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I Cannot Give Up: Record of a "Kidnapping"

April 1, 2009

Teng Biao

In this account of his kidnapping by the police in March 2008, Teng Biao, legal scholar and part-time human rights lawyer, tells how he came to have sympathy for his tormentors, who, in carrying out their duties in a thuggish system, ruined their own humanity.

It is precisely the system described in this recounting, engendering both fear and apathy, that millions of ordinary rights defenders like myself are attempting to change. I will not give up. Even if one day I disappear and cannot return.


On March 6, 2008, at 8:25 p.m., after buying books at the All Sages Book Garden, I called my wife and said I’d be home in about 20 minutes.

Around 8:40 p.m., I’d just parked the car and was about to close the door when I was surrounded by three or four middle-aged men. One of them pounded me heavily on the shoulders. “Aren’t you Teng Biao?”Without waiting for an answer, they forced me into a black sedan; only a few seconds later did it dawn on me that this was a kidnapping! I began to struggle and shout and scream, and kept at it for a full three minutes. I figured the noise was loud enough for the residents of the four surrounding apartment blocks and the district security to hear, but no one showed up. I was outnumbered, they had tied my hands behind my back, and I could not move. Once I was shoved into the car, I stopped shouting. No one could have heard me anyway, so I calmed down.

Beating is nothing, as my body can take it. But if these monsters were hired thugs instead of secret police, I’d be in even bigger trouble.

They had taken my glasses from me during the scuffle. It was completely dark in the car. There were four of them, one on either side of me, keeping my limbs firmly under control. They put a hood over my head, and the one on my left kept my hands behind me all the way, while the one on the right sat so that my head was forced back against the seat. Whenever I resisted, they would hurl filthy abuse at me—the one to my left was the worst.

I began to wonder who could be behind this. Very likely it was State Security. This was very similar to the kidnapping of lawyer Li Heping in October of [2007], and this time physical pain would be unavoidable. I would be taken to some godforsaken place, stripped naked, punched, prodded with electric batons, and thrown onto the roadside to make my way home in a cab on my own . . . . In less than two years, I had witnessed government acts of kidnapping twice. The first was in Linyi, Shandong Province, the day before Chen Guangcheng’s hearing, when Cheng Guangyu, an important witness, was abducted. The second time was on the floor below my home, when Shandong police kidnapped Chen’s mother and children. There have been many others: Chen Guangcheng was kidnapped on September 6, 2005; Gao Zhisheng on August 17, 2006; Hu Jia on February 16, 2006; Liu Zhengyou on April 16, 2006; Li Heping on September 30, 2007; and Qi Zhiyong on January 14, 2008. [In some of the human rights cases in which I have been involved, the parties, witnesses, and lawyers were kidnapped.]

Beating is nothing, as my body can take it. But if these monsters were hired thugs instead of secret police, I’d be in even bigger trouble. I’ve offended some officials and police during past cases; if they wanted to play dirty, then this would be even worse. I could lose an arm or a leg or end up like Fu Xiancai,1 beaten until I was paralyzed. It is not out of the question. When you get to this point, you just have to accept fate.

The car came to a stop after some 40 minutes. A dog barking nearby gave me the sense that we were in a rural suburb. Several men got out and took me into a room. From beginning to end I never knew any of their names. For now, I’ll just call them A, B, C, and D. Anonymous violence, anonymous crime.

The hood came off and they ordered me to stand in the middle of the room. Several men surrounded me, all with menacing expressions on their faces. One said, “Take the clothes off!” I thought, “Oh, this is bad, here it comes.” I did not move. And then, quite unexpectedly, he added, “Take off your jacket; it’s hot in here.”

One guy began to scold me. Call him E. He might have been A, B, C, or D, but I can’t be sure.

“Know why you’re here?”

“Who are you? What’s going on?” I asked loudly.

“We’re from the municipal bureau, not the mafia. Relax.”

“You have ID?”

“Not now, we’ll show it to you when the time comes.”

My left wrist hurt a lot from being pulled by them earlier; I kept moving it back and forth, like a boxer warming up pre-fight.

“What, you want to fight?” E said. “If you do that again and our guns go off, then what? Our guys have been waiting for you all day. If you provoke us again, can you take the consequences?”

