It’s been a while since “he cha” (drink tea, 喝茶) came to mean, in certain contexts, “summoned and interrogated by the state security police.” A cup of tea may or may not, be present, but either way, it is “having tea” in the parlance of the Chinese netizens. It occurs like this: the interrogatee is called upon by at least two or more state security police at home or at work, approached by them somewhere else, or telephoned for a forced appointment. He cha itself occurs mostly in police stations, but also in secluded offices at workplaces or in schools; in some cases, in one’s home where security police show up at the door and force their way in against the will of the host. It can last anywhere from an hour to several hours.
Over the last few days I have read through 30+ accounts of “he cha” with the state security police, thanks to a wonderful website devoted to collecting such accounts by netizens (Google Translated, but very rough) and to the people who chose to tell.
Who Are Being He Cha-ed and for What Reasons?
It appears that many things Chinese citizens do can attract the attention of the state security police. Taking a quick stock of the cases I have read (since the site hasn’t been updated since July, 2011, the cases reflect the going-ons of an earlier time), the reasons are as varied as can be:
- Signing 08 Charter (the document for which Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 10 years in jail);
- Attending, or expressing interest in, Jasmine gatherings;
- Signing online appeals, in one case, for improving prison management; in another, against the detention of a Uighur scholar;
- Intent to attend events organized by Ai Weiwei (this was before Ai Weiwei was detained and held for 86 days last year);
- Attending the memorial of a woman who self-immolated to protest against violent demolition;
- Writing blogs or articles on the themes of democracy and freedom, about June 4th, Tibet or Xinjiang;
- Twitter expressions;
- Sending a bouquet to the Norwegian Hall of Shanghai Expo in connection to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo;
In one case, two security police visited a young man in his workplace, asked about his roommate and the latter’s NGO work, and tried to get him to spy on the roommate.
What surprised me most, as I went through these accounts, was how diverse the interrogatees are: artists, businessmen, developers, shop owners, corporate employees or managers, amateur authors, retirees, college students, high school students, and yes, a middle school student, for taking pictures of police with assault rifles on the day of the rumored jasmine gathering (there wasn’t one) and posting them online.