Inside China’s Darkest Places


On June 25, the day our shallow president arrived in China, a number of dissidents had the nerve to say they were forming the China Democracy Party. Clinton, of course, did not meet with them, thereby pleasing his hosts.

Soon after Clinton left China, the government arrested nine members of the fledgling Democracy Party. In the tradition of police forces in totalitarian states, they confiscated tapes, notebooks, and literature. There is no indication the president will send these prisoners a message saying he feels their pain.

The Associated Press, which broke the story on July 11, quoted Lian Shengde, leader of the Washington-based Free China Movement: “What we said about President Clinton’s policy of constructive engagement with China was accurate—the Chinese government will not work with the free world to improve human rights because they are a brutal Communist dictatorship.”

On July 9, in the lead letter in The New York Times, Doug Guthrie, an assistant professor of sociology at New York University, complained that not enough attention is being given to China’s progressive achievements: “In all of the political posturing over a lack of progress in human rights in China, there is little acknowledgment of the legal changes that are transforming authority relations for Chinese citizens.”

Well, let’s look at “authority relations” (a euphemistic academic term) as described in an article in the Spring 1998 issue of China Rights Forum/The Journal of Human Rights in China (350 Fifth Avenue, Room 3309-10, New York, NY 10118, 259-4495). The journal is the work of expatriate Chinese scholars and students with sources inside China.

In “A Passage Through the Darkest Places,” Wang Xianfeng tells of her prison time in a country that Clinton has praised for its increases in personal liberty.

Wang Xianfeng was not in prison for her political activities. Her story illuminates the harshness of Chinese justice for all sorts of citizens under this “brutal Communist dictatorship.”

Wang Xianfeng had filed for divorce, but her husband, who belonged to a family with powerful connections, opposed her wishes and took vengeance on her for defying him. He got her expelled from Beijing University, where she was doing graduate work.

She continued to insist on the divorce, and upon returning to her home province, Shandong, she was arrested and convicted of a false charge of assaulting her husband.

In 1993, she was sentenced to a term of two years. There was no trial. The only evidence against her was her husband’s statement, and that was enough for the court.

During her time in Shandong’s Kulun Prison, she continually refused to “confess,” and that denial brought her great suffering.

From her narrative: “The aim of torturing your body and crushing your spirits was to force you to admit your ‘guilt.’ . . . While I was in prison, the authorities invented false stories about me and published them in magazines all over China.

“They accused me of ‘learning from the West’ and seeking the freedom that Western women have—in their eyes a terrible crime.”

Notices were sent to colleges and universities throughout China not to take any guidance from this criminal and traitor.

She heard of model prisons elsewhere in China that were used to mislead impressionable visitors, as has been the case in other dictatorships.

One day, the man in charge of all the prisons came to Wang Xianfeng’s. She had been terribly ill for long periods without treatment, and she had been beaten. Worst of all, she was innocent.

She rushed over to the chief of all prisons and asked for help. He pushed her away and had her locked in a cell, ordering that she not get any food.

“The cell was so small,” she writes, “that I couldn’t even sit down, I could only stand up. . . . The foul smell, the hot air, and the hunger made every hour seem like a year. In utter despair, I decided to kill myself.

“However, I couldn’t work out how to do it with handcuffs on. I could hardly bear the physical and mental suffering any longer. I stared into space for a long, long time, and eventually lost consciousness.”

Finally awakened by water being poured on her, she was let into the yard. “A woman showed us a mouse she had taken out of her soup bowl. Someone whispered how wonderful it was to receive a piece of ‘meat.’ ”

The warden looked at Wang Xianfeng and said, “She hasn’t had anything to eat yet.” A prisoner nearby understood what he wanted, picked up the dead mouse, put it back in the soup bowl, and ordered Wang Xianfeng to eat it.

“They were going to force me to eat the soup and the whole mouse,” remembers the former inmate. “God in heaven! In spite of my hunger, the sight of the dead mouse filled me with nausea.

“Without warning, three prisoners rushed at me and knocked me down. They held my nose and poured the soup down my throat. Then the warden went out of sight. The other prisoners carried on torturing me. They cut the mouse into pieces and pushed me down again.

“Opening my mouth with a wooden stick and closing my nose with their hands, they stuffed pieces of mouse into my mouth until I couldn’t breathe at all. Finally I vomited up everything I had been forced to eat.”

In excruciating pain, she opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was a poster on the wall: “If you refuse to admit your wrongdoing, you will suffer the severest consequences.”

In April 1997, Wang Xianfeng escaped from the China that Bill Clinton insists we join as a partner. She now lives in Denmark.

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