Gao Weixin is a second generation Russian Chinese. Born in China, he was a professional hockey player for Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Now he is a petitioner without any social security, who had his hukou (his legal residency) denied to him for 20 years. He escaped to Russia and then came back, only to be sentenced to a labor camp. Since being released he has only done odd jobs to sustain himself, and is still asking China to give him the rights and benefits the country promises its citizens. He doesn’t see much hope in petitioning but aged 53, both parents deceased, and with years of potential social security down the drain, he has little choice.
*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
What did you used to do?
I retired from the team in mid-80s. According to state rules, retired athletes are entitled to housing allocation and a job allocation, but I didn’t receive it. Then the Bureau of Sports established a mountain climbing association, whose founder asked me to be a translator there. However, a relative of the Bureau’s head took the position instead. I lost my temper with head of the Bureau and brawled with him, which angered him and he refused to solve my retirement issues. Furious with them, I left for Russia, which was still the Soviet Union at that time. This was 1983.
After a while, when the Soviet Union asked me to stay there, I refused and asked to go back to China. Their military escorted me back. Little did I know, that when I returned I would face persecution.
But you are Russian?
I am Russian by ethnicity, but a Chinese citizen as I was born in China. My parents are Russians who fled here during the Leninist era to avoid political prosecution by the Communists.
How were you persecuted?
Not only did they not allocate me a job, they wouldn’t help me register my hukou for over 20 years. So now at over 50 years old, I own no property, have no job, and have not been able to marry. The head at the Bureau of Sports deliberately ignored the state’s law. Other ethnicities such as Uyghurs and the Han people got their benefits, but not the Russians. The discrimination I have experienced in this country since I was a teenager have been unattended to, whether by the state, the CCP, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Government, or Xinjiang’s Bureau of Sports. And now I am left to wander the streets.
You didn’t have a hukou before?
My hukou was transferred to Urumqi, but my hukou at the Bureau of Sports was a collective household registration. After I was released from the re-education through labor camp, they never gave me the paperwork for writing off my name. Almost 30 years have passed, and I still haven’t obtained it. (all people sent to labor camp get their hukou cancelled. After they return to society, they have to ask to have their hukou reinstalled.)
Why did you get sent to labor camp?
Because I smuggled myself into Russia without obtaining the appropriate paperwork. Also because I was on bad terms with the Bureau of Sports. At that time, millions of Chinese escaped to Russia, including people of other ethnicities, but they didn’t get sent to labor camps.
What was the labor camp (劳教) like?
Literally like it sounds, re-education through labor. Do farm work, receive ideological reform (brainwashing). According to regulations in China, problems related to people who get re-educated are not classed as a criminal, but rather an internal contradiction among the people (人民内部矛盾) and they may return to their original posts. During my time at the labor camp, I committed another offense: attempted escape. After they caught me and brought me back, I made up for it and was released in 1986 via excellent performance at corrections, and was supposed to go back to the Bureau of Sports. But the head of the Bureau wished to retaliate, and wouldn’t give me my job, housing benefits, and social security. My hukou wasn’t granted to me until 2006.
So you have a hukou now?
Yes, but I have not been able to receive any of the social security provided by China. For 20 years without it, I was not allowed to get married. Problems with my retirement and housing arrangements remained and deepened. I did’t even ask for too much, because I knew I have made mistakes when I was younger. I only ask for my basic social welfare benefits.
When did you start petitioning?
I first came to Beijing in 1989. This time around I’ve been here since June 4.
And now you are also petitioning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
Yes, I submitted the forms on June 24, and have been waiting since then. We are not allowed to stay on the street in front of the Ministry anymore, it is a violation of our human rights. Yesterday they arrested three people from Shanghai including Chen Baoliang. But we are not doing anything against the law, fighting for our rights is not against the law. The police tell us not to wait here because the Ministry won’t issue us with anything. But then why let us submit the forms in the first place?
So you are here from morning to afternoon?
From 9.30 am to 4.30 or 5 pm. At night I sleep in the underpass. I own nothing at all. I used to do some odd jobs to sustain my life, now I don’t have it in me to do that anymore.
Where were you working?
In Shanghai I did construction jobs and all sorts of things for over a decade, because I had no hukou.
Where have you petitioned?
The Bureau of Letters and Visits, the Bureau of Labor, the State Ethics Affairs Commission, etc. but that’s meaningless. Petitioning offices do not care, they only lie, it’s useless. Japanese may be bad people, but their government is good to their citizens. China pays no regard to its people. They don’t investigate or anything. Us petitioners are miserable. The state looks down upon us, but it is the state that made us so.
How likely do you think it is that you will succeed?
Not very. Only if the state starts caring about civilians. I still have to petition. Without income, without food, without a place to live, why shouldn’t I have all these things that other people have? I’d rather die in Beijing.
You haven’t petitioned at the UN?
No, nor the American embassy. My matter lies with the Chinese government only. They can’t and won’t help us anyway. Cao Shunli was invited to the UN, but now China has arrested her. The UN isn’t helping her much now. Does China have human rights? Ask the human rights reviewers to actually visit the different places in China and hear the people’s voices! Do not just listen to the government’s words. If they asked, 80% people would say there’s no human rights in China!
Have you been detained or mistreated because of petitioning?
I’ve been arrested, sent to Majialou and Jiujingzhuang multiple times even though I did not petition illegally. In ancient China, I have seen on TV, that people had drums they could beat in front of 衙门 (government offices with court of law in feudal China) to appeal for justice. In today’s Communist China, there’s not even a place to beat the drums, no way to come into contact with the central government. At Majialou there’s no beds, only chairs for petitioners.
The Xinjiang police who came to intercept petitioners told me, “we do not care about you, do whatever you want.”
Isn’t not getting intercepted a good thing?
No. Intercepting is at least paying attention. Not caring at all, whether you are dead or alive, is not good at all.
You can’t go back to Russia?
No, when my parents escaped here during the Cultural Revolution, they took away all our paperwork. We all became Chinese citizens. As a Chinese citizen, I need my justice. Why am I not entitled to what other Chinese have? There are other colleagues that have committed wrong doings, why could they be reinstated?
Why will you not give up?
I’ll die in Beijing. I want to see whether the central government persecutes its citizens or loves its citizens.
If you do end up paying with your life, wouldn’t that be a waste?
Doesn’t matter. I want to see the end of things to see if justice will appear in China. My parents have passed away; I am left alone in this world.
What do you think about it all?
There are too many corrupt officials in China. The government powders up its face to look good, but bullies its people. The Bureau of Sports tells me to go off in Beijing and if I can get a response, then they’ll address my issue. In China, they just sit in their office for eight hours and wait for bribes to come in. Then they pick up their paycheck from the government. Why am I still patriotic? I was born here, born a Chinese, so that’s how it has to be.
Photograph by Weijing Zhu.