Alice Xin Liu: In China’s murky censorship machine detention is rarely legal
Alice Xin Liu: In China's murky censorship machine detention is rarely legal
08 Oct 10

Last month, Xie Chaoping, author of The Great Migration, was detained for 30 days on the trumped up charge of operating an illegal business. The Great Migration is about the repairing of the Sanmen dam in Weinan, Shaanxi Province and the residents who were forced to move off their land. “Xie thinks he’s being persecuted because he’s disclosed embezzlement, local government wrongdoing, migrants’ suffering and land disputes,” reported the Guardian. After his release on 17 September, Xie was interviewed by various Chinese media such as the famous Southern Group magazines, where he discussed the events that led to his imprisonment and talked about the distress he felt behind bars. On the thirtieth day of his detention, when he was summoned to court, he scrawled a note just in case he was sentenced, whereupon he would hand the note to someone. It read:

“One day, history will pass judgment on the person who concocted this arrest warrant. Using the constitution, corrupt officials and their servants have created a literary inquisition. These people will definitely be nailed to history’s hall of shame. Long live true democratic rule of law.”

It turned out that he didn’t need the note, because he was released later that day.

In a similar case, a schoolteacher under the alias Yuan Ping was detained in late September and released after only a few days by the authorities in the manufacturing city of Dongguan, Guangdong province. He wrote about the sex industry there, which is underpinned by the migrant workers community, at a time when police are trying to eradicate the culture altogether.

The search engine Baidu’s Baike, which has the best gloss on recent events, describes the subject of the novel as “mainly describing a normal worker who arrives in Dongguan and tries to make a career, whilst criticising social realities”. The gist of the story is one person’s first-hand look at Dongguan’s sex industry. Local authorities objected to the depiction of their city and attempted to nail Yuan on pornography and obscenity charges, but in fact they had no legitimacy for arresting him – and it’s purported that they didn’t even read the book.

It’s a strange situation. The police are directly involved in local efforts to censor books, but the legal grounds for such censorship are unclear. What they didn’t anticipate, however, was that by detaining these authors, the authorities stirred up more interest in their books than was previously possible.