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Internet Dissident Wang Xiaoning Released from Jail; He Depu Portrays Prison Life with Wang

August 31, 2012

Human Right in China (HRIC) has learned that Beijing political dissident Wang Xiaoning (王小宁) was released from prison today. Wang served 10 years at the Beijing Municipal No. 2 Prison on conviction of “inciting subversion of state power” and is subject to two years of post-release deprivation of political rights.

Wang’s case is one of several that resulted from Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. providing information about its users to Chinese police. Other cases include Shi Tao (师涛), a journalist sentenced to 10 years for “illegally providing state secrets overseas,” Li Zhi (李智), a dissident from Sichuan sentenced to eight years, and Jiang Lijun (姜力钧), a rights activist from Liaoning sentenced to four years, both for “inciting subversion of state power.”

Wang’s wife Yu Ling (俞陵)* and their son met Wang in the early morning of August 31 in the Zhanlanlu police substation in Beijing’s Xicheng District and accompanied him home.

Yu said that Wang had to serve out his full sentence because he never admitted guilt. “As his wife, I respect his choice and I have no complaint,” she said. Yu added that while Wang was in prison, family members were often harassed by the authorities—they were followed, watched, and were photographed and videotaped. She is not optimistic the family will be able to live peacefully like normal people after Wang’s release. “[Wang] is leaving a small prison only to enter a big prison,” she said.

Wang Xiaoning, 62, was criminally detained by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security on September 1, 2002. 

He was accused of “attacking and libeling China's current political system and social system” by disseminating articles “opposing the leadership of Communist Party of China and the Four Cardinal Principles,” writing and editing political commentaries and then distributing them using Yahoo!, publicizing the formation of a political party, and publishing articles in electronic publications overseas. 

During Wang’s detention at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security Detention Center, the police made violent, though unsuccessful, attempts to extract a confession from him. Wang was also subjected to various abuses in prison.

The Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court convicted Wang in September 2003. Wang’s ten-year prison sentence is among the heaviest given to those convicted of “inciting subversion to state power.” (In December 2009, Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), who would become the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was  sentenced to 11 years, and in March 2011, democracy activist Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌) was sentenced to ten years.) 

Wang’s life in prison is the subject of an essay by fellow inmate and dissident He Depu (何德普), who was released in January 2011 after serving eight years also on conviction of “inciting subversion of state power.” Below is an English translation of the essay by HRIC. 

Welcoming the Release of Imprisoned Writer Wang Xiaoning: A Recollection of Wang Xiaoning and Other Friends from Prison

He Depu

August 2012

[English translation by Human Rights in China]

On August 31, 2012, imprisoned writer Wang Xiaoning (王小宁) will be released after serving ten years in jail. On that day, he will exit the prison gates and his life in a small jail will be at an end.

On September 1, 2002, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of National Security took Wang Xiaoning from his home and conducted a search there. The following year, the Beijing No. 1 Municipal Intermediate People’s Court convicted him of inciting subversion of state power and sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights. In its verdict, the court wrote, “The defendant Wang Xiaoning has slandered and incited subversion of state power and the socialist system through means of writing, reposting articles compiled in an online newsletter, and sending a large number of e-mails. He has endangered state security. His actions constitute the crime of inciting subversion of state power. He has committed a major crime and should be penalized in accordance with the law. The defendant Wang Xiaoning also colluded with hostile overseas organizations and individuals to commit the crime of inciting subversion of state power. He should be severely penalized in accordance with the law.”

On November 4, 2002, I was detained by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Domestic Security Squad, and my home was searched. One year later, I was convicted of the same crime by Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court and sentenced to eight years, with two years’ deprivation of political rights.

I knew Wang Xiaoning before his arrest. We had met and spoken many times on a number of subjects—the people’s livelihood, civil rights, elections, promoting freedom in China, democracy, the rule of law, constitutional governments. We had also talked about Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, the China Democracy Party established by the mainland civil political opposition, the China Third Way Party that Wang Xiaoning had formed, and the China Social Democratic Party led by Liu Guokai (刘国凯).

Over Ten Political Prisoners Were Detained in Beijing Municipal No. 2 Prison in Those Years

On April 2, 2004, I was escorted to Beijing Municipal No. 2 Prison (“No. 2 Prison”) to serve my sentence. Wang Xiaoning, Yang Zili (杨子立), Jin Haike (靳海科), and Xu Wei (徐伟) were all sent to No. 2 Prison together in early May that year. Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zha Jianguo (查建国), and Gao Hongming (高洪明) had already been serving sentences in No. 2 Prison for many years, and Yang Jianli (杨建立) and Sun Gang (孙刚) were also in No. 2 Prison at the time. Back then, all of our prison personal records were stamped with the words “special supervision” (特管). Prisoners under special supervision were those defined by the Bureau of Justice as having endangered state security.