A naked threat of violence. I suddenly recalled the morning, when my mother-in-law came to tell me that there was a suspicious vehicle downstairs with the engine running. I thought it was just the Changping District State Security wanting to get a look at me during the Two Congresses,2 routine business, nothing to worry about. Glancing down, I saw it wasn’t the familiar Santana; probably nothing to do with me. So, it was the tool for this crime!

I just stared at them, saying nothing. I looked up at the ceiling, trying hard not to look downward. There were two tables and several chairs in the room, curtains drawn tight over the windows, two lamps, and a radiator. Nothing else. The lamp directly in front of me was aimed at my eyes, but it wasn’t on. I suddenly thought of what Shanghainese petitioners called the “special interrogation room.” I supposed it would have strong lighting and video equipment. In any case, this was neither a hotel nor a residence. It was certainly an interrogation room. The next day when they opened the door, I was able to see that there was another interrogation room very similar to this one across the corridor. “There are rules here; if you don’t answer truthfully, don’t blame us for what happens!”

[The guard said,] “Don’t pit yourself against the government. We can take away your rice bowl, it’s easy for us, you know?” They meant my work, my livelihood. They can make it so you can’t find a job, can’t rent a house. That’s how they always handle thought criminals before they go to prison and after they get out.

I had read all afternoon and I was both tired and hungry, but what worried me most was my family. I made a proposal, “I’ll answer your questions, but on two conditions: first, I make a call to my wife; second, I get something to eat.”

They said a phone call was against the rules, but they would consider it. I got another scolding. These people are brainwashing experts; they have a strong desire to make speeches. But what comes out is all clichés, devoid of thought and confused in logic.

More than an hour later, a guy came back and said, “No phone calls, but you can send a text. What do you want to say?”

“I just want to tell her not to worry.”

“Just write, ‘Talking with friends.’”

He gave me the cell phone and I wrote, “Wife, don’t worry. Take care of our child. Talking with friends. Your loving husband.” They inspected the message for a while, decided it didn’t convey any additional information and let me send it. The time was 10:45 p.m., February 6.

She wouldn’t need to wonder whether the message really came from me to know I was in trouble, because I wouldn’t normally say things like “take good care of our child,” or “your loving husband.” That was exactly my intention.

After another hour, they brought me a take-out meal. The food was cold and stale, and there wasn’t enough. F said, “Eat up. You’ll get worse food inside.” “Inside” meant the detention center. The next step would be the detention center. They repeatedly hinted that inside would be worse.


E said, “If you get ten years and come out an old man, what’ll you be able to do then?”

“Don’t pit yourself against the government. We can take away your rice bowl, it’s easy for us, you know?”

They meant my work, my livelihood. They can make it so you can’t find a job, can’t rent a house. That’s how they always handle thought criminals before they go to prison and after they get out.

E said, “You’re going to be here a long time. In a moment, I’ll have my colleague read you the rules here.”

F was a burly guy in his thirties. I later learned that he was the chief of the guards.

“First, up at 6:00 a.m. for drill. Second, stand when police officers enter or leave and shout ‘Hello, Officer!’ Third, answer questions truthfully and loudly.”

The second rule was clearly intended to violate the dignity of the accused. There’s really no justice in having to stand up for this gang of secret police who treat freedom of thought as their enemy.

Two goons sat on either side of me, staring intently, ready to let me have it. I had to come up with ways to resist passively. I also knew that the thing that looked like a searchlight was for sure recording the whole thing. I would do my utmost to stay calm and self-confident every second.

Then two more people entered: according to their order of appearance, I should call them G and H. They were responsible for questioning and keeping notes; they were probably from the Preliminary Investigation Department [of the public security bureau]. I didn’t stand when they came in and E said, “You forgot the rules?” I stood up lazily, but I did not say “Hello, Officers.” (Afterwards, I continued to refuse to greet them or stand when they left. When they entered, I slowly made as if to rise, but most of the time, they would immediately indicate that I could sit. Sometimes, if I was eating or writing something, I pretended not to see them and they did not object.)

Two goons sat on either side of me, staring intently, ready to let me have it. I had to come up with ways to resist passively. . . . I would do my utmost to stay calm and self-confident every second.

