Drinking Tea with the State Security Police – Who is being questioned?

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.

Continued, with a look at a typical Tea Drinking session.

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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 Amazon.com, and new works are being added periodically.
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16 Responses to Drinking Tea with the State Security Police – Who is being questioned?

  1. hooey_ru says:

    Actually not just the police does “hechaing”, e.g. tax authorities can also call people, even foreigners, to “drink tea” about their underpaid taxes. I was amused at how the foreigners admired the Chinese tax authorities who were supposedly so polite and nice as to offer you a cup of tea instead of summoning you for interrogation.

  2. Just a bit of off-topic trivia. The phrase ‘he cha’ originally came about from the Hong Kong Cantonese “tseng yum nai cha” (‘to be invited to have milked tea’) during the early 1970s when Hong Kong set up the Independent Commission for Anti-Corruption (ICAC), our anti-graft agency. In those days, the primary targets were policemen (local and expat), and it was the standard phrase used by everyone at the time for being hauled into the ICAC for questioning. At that time, nearly all new immigrants and illegal aliens from the mainland didn’t understand this phrase “tseng yum nai chai’ to mean interrogation, so we could assume that phrase was a Hong Kong ‘thing’ – until the Hong Kong cops-and-robbers movies brought it into wider currency into the mainland. If the Mandarin phrase ‘he cha’ did mean interrogation at any time before 1973, then I can presume it was being used principally in a facetious or ironic sort of way. Just my twopence of a trivia.

  3. Pingback: Drinking Tea with the State Security Police – Components of a Hecha Session | Seeing Red in China

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  5. sculptsone says:

    Thank you for posting this. I think it is very representative of what is happening in China, and people need to see this and realize that it is happening

  6. Pingback: Records of “Drinking Tea” - China Digital Times (CDT)

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  10. Yaxue C. says:

    Listen to a Hecha song by a young man in Yunnan. His name is Lu Yipeng (陆一鹏): http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/-/4vtwcU?src=5

  11. Pingback: A Chinese Scholar, Summoned for Tea - SocialEnterprise.com Beta

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