“Touch the Tiger’s Ass”

by    /  July 3, 2013  / No comments

The arrest of the two brave Dus


Du Bin, a Chinese filmmaker, photographer and writer has not been seen since his arrest on May 31, days before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

One day, on the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) chat room, the writer and web-master Ye Du complained about having been sentenced to house arrest four times this year. Altogether, he had lost his freedom for one and half months. The most recent time was around June 4th when he couldn’t leave his home for 12 days.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. 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.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. 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.

Every year in China on the eve of June 4th a lot of “sensitive figures” need to “disappear” so that they do not “disturb the social order” of the country. Most of them come back after the specified date. This year, two of them did not return, and their absence has sparked international attention and worry.

On May 31 the journalist and filmmaker Du Bin was taken away by a group of policemen who also raided his house and confiscated his computer and laptop, along with his films, books, discs, files, and other items.

The 41-year-old Du Bin is now detained in Fengtai, Beijing. His friend, the famous human rights activist Hu Jia, believes that the arrest is related to his documentary film on Falun Gong titled Women Above the Ghosts’ Heads, which was recently released in Hong Kong. The film shows the torture and inhumane treatment of female Falun Gong practitioners in Masanjia Forced Labor Camps in the Liaoning province. Besides the controversial documentary, Du has spent the last eight years researching and collecting material to write a book entitled The Tiananmen Massacre, which was also published in Hong Kong only weeks ago.

In these works Du has addressed the two main political taboos in China. As such, his arrest was almost predictable. Even his status as a former contractor and photographer for The New York Times could not protect him.

According to China’s law of criminal detention, the police can detain a person for no more than 30 days with an extension of seven days. The detention concludes either with release or official arrest. It seems that Du could not escape the fate of the legal process.

For years, Du Bin has worked on the bottom of society and recorded the miserable fate of the underprivileged through his photography and writing. The protagonists of his books are common people who were kept in the so-called illegal prisons for trifling infractions, or those whose homes have been demolished, or persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, to name a few. He also wrote a book on Mao Zedong which exposed the tyrant’s schizophrenic character and his book on dissident artist Ai Weiwei is well known too.

All of his books are published in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Brave Du’s behavior matches the Chinese jargon: Touch the tiger’s ass*. He has indeed scratched the wound of the Chinese Communist Party.

Another prominent writer with a similar name, Du Daobin, was arrested by Beijing security police on June 3rd. Du, originally based in his hometown of Yingcheng City, Hubei province, moved to Beijing in the spring to take a job at a law firm. This time the authority accused him of “suspicious behavior and provocation and disturbing the peace.” Daobin is detained in Beijing No. 1 Detention Centre now. The police have also raided his home and confiscated his computer, books, files, and discs.

The 50-year-old Du is a so-called “repeat offender.” In 2003 he was arrested because of his numerous writings on the Internet. His critical mind and clear language function like a spearhead that points to tumors of social and political injustice. He was charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced to three years in prison with a four-year suspended sentence. So after the trial, he was released and instructed to behave in a politically correct manner for four years. Before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, days before his suspension was over, the authority claimed that he “violated the requirement of the suspended sentence” and threw him into prison for the original sentence of three years. After serving the full sentence, Du was released in December 2010.

During his time in prison, Du read lots of books and kept a dairy. He did this under dangerous circumstances, because prison security personnel held unannounced, sudden checks of inmates’ cells.

However, the prison experience did not intimidate Du Daobin. In the past two years of living in freedom, although under constant harassment at the hands of the police, Du has continued to write political commentaries and has gotten involved in China’s social movement. His recent arrest might be a result of his critical writing “exposing the property and wealth of the politicians to the public” on his blog, although we can’t really be sure since the recent postings have been permanently deleted.

Judging by the present political barometer, the filmmaker Du Bin may face trial. The severe charge of “inciting subversion of state power” may stick with him. If this were to happen, he would receive a sentence of multiple years, while Du Daobin may be released again without charge.

With or without a sentence, what Du Daobin wrote in 2004 while he was detained and awaiting trial, rings true: “There are two ways to face reality: Kneel down at the foot of reality or stand face to face with it. Stand face to face with reality, be a man who does not bend to evil, collaborate with evil, even dare to challenge evil like Don Quixote. That is my reality. I choose hardship instead of comfort, I choose prison instead of a successful career.”

Well, this is also the reality that Chinese rulers have to face: Citizens who do not want to kneel down, who do not fear going to prison. There are not only these two Dus, but millions of them.

*Political jargon in the Chinese Mainland, the term “touch the tiger’s ass” means to challenge a sensitive political issue by raising public attention.

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