Both E and F went out, leaving G, H, myself, and two guards, I and J, in the room. There were a total of six guards—I, J, K, L,M, and N. They kept a close watch 24 hours a day in three shifts. Two pairs of eyes were always watching me at close range, whether I was eating, sleeping, using the toilet, or thinking about things. All of a sudden I was reminded of the tele-screen in 1984. As I understand it, there are probably three objectives in a strict 24-hour close surveillance: prevent escape, prevent suicide, and report on the subject’s every move, including living habits, physical condition, psychological state, and emotional changes. They are said to have special brainwashing experts who detect a person’s weaknesses from these details and use them to launch psychological attacks. The brainwashing tactics can be adjusted whenever necessary. But it’s really ludicrous to have someone standing less than a meter away staring at you the whole time you are using the toilet, and I think it’s a considerable insult.

G and H started their formal questioning. G mainly asked the questions and H mainly kept notes. The questioning was interspersed with long screeds of “political and ideological education.”The crux of the evening of March 6 was:

“You gained entrance to Beijing University from the countryside and you got a doctorate as well. Now you are a university teacher and a lawyer, with a good family. Then why do you do these things? Why do you keep picking on our government’s shortcomings and even going overseas to publicize them? Why don’t you report these problems through the normal channels? Why don’t we see you out there praising the government when it does something good? Why don’t you have our national interest at heart? Just what are you thinking?”

When G got to the part about publishing articles overseas and patriotism, H seemed a bit agitated, and chimed in: “pandering to foreigners, stinking traitor.” I stared at him with contempt, and said nothing. But these brainwashers themselves are also victims of brainwashing education. They ought to be pitied instead.
G was not bad, not one of those barely human types. He said there were some similarities between his own experiences and mine: raised in poverty, entered university in 1992, and he too experienced China’s failed bid for the Olympics in 1993, etc. He said, “Your first thought was to call your wife, which shows that you still have a sense of responsibility; this is not bad. But have you given any thought to taking more responsibility for your country? Westerners don’t understand China to begin with, and if you only pick on and talk about the dark side, what sort of image will Westerners have of China?” (At other times, their logic was exactly the opposite. “What democracy? What rights defense? You ought to think more about your own family. If you go to jail, what will your wife and kids do?”)

Once they were all finished, I started talking. “I grew up in a poverty-stricken village; I understand very well the lives of those living at the bottom. After studying law in university, I paid even more attention to China’s human rights situation, and understood that defects in the political and legal system are the source of the people’s suffering. Following the Sun Zhigang incident3 I gradually became a so-called public intellectual, and I felt an even greater responsibility to do something concrete to advance the rule of law. I am a legal scholar and a part-time lawyer, and I felt that I must take up an intellectual’s responsibility: to tell the truth and to be a genuine person. These are the absolute minimum. But in the present circumstances, there are risks in telling the truth. I think these risks should be borne to a greater degree by those who are more well-known, who are knowledgeable, and who have some resources, rather than by the most helpless and afflicted people.

“In some of my articles and on a number of occasions I have affirmed the progress made with regard to human rights and, although I believe that this progress has been achieved at a great cost to people outside the government, I do not deny that persons working within the system have also made efforts. As an independent intellectual, I definitely will not always be praising or flattering [the government]. It’s my feeling that if the government does do something good, or accomplishes something, there will be a large number of writers, journalists, and scholars singing its praises and I certainly would not be missed. Independent intellectuals must look for problems. Even in a society with a good system [of government], there will always be all kinds of problems.

“As a father and a husband, I also have responsibility for the members of my family. Neither social responsibility nor family responsibility can be abandoned. For so many years I have kept the two in a difficult balance. Of course, I don’t want to go to jail, but I definitely don’t fear it.”

They desperately wanted to pin charges on me of “inciting subversion of state power” under Article 105, paragraph 2 [of the Criminal Law], based on articles I have written. I said, “I love my country, I love its people. I always have. That will not change. My thinking is that pointing out our country’s and government’s shortcomings and errors and actively helping her correct them is a deeper kind of love. Loyal advice grates on the ears, [but] concealment and deception can only harm her. Because of the division of labor, intellectuals are most likely to know the drawbacks of the system. Rather, to know and to keep silent is the irresponsible thing. I have so much love for my motherland, how could I possibly incite others to overthrow state power? I specialize in the law and have handled cases of inciting subversion of state power. I am very clear that my articles do not constitute a crime.”


After 2:00 a.m., they finally let me sleep. (On January 18, 2008, my interrogation by the state security police at the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau lasted until midnight. As I’d gotten up at 5:00 a.m. that morning, by 11:00 p.m., I couldn’t take it any longer and kept saying, “I’m tired, I’m tired.” It was under those circumstances that the transcript was made.) They brought a mattress and I fell asleep as soon as I lay down. I was not allowed to turn off the lights. Two guards sat up watching me; they were less free than I was.

