping, has said, “We embrace freedom, justice, and love.” And the first time people come to “eat and get drunk” they are strangers, the second time they make friends, and later they become comrades.
The loose form of “eat and get drunk” has become so popular nowadays that these gatherings, predictably found in large cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan, have also blossomed in smaller cities like Kunming, Xuzhou, and Wenzhou. But no matter where the event takes place, the meeting time is more or less fixed: It occurs on the last Saturday of each month. It is the best way to unite people with the same concern for social issues and similar political and legal demands. Actually, this citizen activity is turning to a primitive form of a political party. But the people involved are clever enough to not establish any political organization. Such a move would draw too much attention to them and the group would face the cruel fate of suppression.
Nevertheless, Chinese authorities are already highly alarmed by the “eat and get drunk” gatherings. On June 28, the Chongqing resident Luo Yaling was taken away and interrogated by the police. Days later, her mother received a “criminal detention notice” for her daughter. No reason was named by the police. The date of the arrest is June 29. Because Luo was the person responsible for the “eat and get drunk” activity in Chongqing, it is believed that this was her “crime.” However, another theory is that she belongs to the Falun Gong, an affiliation that is thought to have lead to her arrest. Li Shaohua, the leader of “to eat and get drunk” in Shaoyang, Hu’nan province, also disappeared on June 29. It’s been said that he was kidnapped by the police because he could have talked to foreign media about the mysterious death of the murdered dissident Li Wangyang a year ago.
The government has a guilty conscience and suspects the enemy lurks behind each bush and that there are land-mines everywhere. The legal term that the authorities use to accuse dissidents is “inciting subversion of state power,” a severe accusation that could carry a sentence of ten years or more if a person is convicted. This happens to all political prisoners like Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xianbin, Chen Wei, Zhu Yufu, and others. Those who organize or participate in “eat and get drunk” gatherings can be treated like those who take to the street and join protests. They could be committing the crime of “illegal assembly.” According to Chinese criminal law, paragraph 296, this could carry a sentence of up to five years.
Chinese law is like a rubber stamp: It serves the rulers’ power, not the powerless people. But with time, people are shedding their fear; they feel strong when they are not alone. With humor, they ridicule and challenge power. “Eat and get drunk” to “commit crime” is indeed a genius invention.