High theater

There’s a fascinating post over at this website that I’ve added to my daily read list about the way China often goes about arresting dissidents — with pomp and melodrama and brute force that would give inspiration to Hollywood producers of action films for teenagers. Houses are burst into, doors knocked down, black hoods placed over heads and the victim herded off by throngs of policeman when one or two could have handily done the trick.

He describes the 2006 arrest of Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, after a throng of bare-chested police surrounded his sister’s house he was visiting. Pardon the long clip, but it’s good stuff.

“At the very instant when my sister unlocked the door, three men kicked the door open…with thundering noises.” When they came in and seized Gao, “one man sat on my mouth, another pulled my hair backward, quickly wrapping my mouth with yellowish tape. Then they pulled me on the floor, two big men stepped on my calves to keep me in a kneeling position. Then they wrapped the same tape around my eyes. After that, they put a sack over my head.”

He was taken to Beijing, barefoot, in a pair of shorts. His T-shirt had been torn into pieces. The same night in the 2nd Detention Center of Beijing (北京第二看守所), he was interrogated, locked in a metal chair by metal shackles with bright light shining on him on both sides. He was no longer referred to by his own name, but the number 815.

Four interrogators came in. One of them, who Gao Zhisheng believed was the head of the pack, paced back and forth in front of him. “815, now you have an idea how powerful our party is, don’t you? From what has happened today, have you not seen how powerful our party is?”

To apprehend a bare-foot man in his shorts who was not known for extraordinary martial prowess, two policemen would suffice. Okay four. But instead, you have dozens. Instead of wearing their uniforms which represent the legitimacy, dignity and authority of their job, they resorted to bare chests and dark glasses. From the head interrogator we know that the whole sequence was choreographed to show force. A lot can be said about the need to “shock and awe,” but why bare chests? Why dark glasses? What’s going on? Why does the head interrogator sound like a mafia boss? Why did he talk like that?

The detention of AiWeiwei last year was similarly theatrical. We’ve all seen stories about these arrests. We even know some people who had the honor of being hooded and whisked to secret jails.

Following the logic of Occam’s Razor, wouldn’t you think the reason for the pyrotechnics is simply to instill terror? Terror for those being hooded and those witnessing it and those who hear about it later? Terror works. It’s a scary thing to go up against the Chinese leadership, and you have to know that once you cross that red line anything goes, and you will be made an example. You will experience repression CCP-style.

Read the entire post. It’s witty and wryly written, but it is in no way funny.

(And I realize a lot of this is done at the local level, and not all dissidents are treated this way. But the party seems to welcome the publicity of such grandiose operations. Maybe it’s all part of its strategy to stay in power?)


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China’s sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Does this surprise you coming from a society where it’s considered a fair fight when 15 stick wielding punks attack one unarmed person or, as in the photos from a website about the protests against a factory recently not far from Shanghai, you see literally about 100 cops surrounding and taking down ONE guy???

August 7, 2012 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

Scary stuff. Why all the drama? Well, I think partly because there are people that actually get off on doing this kind of stuff to other human beings. Very Stanford Prison.

I read the other blog post. It all sounds like a modern day take on a feudal power-struggle, just with a few less beheadings.

P.S. I’ve sent you an email.

August 7, 2012 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

A fair fight is taking down a 14 year old riding a camel with $150,000 torpedoes

August 8, 2012 @ 1:39 am | Comment

Hate to be that guy, but this sort of stuff is not unique to China at all. Indeed, better bare chests than M4 carbines and riot gear (as most police raids in the US become.)

The real criticism shouldn’t be in the method, but in the targets–why marginalize these people?

August 8, 2012 @ 2:27 am | Comment

T-co, those raids with riot gear are usually aimed at criminals perceived to be dangerous, not mild-mannered barefoot attorneys sitting at home with sick relatives.

August 8, 2012 @ 2:59 am | Comment

Absolutely, this is to terrorize and nothing more. And it actually doesn’t show the party’s power. Any outfit could put on a similar show of excessive force for the sole purpose of terrorizing people. I imagine it’s a similar scenario when the mob comes through the door. The sad part is that the ccp mob is supposed to represent the law, when clearly they are a lawless bunch. So the only thing it shows is the lack of rule of law under the ccp…but that’s not news to anybody.

August 8, 2012 @ 3:33 am | Comment

Oh, and as for the targeting of people, it’s simply making an example of them as part of terrorizing the public.

August 8, 2012 @ 3:36 am | Comment

@T_co, the method’s are sufficiently bizarre as to warrant attention, but you’re right, the real focus should be the targets. Could it be that people are no longer shocked by reports such as this, so the reporters need to find something special about each case so as to make it stand out and grab people’s attention?

Nobody feed the troll this time.

August 8, 2012 @ 3:36 am | Comment

Yeah,I’m not sure why anyone should be that bothered by the fashion of these arrests more than the fact that they happen, and the way in which people are held incommunicado, often with close family members also being held. No-one cares when this happens to drug-dealers, it’s when it happens to innocent people as part of a concerted campaign of intimidation that people object.

August 8, 2012 @ 5:03 am | Comment

T-co, those raids with riot gear are usually aimed at criminals perceived to be dangerous, not mild-mannered barefoot attorneys sitting at home with sick relatives.

Are you aware that there have been 3-4 instances in which police have raided the wrong house and killed the inhabitant (singular) in America?

I mean I don’t understand what you get out of whitewashing the situation in America. Not to mention that America has more people in its jails than China does.

t_co is right and you’re doing dissidents a huge disservice by using them to advance American ideology.

August 8, 2012 @ 8:03 am | Comment

It’s true, American police have made mistakes on occasion. I suspect theyve actually made that mistake more than 3 or 4 times. But that’s the point and you’ve again missed it: in the US, it happens when a mistake is made, as humans are wont to do from time to time; in china, it’s very much intentional, which is quite a difference. You are once again comparing apples and oranges.

August 8, 2012 @ 9:15 am | Comment

What SKC said. Yes, there have been three or four mistakes. Each time they generated huge media publicity and public outcry. Arrests like these are made constantly in China and, of course, are never covered in the media.

August 8, 2012 @ 9:42 am | Comment

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