Fortunately, they didn’t wake me at 6:00 am. I don’t know what time I woke up. I saw how sleepy the guards looked and I said, “You’ve got it hard.” I wasn’t being sarcastic, I just felt sorry for them. They were guards and they were thugs, but they lost their own freedom when they deprived others of their freedom. When they beat someone else, weren’t they also ruining their own humanity?

I folded the blankets, washed, ate breakfast, and waited for them to continue their questioning.

It was again G and H who did the questioning on March 7. They had copies of some of my articles and interviews, about 15 of them, including “The Real Situation in Pre-Olympics China” (《奥运前的中国真相》), “We Cannot Sit Back and Wait for a Better Society to Arrive” (《我们不能坐等美好的社会到来》), “What Does the Arrest of Hu Jia Mean?” (《抓捕胡佳意味着什么?》), “An Explanation of ‘The Real Situation in Pre-Olympics China’” (《关于<奥运前的中国真相>一文的说明》), “Civic Virtue and Civic Responsibility in the Post-totalitarian Era” (《后极权时代的公民美德与公民责任》), and so on. Some sentences were underlined. Clearly, these were places they considered “out of line.” I had to sign each page. I was questioned about each word, each phrase.

I said, “I love my country, I love its people. I always have. That will not change. My thinking is that pointing out our country’s and government’s shortcomings and errors and actively helping her correct them is a deeper kind of love. . . . Rather, to know and to keep silent is the irresponsible thing.”

G made a speech to the effect that in front of me there were two paths: I could enter the judicial process— criminal detention, arrest, trial, sentencing. Or, with a little better attitude, I could try to get clemency and, after a period of time, be released. He had a good impression of me, said I was a man of good character, a high-level intellectual, the kind of talent the country needs. What was significant was that before he left, he said in an almost pleading tone, “Teng Biao, just say you were wrong, even if it goes against your convictions. Look at it as a favor to me.”He was trying to be nice to me: with a good attitude, I could get off lightly. At the same time, if they could not report an “ideological conversion” on my part in the record, they, too, probably wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

The longer I was in there, the more I hated this system. Yet at the same time, the more sympathy I had for those who had to implement the system. Some people lose their freedom in fighting for their own freedom, as well as for the freedom of those who deprive them of their freedom. Vaclav Havel said that, under a totalitarian system no one is simply a victim, without being at the same time (to a greater or lesser degree) a collaborator. In other words, there is no villain who is not at the same time a victim. For example, these men were only able to mechanically carry out orders; they did not have the right to distinguish the good from the bad. Each one must have his own difficulties, embarrassment, suffering.

I just felt sorry for them. They were guards and they were thugs, but they lost their own freedom when they deprived others of their freedom. When they beat someone else, aren’t they also ruining their own humanity?

Only H was left to take notes. Two guards. Me. I found it a bit embarrassing to be part of such a picture. This is the 21st century, and here were Chinese, genuinely or falsely, helping to brainwash another Chinese. It made me think of the writer in the movie The Lives of Others, whose life touched and even changed the life of the person secretly watching over him. From their questioning, I came to understand that they had read everything I had written very carefully; I felt they couldn’t remain unaffected. If this was the case, my words had not been in vain. For the sake of this special group of serious readers, I should not stop writing, and strive to write even better things.

At approximately 2:00 p.m., H finished his questioning and left, and I could rest for a while. Even without interrogators on the scene, they were very likely to videotape everything. I had to let them see that I felt serene and magnanimous inside; that I had no fear or panic, no frustration or regret; and that there was no possibility of me surrendering and making a deal. Jail can imprison the body, but cannot lock up the nobleness of the soul. I closed my eyes, relaxed, and gently recited the Tang and Song poems I know by heart: five and seven-character verses, from “Bringing in the Wine” (《将进酒》) [by Li Bai] to “Moonlight on the Spring River” (《春江花月夜》) [by Zhang Ruoxu]. I quietly recalled the melodies of music I most loved, from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.”

The day before I dreamed that I secretly slipped out of Building 41 at Peking University to call my wife; I told her I was being guarded and must find a way to get out. What is thought of by day is dreamed of at night. I longed to make that call. Building 41 was where I lived as an undergraduate. Perhaps my present confinement was symbolic of my inevitable fate following university? If so, it was when I began to open my eyes and see the world, when I began to listen to the inner calling of my own heart that my inevitable fate took shape. . . .

