How to Handle Ex-Dissidents 101

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The following is a fascinating translation (partly cut back by me) by the excellent folks at China Digital Times which I am posting as I don’t believe there’s too much overlap between their readers and ours. It provides wonderful insight into the mindset of the police, their insistence on pretending that they are “friends” concerned with Ma’s welfare, giving him a friendly warning etc. It’s amazing how their tone and tactics are exactly the same as those adopted by secret police types in other interrogations I have read or been told about in places like Malaysia or Singapore.
Maybe they all go to the same secret policeman’s training school where they take classes in how to keep citizens in line without actually resorting to force. Veiled threats, innuendo and “guidance” (引导). Anyway, kudos to Ma for giving it back to them, though as he published this account I guess it’s hardly likely to make him look bad.

On October 13th this year, Ma Shaofang, one of the student organizers of the 1989 Tian’anmen hunger strike and now a businessman in Shenzhen, was invited to “tea” by local authorities to warn him of the sensitivity of his plans to attend a writers conference in Beijing during last month’s 17th Party Congress. Ma published the conversation he had with the agents of Ministry of State Security online. CDT translates part of Ma’s account of that conversation:

State Security Agents (State): You must be busy lately? Is the business doing well?

Ma: Enough of this. I heard from the “relevant departments” that people like us are not allowed to make big bucks. We’re just doing enough to make a living.

State: We haven’t bothered your business, have we?

Ma: Really? Unless I remember it wrong, you guys once talked to my partner and said [of me], “If we see him dealing with the company, your business will end.”
State: That’s because you did something we didn’t want you to do. Over last few years, you made any trouble for us trouble, so we haven’t made any trouble for you.
Ma: Is that so? You asked me to come over today. Isn’t this trouble?
State: How can you say this is trouble? We’re friends, isn’t it OK to have a cup of tea together?
Ma: It’s a pity we’re not sitting here as friends. Enough beating around the bush, let’s talk about why I am wanted today here.
State: Okay. Are you or are you not planning to go to Beijing in the next few days?
Ma: I am. I’m flying over tomorrow. Any problem?
State: You have to go?
Ma: Yes, a conference related to my business, I’ve got to go.
State: But do you know there’s a meeting in Beijing as well. Can you not go?
Ma: I know, propaganda everyday, how can I not know about the Beijing congress. But does this have anything to do with my business in Beijing? Is there a rule that says citizens cannot go to Beijing around these days?
State: We don’t mean this. Are you going to Beijing just for your business?
Ma: Simply about my business, nobody invited me to go to any non-business meetings. Plus, in times of peace, I believe there’s no such thing as a meeting that threatens the public.
State: Oh, if it’s only for business, then we won’t stop you. We just want remind you, during special times like this, if you go to attend your business, that’s fine, dut don’t do anything we wouldn’t want you to do.
Ma: What do you mean? What are the things you don’t want me to do? And why is it that I can’t do something simply because you don’t want me to do it? I’m a citizen, and I’m responsible for what I do. If I break the law, then I’ll be punished according to the law.
State: We are just kindly reminding you. If you break the law, of course there are corresponding punishments, and it will surely not be like this, sitting here drinking a cup of tea.
Ma: You mean interrogation. I have gone through that. But what is this reminder, really? A warning, or a threat?
State: We’re friends, and we don’t want our friends to run into trouble.
Ma: But, as I said, we are not sitting here as friends. We are the ruled and the ruler.
State: We don’t think this way.
Ma: It has nothing to do with whether you think so or not. This is a matter of fact, otherwise you wouldn’t be searching me out like this. And as I said over the phone, I don’t have time to beat around the bush. You said if I didn’t accept this invitation, it wouldn’t be good for me.
State: You know well what’s going on. You are smart, and you make money by playing with words (referring to my previous experience doing corporate consultancy), how can you not understand that we are here for your benefit?
State:…..We don’t care what thoughts you have. But if you act, then there will be legal consequences.
Ma: The law is to punish those who break the law. Did I break the law?
State: We are just reminding you not to.