Ge Xun: 21 Hours in Beijing – part 1

Yaxue’s note: Before I knew Ge Xun (葛洵 @gexun), I came to know his Free Chen Guangcheng website when it re-published the CGC profile I wrote and posted here on Seeing Red in China in November. Later we met on Twitter and he invited me to volunteer for the site. So I did as a dozen others had or would. On Twitter he re-tweets me a lot to “promote” me, the newcomer. For that I call him “Brother Tweet.” With his permission, I have edited his account in Chinese to make it compact enough for our posts. His ordeal appears here for the first time in English.

I came to the United States to study physics in 1986 and stayed and became an American citizen. I believe in universal values such as freedom and basic human rights. I admire the best of humans wherever I see it, and I do what I do openly with nothing to hide.

My mother died at 83 on January 24, 2012, in Beijing. I flew back on the 28th for her funeral. By the 31st my siblings and I had taken care of everything and made arrangements to put my parents’ remains together.

For the rest of my stay I planned to meet a few people, among them, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), or the “Tian’anmen Mother” (天安门母亲) as she has been known. She is a retired professor, and her son, a high school student, died during the June 4th crackdown in 1989. For more than two decades, she has been working hard, against harsh and persistent obstruction by the government, to preserve the memory of the event, recover more truth, and help families of other victims. Without her own son by her side, I wished to bring her perhaps a little bit of comfort and love.  I called and made an appointment to visit her at 3pm the next day.

With a bouquet I had bought on my way, I arrived outside the entrance of her residential community 40 minutes early on Wednesday, February 1. I had called to get directions for the cab driver, and wondered whether I would disrupt her afternoon nap, if she took one.

It was a sunny day but the sky was fogged by pollution. Cars were parked along the sidewalks, and not that many people were around.

At the entrance, a man in his 40s descended in front of me all of a sudden.

“Are you Ge Xun?” he asked.

“I am. What’s the matter?”

“Come with me. I have to ask you something.”

“I am sorry,” I said. “I don’t have time.”

He started pulling me.  Two more guys joined him, pushing me toward a light brown sedan. Both doors on the right side were open, and a woman stood by the front. I knew then I was in trouble. I had never been in circumstances like that either in China or the US, and I didn’t know what to do. Without shouting or trying to break free, I asked to see their IDs. One of them said, “A little later.” Then I asked to call my family and the US embassy. “Not now,” I was told. I resisted a little by saying “All I want to do is to pay a visit to Teacher Ding. Why are you doing this to me?” While pushing me hard now, they kept saying, “Don’t move. Cooperate. Or it’s going be bad for you.” I was pushed into the back of the car, and all the while, I was asking to see their IDs. Inside the car, I was forced to sit in the middle of the back seat with one man on each side of me.

Still I was asking to see their IDs. The man who first approached me pulled out and showed me a little book. State Security (国安). Wang Jie (王杰). I thought, well, at least he showed me his ID. Perhaps we could be reasonable with each other. I would soon find out how wrong I was.

Now I saw, in the front, on top of the radio, a picture of me and Sheng Xue [盛雪, a Chinese Canadian journalist and out-spoken activist] taken when she interviewed me last fall in San Francisco. I had seen it before in her blog.

Ge Xun and Sheng Xue, the very picture the State Police displayed.

The car drove off. Now they wanted my cell phone. When I resisted, Wang Jie grabbed it from my right trouser pocket by force. “I borrowed it from my brother!” I protested.

All the way I kept mumbling, “How can you do this? All I want is to visit Teacher Ding!”

After a short drive, we went into a compound, but pulled out as soon as the car stopped. Another short drive, we pulled into a courtyard with buildings on three sides. When I asked where we were, Wang Jie said it was their “unit” (“我们单位”). I was led into one of the buildings and, by stairs, onto the second floor. No one was in the hallway. We entered a room. It looked like a cheap hotel with a three seat sofa, two single beds, a longish coffee table, and an old-fashioned TV set. I would learn later that there was an inner room and, beyond that, a bathroom.

I asked why they took me here. Wang Jie said to interrogate me. I had done nothing wrong, so I protested. I asked them to show their warrant, they said they would later but they never did. Throughout my forced disappearance, they never showed me the warrant, or any legal documents for that matter.

They asked me to surrender everything I had. In my bag was a camera, a recording pen, two passports (my old, expired one and the new one I got just before I left home), my wallet (with my driver’s license, credit cards, RMB and US dollar, scraps of paper with friends’ contact information). I had more cash than the wallet could hold, so I put some in an envelope (RMB3,000 and USD500). They took everything, and said they would give them back to me later.

I was thinking: Let’s get this done and get out of here quickly. Teacher Ding is still waiting for me.

I asked to call Teacher Ding, my family and the US Embassy. Again, they denied me. I was forced to sit in a small sofa further in the room.

During the entire custody, as I was to learn, I would meet five people: Wang Jie was the main interrogator, present at all the important moments, the only person who showed me his ID; a rotund driver who only appeared when driving was needed and who helped the others to control me; a female clerk who later said her family name was Pu (普). She was small and looked around 30 years old. She appeared to be writing down everything and she repeatedly browbeat me for answers. There was a short man with big eyes and I later learned his family name was Gao (高).

The last person was a tall man perhaps not yet 40. Small eyes. Name unknown. He was the man who would beat me. I will call him “the Violent Man.”