I missed home. I missed my daughter. Qiao’er had been at her grandmother’s house for two days and those were two days I was busy with work and did not go see her. The reason I called my wife last night was that I wanted us to go see our daughter.

I didn’t know when I could get back to them. A month? A year? Three years? Even though these guys threatened me with ten years, I didn’t think that was possible. Five years were the usual. For my few articles, it couldn’t be longer than five years. Li Yuanlong got two years for his four articles, but I could not use that as the standard.4 That’s the highest “bill” for writers imprisoned for “incitement to subvert state power” in recent years. Moreover, support from the outside world might bring a 20 percent discount in the sentence. . . .

The longer I was in there, the more I hated this system. Yet at the same time, the more sympathy I had for those who had to implement the system.

There are so many things I want to say to my wife. I wrote a poem [for her] in my mind and memorized it. In the afternoon I asked for a pen and wrote it down. I called it “To My Wife, from Prison.” The guards found my poem and took it away; I hope they regarded it as a literary work, rather than a “hidden head” poem5 or a political manifesto.

I sit facing the prison wall
Making a poem for you, my love
Tonight, the stars still shine in the cold, lonely night sky
Among the low bushes, fireflies flash and fade


Please tell our child I didn’t get to
Say goodbye this time. Tell her Daddy had to go on a long trip
Please, every night when she goes to sleep
Every morning when she wakes, kiss her tenderly


Take her to stroke the herbs growing below the fence
If, on some bright, sunny morning,
She can observe the dew on the leaves
She will sense the depth of my love for her


Please, after you’ve watered the lilacs, play the Song of the Homebound Fishermen
And know that I hear it, my love,
Care for those silent, happy goldfish
In that silence hides my rich and tumultuous youth


I am walking a rough uneven track
But I have never stopped singing, my love
The roadside willows slowly change color
The wind carries muted sounds of snow melting far away


All sound is held in the quiet; the nights here are supremely simple
When you think of me do not sigh, my love
The river of my pain and the river of my joy have converged
They have coursed through my body for a very long time


Before this light rain stops
I will once again return to your side, my love
In the rain, in the rain, how can I wipe away your tears
—I’ll use my soul, now redeemed



With paper and pen in hand, I felt much better. I practiced calligraphy, and wrote out Tang poems from memory. I have been fond of calligraphy from an early age. I love the feeling of forgetting myself and the world when I’m immersed in calligraphy. If any of the guards understood calligraphy, I might be allowed in the future to bring brush, paper, ink, and ink stone from home. . . .

In the afternoon, F came for a while. “You have time to write poetry! Get busy and write about your thinking and understanding. I am responsible for watching you. I have nothing to do with how they deal with you. I’m saying this for your own good. Those who have got out of here in the past all wrote these things. In my experience, those who did a good job got out sooner.”

To hell with his thinking and understanding!

Okay, I wrote it down. I organized what I said yesterday and titled it “My Thoughts”: Concern for human rights, promotion of the rule of law, freedom of thought, independent critique, intellectuals’ responsibility, refuse to lie, tell the truth, and so on, and signed it, “Teng Biao, Chinese citizen.”

F read it and said, “You might as well not write anything if you were going to write this! Will the higher-ups be happy with this? How about writing a different one? I'll keep this one for you.”He took it away, along with the poem.

The “higher-ups” would certainly see this “ideological report” and the poem too. F wanted to get me to write more, but I wouldn’t do it—writing more would only make the higher-ups angrier, and the consequences more serious.

After dinner, E gave another lecture, and then said, “Our leader will arrive momentarily, which shows that your case is very important.” The “leader” soon entered, not short, sturdy, with short hair. He looked to be not yet  40. According to our alphabetical order, he should be O.

O is a lecture maniac. In the space of nearly two hours, he never stopped as he ranted his big principles. He cut off any interruptions, saying, “I’m not finished.”When he did finish, he left, giving me no opportunity for rebuttal. I know that some professors whose thinking has become ossified, always slip out as soon as they finish, not giving their students the chance to question them.

