China’s “State Terrorism” Against Dissent
A controversial author and publisher has been abducted by Chinese authorities in an act of state-sponsored terrorism intended to intimidate dissenting voices.
Author and publisher Gui Minghai (alias Ah-hai) does not follow the rules. He risks offending the law and cunningly exculpates himself from facing the consequences. Rumors say he was involved in a fatal car accident in China and fled from the responsibility. Gui graduated from Beijing University and moved from China to Europe. There he studied, married twice, and made a good living in Sweden and Germany. But life seemed boring in “old Europe,” so he started another adventure in Hong Kong, a city where everything is possible. Gui wrote or compiled over one hundred books in the past ten year, and has become so successful and rich that he could buy one of the largest bookstores in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
- 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 til 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.
Gui produces books like a baker bakes rolls. Fans say that he can shut himself in a room and in one or two weeks will produce another “hot book.” In truth, this is an understatement. Gui’s publishing house publishes three to four new books each month. Gui is not necessarily the writer, but he is the “creator”; he hired several “ghost writers” to produce his populist books, mostly about the sex lives or power struggles of China’s political elite. The Collapse of Xi Jinping in 2017, Jiang Zemin Defeated Xi Jinping, and The Hidden Story Behind the Explosion in Tianjin are some of the sensational titles. All the titles catch the eye, and the books do catch the wallets of tourists from mainland China. Gui specialized his publishing house and bookstores for this kind of political book, which consists of quasi-facts, rumors, and Internet gossip. For people from China, such political tabloid writing has a magnetic effect. They buy these books, devour them, and disseminate them afterwards like hotcakes.
The Chinese government cannot endure this, and so it took action. On October 17, a man came to Gui’s condo in Pattaya, Bangkok, and walked with Gui out of the apartment. That was the last time that Gui was seen. The international media and PEN International reported the incident as “kidnapping.” Days later, four men came into his condo and stayed for two hours. When they left, they wanted to take his Gui’s computer with them, but the housekeeper did not allow the confiscation.
Following Gui’s abduction, three of his employees disappeared. Gui’s co-workers were arrested in Shenzhen. Gui also called his wife in Germany and daughter in England, telling them that he was all right and they should do nothing. His wife should let friends know that if they wanted to help him the best way was to keep silent and leave him alone.
According to the most recent information, Gui was transported, together with four other persons back to China from Thailand by a Chinese aircraft on November 13. One of the four others was the cartoonist, Jiang Yefei, who lived for seven years in Thailand and created a series of satirical cartoons about President Xi Jinping. The other deported person, Dong Guangping, was a political activist. The two others are Falun Gong practitioners.
This is not the first time the Chinese Communist regime has engaged in this kind of cross-border political kidnapping, though it is rather rare. The most famous case is the abduction of Dr. Wang Binzhang, the founder of the 1982 overseas opposition organization the Chinese Democracy Justice Party. Chinese secret police kidnapped Wang in Vietnam in 2002. He was transported back to China and sentenced to life in prison. The intervention of the American and Canadian legislatures could not help Wang, a United States citizen, even when his health condition deteriorated in prison.
Another similar case is Peng Ming, a political activist, who was kidnapped in Burma and taken back to China to be sentenced to life in prison in 2005.
All the effort of the international community to free the victims proved to be in vain. Gui Minhai’s fate is unpredictable. Although his writing and publishing methods are somewhat less than honorable, there are legal ways to tame him. Charges of plagiarism, irregularity in publishing and distribution, tax fraud, and so on could be applied to restrain his questionable practices. Yet, Beijing prefers Mafioso-style tactics to solve the problem. It prefers the shocking effect it has on the public. This kind of “state-terrorism” against dissent has been practiced in the past and will continue to be practiced in future. In all probability, Gui will have to join the prisoner troupe behind bars for many years, if not for the rest of his life.
Gui’s arrest has severe consequences: the secret police now control all his files and emails, and they have information on his collaborators in China and overseas. I predict a series of terror and additional arrests will follow soon.