As they came in and went out, I saw there was another room across the hall with its door open. It looked like their command post. All the time there were two people accompanying me, even when I used the bathroom.

“What do you do during this visit?” The interrogation began.

I told them I came for my mother’s funeral, and now that it was done, I was going to visit friends and relatives.

He started asking about the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars in the US. It was a student organization formed after June 4th, 1989, in support of students in China and their cause. I attended the inaugural meeting in Chicago. In December, 1990, when the prominent student leaders Wang Juntao (王军涛) and Chen Ziming (陈子明) were tried in Beijing, I flew to China on behalf of the Federation to attend the trial. Because of the media attention on the cases and my trip, I was named “Person of the Week” by ABC.

I did what I did because I cared deeply about China’s human rights status. From 1991-1992, I chaired the council of the Federation. But after 1994, I withdrew my involvement due to family matters. I was not, and have never been, a partisan (not that there is anything wrong with it), nor was the Federation regarded by the Chinese government as an “organization of democratic movement” (民运组织).

When I visited China in 1997, the State Police asked me about it. They ended up telling me everything about it, because I didn’t even know who the chairman was at the time. In my subsequent visits to Beijing, they didn’t bother me anymore. In July 2009, I re-connected with some of my old friends, and because of the human rights deterioration in China, I decided to take action and do what I could to be useful.

Then the interrogaters asked who sent me to Beijing to interview Ding Zilin.

“Nobody did and it was not an interview!” I said.

In my recording pen and my camera, they found records of my recent activities, including the “Outstanding Person Award” to Teng Biao (滕彪) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), two courageous, widely-respected rights lawyers in China, given by the Chinese Democracy Education Foundation (中国民主教育基金会); a dinner party with the recently-exiled writer Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) in the bay area; conversations with various people about the Free Wang Lihong website (“自由荔蕻”) that I maintained; pictures and messages for the “Sunglass Portrait of Chen Guangcheng” campaign; Sheng Xue teaching me how to edit sound file, etc.

They insisted I was sent by Sheng Xue. But Sheng Xue had nothing to do my visit and she didn’t even know I was in Beijing!

They had to know how I knew Sheng Xue. So I told them.

Then they asked me about money. Where do you get so much RMB? How much are you going to give to Ding Zilin? Whose money is it? Who sent you to deliver it? Who reimburses your expenses in Beijing?

“The money is mine. My wife reimburses me, all right? I haven’t decided whether to donate some; if I do, I haven’t thought about how much and to whom. Nobody sent me.”

They asked and asked and asked, wrangling on and on and on about money. They forced me to “admit” the money in the envelope was for donation.

It had been taking so long, and I was getting more and more impatient. So I said, “I will make you a personal affidavit.”

Wang Jie said, “Write it down.”

I wrote, “The money is my own. No one sent me. I have not decided whether I will donate some or not.”

They were not satisfied. They insisted that I must write the money in the envelope was for donation. Or there would be no end of it.

This went on and on.

I gave up, and wrote what they forced me to. I said to them, “You forced me to do this; it was not of my own will.”

Then they asked me to sign and to press my finger print on it. I hadn’t done finger printing for a long time. It was absurd.

Part 2

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About Yaxue Cao

I grew up in Northern China during the Cultural Revolution, came to the United States in the early 1990s to study literature and stayed. I have been writing stories about China, exploring both my own experiences and those of others against the larger picture of Communist China. You can find my work on, and new works are being added periodically.
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27 Responses to Ge Xun: 21 Hours in Beijing – part 1

  1. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    Yaxue: What a story! And this happened one week ago today! Thank you for posting this. I look forward to reading the rest but in some ways I don’t as it obviously gets uglier. So much for being an American citizen. I always thought that being a British citizen would offer me protection in China. Obviously I was wrong.

    • Yaxue C. says:

      美丽,working on the rest of the story now…

    • MAC says:

      Honestly, your race is more important than your citizenship.

      • Yaxue C. says:

        If they can get away without paying a heavy polictical price internationally, they will beat you no matter what race you are. It’s all about calculating risk. So far, Ge Xun’s story has only been told in the Chinese-language media here and it has a limited reach. One of the things I can do, now and down the road, is to try to tell these stories in English, and bring them to a wider audience.

      • MAC says:

        I agree, but I guess they find ethnic Chinese returnees they don’t like both more threatening and less risky to persecute.

    • M says:

      you still have protection if you are caucasian, I don’t think policemen would be so brave when approaching caucasian compared to someone of chinese ethnicity as Ge Xun. for ordinary western viewer it’s difficult to distinguish when they show in media photo of American Chinese between Chinese policemen that there is American/foreigner in problems, while when they would show photo of some caucasian between few Chinese (policemen) you immediately notice there is something wrong and special, while Chinese prosecuting/jailing/murdering Chinese is quite common, so nobody cares anymore really (and pretty same with black drug smugglers)

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  3. Jean says:

    Where is the original Chinese version ? I would like to share this article with some people who read better in Chinese.

    • Yaxue C. says:

      Thanks for asking. It will be published by 《中国人权》online on Thursday. I will post a link here, or you can follow Ge Xun on Twitter (@gexun) to find out.

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  5. Chopstik says:


    Thank you for translating and posting this. I will also look for the original Chinese version to pass onto others. Hopefully there will not be any sort of serious repercussions for Ge Xun or yourself.

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