I’ve seen too much of the ideological work that State Security does, at least thirty or forty times. They go round and round and have only four or five approaches. O was no exception. Briefly, the main points were as follows:

  1. The Nationalism Theory: What country is without shortcomings? The United States is good? A lot more of this goes on in the U.S. than in China. Posting articles on foreign reactionary websites slandering our government—what kind of behavior is that? Has it been easy for the Communist Party of China to achieve what it has? Have you ever been to the Forbidden City? Have a look at the huge jars there for storing water, the knife marks on them—all the gold plating was pried off by the foreign imperialist aggressors. If we lag behind today, doesn’t this have something to do with imperialist aggression?
  2. The Smashing Rocks with Eggs Theory: The main reason I have come is to tell you that the government is not afraid of you. Has the government ever been afraid of anybody? Do not attempt to pit yourself against the formidable government. Wei Jingsheng, XuWenli6—they were much more well-known than you, but we sentenced them when we felt like it; did we hesitate? Who do you think you are? Once we (the department) have you in our sights, can there be a good ending for you? And you can forget about leaving the country! Let me tell you, whenever you get out this time, you can forget about doing rights defense work! [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice brought up Hu Jia’s7 case during her recent visit and do you know how our Ministry of Foreign Affairs answered her? “We have our own laws, you don’t need to be concerned!” And what about Gao Zhisheng?8 Now, honestly, I can call him in here to work on you—do you believe me?
  3. The Bad Law is Still Law Theory: Some people say that Article 105, paragraph 2 of the Criminal Law [inciting subversion of state power] should be abolished. Don’t talk to me about this. Our mission is precisely to defend this article. As long as it has not been repealed, it has the force of law and we will enforce it. If we do not enforce it, we have failed in our duty. When we finished Gao Zhisheng, Hu Jia came along. We arrested Hu Jia, and then Teng Biao came along. If you still want to “inherit Hu Jia’s cause,” fine. We will use Article 105 to deal with you!
  4. The Family Responsibility Theory: You’re doing so well, have an apartment, a car—you drive a [Ford] Fox, I drive a Chery; your apartment is more than 140 square meters; mine is 90 square meters. Your work is great, your family harmonious. You have to give more thought to your responsibility to your family. Your kid is so young. When she asks where her Daddy has gone, what will her mother say?

Yet O expressed respect for me personally. He said, “Apart from your wife and immediate family members, I am the one who understands you the most. You’re a man of good character and good nature, and your articles are well-written. . . .” Before I got out, a good friend comforted my wife, saying that I was a man of good character, so maybe I wouldn’t be beaten. I don’t think this is necessarily so. Not all those “inside” people would understand your character; furthermore, if “do not beat a good person” is their principle, then “do not arrest good people” should also be one.

O said, at the end, “We can also go through the formal judicial process, but it is too much trouble—you need this form and that form. We would rather take the approach of educating and rehabilitating—give you another chance; but we look not only at the position you take this time, but also what you do from now on.”

I fell asleep after 10:00 p.m.; I had said nothing the whole night.


Woke up at 6:00 a.m. Washed up, exercised a bit in the room.

G came in and asked what I planned to do.

I gave him a few thoughts: 1) Individual sentences and wordings in my articles were in fact inappropriate in places, and some quotations were not verified. From now on, I would pay attention to such things. 2) From now on, I would focus more on teaching and academic research. 3) Before the end of the Olympics, I would not write articles about the Olympics and Hu Jia’s case. (This was Beijing State Security’s request of me on February 22 and I made a written statement. Judging from the situation at the time, if I did not comply the university would dismiss me immediately; I didn’t lose much in complying. The objective of this kidnapping was none other than to get me to write less.)

I had to hold firm to my bottom line: no harm must come to others; I must not cooperate with the authorities in any shape or form, such as accepting work from them, or providing information; I must not plead guilty; I must not give up my right to write after this.

A compromise was necessary, so that I could return to my family sooner. But I had to hold firm to my bottom line: no harm must come to others; I must not cooperate with the authorities in any shape or form, such as accepting work from them, or providing information; I must not plead guilty; I must not give up my right to write after this. One must not betray the first two points even if it means a long prison term. (But I fully understand someone writing a pledge or a confession under torture or great psychological pressure. Would there be any shame in writing “I love the kidnappers,” while under great duress from them? Does a pledge written while under threat count? What is more serious than the physical pain a person must bear? What faith or ideal can be damaged by a person who is being forced to abandon them?)

