Next to the gate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sat several people that looked like the bums often found in Beijing’s underground passages. Upon closer inspection, they differed. Although shabby they were well-kept, and in keeping to themselves seemed to somehow defy condescension.
As I approached, one of them looked up and asked: “Are you here to help us?” He was Chen Baoliang, 51 years-old, from Shanghai’s Yangpu district. He used to be a tailor, but has spent most of the past 15 years trying to defend his rights after his workshop/house was torn down without his permission. From 1998, he has tried almost every lawful petitioning method and visited all the relevant offices: the Bureau of Letters and Visits, UNDP, the Ministry of State Security, the US Embassy… None of them worked out for him, so now he has taken to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from a different angle to your average petitioner. Mr. Chen, clearly well-educated, has studied the law at thoroughly, and he is the first of the petitioners I have met who mentions “basic human rights.”
*The World of Chinese does not verify or endorse the statements of petitioners in this segment, and views expressed by the interviewee are not necessarily the views of TWOC. The World of Chinese does not challenge or endorse the judgments courts or allegations that may be made by the interviewee. Names may be redacted where the editorial staff deem pertinent, and, if requested, a pseudonym will be used for the interviewee’s protection. The petitioners who come to Beijing are some of the most diverse, interesting, patriotic, and heroic people in China. These are their stories.
–Managing Editor, Tyler Roney
Could you tell us why you came to Beijing?
I came because they [the local government] demolished my house illegally. It was the district government, and the house was my personal property, it was where I worked and lived. They demolished it in 1998, and haven’t solved the problem since.
Shouldn’t they have compensated you?
No, because I never signed an agreement. It was forced demolition.
On November 11, 1998, at 4 am, they hauled me out of my bed, moved out all my stuff, and knocked my house down. They only gave me a temporary place to stay in, which I live in till this day, but they never addressed this in a legal procedure.
What do you hope to achieve in Beijing then?
I hope that the central government can address my issue according to the law, return my house to me, and compensate me for my losses these past 15 years. They have already finished the new building over my old house. And me, I am a legal private business owner, but I am left to wander, without food to eat.
Last year, the district government cracked down on me even more, withholding my basic subsistence allowance (低保) because of my petitioning in Beijing.
Have you appealed to the Shanghai government?
Yes, but no one has helped so I’ve come to Beijing.
When did you come to Beijing?
From 2000, after I sued them; I’ve been coming to Beijing every month.
Did you take it to court? What happened to the case?
Well, I have a “common people against the government officials” (民告官) case, so I am bound to lose. In 2001, the Supreme People’s Court issued the Higher People’s Court of Shanghai to process my case, but they just ignored it.
How can you afford coming to Beijing every month?
That’s why I’m heavily in debt. Everyone sympathizes with me so they are willing to lend me money. That’s why no matter what I do, I am going to make sure justice gets served.
Do you always come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
No, only after I submitted a form on the Disclosure of Government Information in June. I’m waiting for a response. The State Council announced the Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on the Disclosure of Government Information, so they should have received my request and let me know whether the information would be disclosed, but they haven’t given me a formal response since June 28, when I submitted it. Now I am still waiting for a response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s the least they can do. If they tell me they will not process this case, I’ll leave willingly.
The Ministry releases reports on human rights practices, but now I don’t even have the right to subsist. Where are the human rights? According to the Disclosure of Government Information, they have to provide a formal response.
But a lot of others go to the Bureau of Letters and Visits, the UNDP, etc….
Ah, I’ve been to the Bureau several hundred times! But they never solved my case. According to Article 4 of the Decree of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, the department in charge needs to “solve problems lawfully, timely and locally”. What I don’t understand is, it has been 15 years since 1998, why haven’t they solved my problem lawfully? I only want them to give back to me what’s mine according to the law. What’s not in the law, I won’t ask for even 0.01 per cent of it.
So you claim that the district government harmed your human rights?
The district government abused its administrative power, and stripped my right to subsist as a legal private business owner. By declining me my basic subsistence allowance, they are putting me to death.
Do you think you’ll succeed?
I will wait for the Ministry patiently, however long it takes. I told you, if they tell me to “f*ck off”, I’ll gladly f*ck off.
Till then you’ll be by their gate?
The past two months I slept on the sidewalk by the Ministry. Now that it’s gotten cold, the police doesn’t let us sleep out here anymore. So we’ve been sleeping under bridges.
Have you been detained or mistreated?
Of course. I’ve been hijacked by a car sent by the local government in Beijing, taken all the way to Shanghai, who frisked my whole body, and threw me into a “black prison” (黑监狱). In a “black prison”, there are no windows on the walls and it is lit by lamps 24/7, so one does not know whether it is night or day. It is usually in a “black motel” where no one comes. I’ve been detained so many times… During the National People’s Congress in 2011, I went on a hunger strike in the “black prison” for a week, until they threw me out the door when the National People’s Congress ended. I refused to eat because they took me away when I was on my way to buy groceries. It was an ambush. As soon as I turned the corner from where I live in Shanghai, they tucked me into a car and then into a “black prison”. They were afraid I’d go to Beijing to petition, so they wanted to get me before hand.
Other mistreatments include beating and even cutting off my electricity and water. They don’t even want me to drink water. There is nothing they won’t do.
Tell me about the beating.
I went to ask for my 过节费 (festival allowance). Other petitioners all got their festival allowance. When I got there, security guards who were in fact just thugs that they hired as temporary workers gave me a good beating. Only I got beaten. I don’t even know why they targeted me. You’d have to ask the District Governor.
What are you going to do if the Ministry doesn’t work out?
I have no idea. I’ve already been to the Bureau, UNDP, the American Embassy, etc. and nothing has helped. I am just 一介草民 (an ordinary person). My life is all I’ve got left.
Do you think there’s hope still?
Of course, I believe my central government, that’s why I’m in Beijing. What I hope for now is to draw attention from the central government and international forces to let them know I’ve lost my human rights.
Image courtesy of Yan Li.