Following this I said, “I hope you will release me within 48 hours, that is, before 8:40 p.m. tonight. This is because of several personal situations: first, my mother-in-law is a periodic mental patient. She was ill in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2006. If something happens to me, she is likely to relapse. Second, I have to take my child to kindergarten every day. Third, I lecture on Monday and need at least a day to prepare. Fourth, some of my friends will for sure issue a joint appeal for my release, human rights organizations will also issue an appeal and protest, and the media won’t fail to report it; this will not be good for the government. Some organizations might wait 48 hours before declaring a person missing and making a response. I do not mean to make threats; I am only considering the image of the government and the Olympics.

 “Finally, if you are not prepared to release me tonight, then I need some toiletries and other necessities: underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a towel, socks, razors, but also some books. As long as I have a book, I can sit quietly and read and no matter how long it is I won’t cause you any trouble.”

G went to report to his superiors. A few minutes later, he brought me toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a towel. “You can brush your teeth, but we can’t do anything about underwear.” Did it mean they weren’t preparing to release me?

G came again at noon. I asked if he had conveyed my request to his higher-ups. He gave another big speech, the crux of which was that they would release me.

Lunch was very good. I ate a total of six meals inside, each one better than the last.

After lunch, the guards were changed to P and Q. Q looked at the calligraphy I’d done with my pen and asked, have you studied the style of Liu Gongquan? I said yes, but I had done more of the Yan style, and had made some effort on the “Yan Qin Li Stele.”9 He said that he also did calligraphy, and that during a period of depression, he did calligraphy as a way of regulating his mood. “Yes,” I said, “calligraphy can purify the soul. . . .”

G entered and returned the things that they had confiscated—my wallet, keys, cell phone. “You cannot turn the phone on now. Wait until you get home to use it.”

P and Q put a light green hood on me. G said, “Sorry to have mistreated you.”“I understand,” I replied. As they escorted me out, they prompted me politely. “Step up,” “head down,”“get into the car.” Along the way, G and I talked about our children’s education. He has a 6-year-old daughter. Her mother always wants to involve her in a lot of things, and enrolls her in all kinds of activities and classes. I said that this was wrong. Children should be allowed to play more with others their own age, get close to nature, be taken out into the countryside and wilderness, to count the stars. The most important thing is to give children free space . . . . We shouldn’t teach our children that the only or highest goal is to win through competition, or that money, status, and fame are the most important things in life; a rich inner life, a soul with the ability to experience happiness, love and beauty—these comprise the never-ending riches of life.

A friend said to me: “The police came to investigate, but no witness was willing to come forward. A nation of people like this—is it worth your fighting for their freedom and human rights?”

He felt that what I said was very reasonable. I don’t know if he understood the double meaning in what I said.

After approximately 40 minutes, we arrived near my home, the hood came off, and we said goodbye. It was a black Jetta, no license plates.


When Qiao’er saw me, she was so happy that she just lay on the floor. I picked her up. I wanted to cry.

My wife had not expected me to return so early. She said she’d planned an afternoon swim to get into physical and emotional shape for the long and arduous work of rescuing me.

I looked at my watch. It was 1:40 p.m.

My friends all said that her performance was brilliant, discussing countermeasures with them, reporting the case, giving interviews, calm and collected, with just the right degree of assurance. She made a detailed written record of what had happened following the incident, every telephone call, every interview.

March 8, 7:20 a.m. I woke up and it was very quiet. I didn’t dare think too much; if I did, the tears would come.

March 8, 7:44 a.m. Teacher Xu called to see how things were and told me not to worry. I cried uncontrollably.

I didn’t want her to cry again because I have gone missing. But I didn’t know whether I could become master of my own fate.

A friend said to me, “You struggled and shouted for Three minutes downstairs, but no one dared to come out and see what was happening. The police came to investigate, but no witness was willing to come forward. A nation of people like this—is it worth your fighting for their freedom and human rights?”


It is precisely this system, engendering both fear and apathy in them, that millions of ordinary rights defenders like myself are attempting to change. Even if it were only so that my daughter can no longer live in fear, I cannot give up my dream, my writing, my actions, my love.

I will not give up. Even if one day I disappear and cannot return.

I would like to thank Xiao Han, Xu Zhiyong, Wang Tiancheng, Pu Zhiqiang,Wang Jianxun, Liu Xiaobo, Wang Debang, Li Fangping, Han Yicun, Li Heping, Jiang Tianyong, Zan Aizong, Li Subin, Zhang Jiankang, Cheng Hai, Wang Guangze, Ling Cangzhou, Li Jingsong, Fairytale Big Sister, Zeng Jinyan, Fan Yafeng, Shen Lang, Wen Kejian, Zhang Lun, Yang Chunping, Qi Zhiyong, Li Xiongbing, Zhang Lihui, Li Jianhong, Chen Guangfu, Li Baiguang, Li Xiaorong, Zhang Jialing, Zhang Min, Zhang Yu, Chen Xin, Albert Ho, Jerome Cohen, Eva Pils, Mark Allison, Keith Hand, Jim Yardley, Jeffrey Prescott, Ingrid Jung, Christile Drulhe, Xia Ming, He Linna, Ma Laiya, Hu Ping, Lu Jinghua, Yang Jianli, Sheng Xue, Wang Dan, Wang Juntao and others; Human Rights Watch, China Human Rights Defenders, Yale-China Law Center, Independent Chinese PEN Center, PEN USA, China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, China Aid Association, Human Rights in China (HRIC), and World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Many friends, journalists and institutions gave me timely help and warm regards, but I cannot mention their names here.

Translated by J. Latourelle. Previously published in Ren Yu Ren Quan, Human Rights in China’s Chinese language electronic journal, in February 2009.

Editor’s Notes

1. Fu Xiancai is one of dozens of villagers who have been harassed, injured or detained over the past 10 years for petitioning and protesting the conditions imposed on those resettled for the Three Gorges Dam project. Fu came under increased surveillance, and he and his family members were subjected to chilling harassment, threats, assaults and injuries by mafia elements. In June 2008, Fu was assaulted by an unknown assailant and his neck fractured. Fu is currently paralyzed from his shoulders down and has lost control of all bodily functions except his ability to speak. Human Rights in China (HRIC), “The Case of Fu Xiancai,” China Rights Forum, 2006, no. 3, ^

2. Annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. ^

3. In 2002, Sun Zhigang was beaten to death while being held in detention as a vagrant, under the Measures for Internment and Deportation of Urban Vagrants and Beggars. Teng Biao, along with two other lawyers, called for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to review the constitutionality of the Measures. The Measures were repealed unilaterally, but without a legal review of their constitutionality. See “Sun Zhigang’s Brutal Killers Sentenced,” China Daily, June 10, 2003, ^

4. See HRIC, “Journalist Li Yuanlong Indicted for Subversion,” February 24, 2006, ^

5. Similar to an acrostic poem. When the lines of the poem are lined up, reading the first character of each line from top to bottom reveals hidden words, thoughts, ideas, etc. ^

6. Wei Jingsheng is a democracy activist famous for writing “The Fifth Modernization” during the Democracy Wall Movement in 1978-79.He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1979, and, after his release, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1995. In 1997, he was released to move to the U.S. See HRIC, “A Travesty of Justice: The Show Trial of Wei Jingsheng,” December 12, 1995, Xu Wenli is the co-founder of the China Democracy Party and was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1998. See HRIC, “China Democracy Party Founders Hit with Harsh Sentences,” December 21, 1998, ^

7. Hu Jia is a renowned HIV/AIDS activist and human rights defender who is currently serving a three-and–a-half-year sentence for subversion of state power. In October of 2008, he was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. See HRIC, “HRIC Congratulates Hu Jia, Recipient of 2008 Sakharov Prize,” October 23, 2008, ^

8. Gao Zhisheng worked as an attorney and human rights defender and made statements critical of the government’s treatment of Falun Gong practitioners and other marginalized groups. He was abducted from his hometown in Shaanxi on February 4, 2009, and his whereabouts are currently unknown. See HRIC, “Torture Account by Missing Rights Defense Lawyer Gao Zhisheng,” February 8, 2009, ^

9. The Yan Qin Li Stele of Yan Zhenqing (709–785 AD), one of China’s noted calligraphers. Yan, an outspoken intellectual, served as governor of Pingyuan (now areas of Henan and Shandong), Minister of Works, and Minister of Law during the Tang Dynasty. Yan’s style greatly influenced calligraphers following him, and the Yan Qi Li Stele is considered his masterpiece. For images of the full Yan Qinli Stele, see “Yan Qin Li Bei” [颜真卿颜勤礼碑], China the Beautiful [锦绣中华之一页], ^

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