In June 2004, Jin Haike and I were serving in Team 4 (Violent Offenders) of Block 2; Wang Xiaoning was in Team 1 (a.k.a. the Sick Team or the Old, Weak, and Infirm Team) of Block 1; Yang Zili was in Team 7 (Computer Team), Block 3; and Xu Wei was in Team 13 (Manufacturing Team), Block 5. Hu Shigen was on Team 5 (Violent Offenders), Block 2; Zha Jianguo on Team 17 (Violent Offenders), Block 6; Gao Hongming on Team 18 (Violent Offenders), Block 6; Yang Jianli on Team 14 (Violent Offenders), Block 5; and Sun Gang was on Team 3 (Foreign Nationals), Block 1. There were some other political prisoners as well whose names I cannot recall right now—I’ll ask that Sun Gang and others add to the list. Also imprisoned in No. 2 Prison back then were a number of the so-called “June Fourth thugs.”

The first time that I saw Wang Xiaoning after he was sentenced was at the iron fence between Blocks 1 and 2. It was in June 2004. Wang Xiaoning and I had the same recreational period and my block was behind his, so, objectively, we had the opportunity to meet up.

I could see Wang Xiaoning on the other side of the fence, walking around the basketball court in front of his block. His hair was cropped close, but, though it was short, I could see patches of white hair all over his head. I could tell from Wang Xiaoning’s words and the look in his eyes as we stood close talking that he was just as resolute as he was prior to his arrest. He was without regret for all that he did in the past and full of expectation for social progress and his future....

I spent more than a year in Block 2. I spoke a number of times with Hu Shigen upstairs in Team 5 and several times with Wang Xiaoning and Sun Gang across the iron fence. I also passed information to Yang Zilin in Block 3 on the south side of mine.

In autumn 2005 I applied to change teams. The prison arranged for me to be transferred to Team 17, Block 6. I had for a time lost the opportunity to meet with Wang Xiaoning, but I did have the chance to communicate with other political prisoners. I should also note that I served over a day with Zha Jianguo on Team 17. After a day, Zha Jianguo was transferred to Team 4, which amounted to the prison having arranged a swap of me for Zha Jianguo.

Two years later, in the summer of 2007, the Sick Team, which Wang Xiaoning was in, was transferred en masse to Team 16 in Block 6, where I was, taking up a whole floor. (This was because all of Block 1 was to hold foreign nationals. Originally there were only two dozen or so people in the Foreign Nationals Team, but later the number grew to around 200 people.) I spent three full years in Block 6. During that time, I met Yang Jianli from Block 5 on a number of occasions and kept in contact with Xu Wei indirectly. And I had so many occasions to meet up with Wang Xiaoning—I could see him every day.

Our living conditions were poor back then. The biggest killer was the food, which was so bad that it could not get any worse. I was most worried about Wang Xiaoning’s health—how long could his body hold up? Of the dozen political prisoners in No. 2 Prison back then, Wang Xiaoning was the oldest and he was serving the longest sentence.

Wang Xiaoning Was the First to Be Sentenced to Ten Years for “Inciting Subversion”

I was sentenced to eight years in prison by the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court for inciting subversion of state power in October 2003. At the time, I thought that I had received the longest sentence for this crime. To my recollection, previously “inciting subversion of state power” was a far lighter “sin” than “subversion of state power,” and thus the sentence would be much shorter; for the former, it never went more than five years. In the latter case, they generally start with a heavy sentence, with many of ten years or more, e.g. Qi Yongmin (秦永敏): 12 years; Hu Mingjun (胡明军): 11 years; Li Dawei (李大伟): 11 years; Jin Haike (靳海科): 10 years; Xu Wei (徐伟): 10 years.

I had not expected that one month prior to my own conviction, Wang Xiaoning had become the first person to be given a ten-year prison sentence on conviction of “inciting subversion.” He was the first political criminal in the history of modern China to be sentenced to ten years in prison on conviction of this charge. While I was in prison, Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) broke Wang Xiaoning’s record: he was sentenced to 11 years in prison when the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court convicted him of “inciting subversion of state power” in December 2009.

When I learned that Wang Xiaoning had been given a ten-year sentence, my first reaction was that we had to let the international community know of such a huge event, and that we had to ask human rights groups and the international media to follow his case. Such a heavy sentence was, for Wang Xiaoning, too unjust. The Beijing Municipal Bureau of National Security really dared to resort to such cruel measures.

He Maintained His Innocence throughout Ten Years in Jail

At the end of 2004, the Prison Administrative Bureau issued a document on increasing sentence commutation. If a “criminal” were to admit their guilt, repent, and actively reform himself, his sentence could be reduced from ten to 12 months for every 60 points earned. For all of the inmates at the time, this information was exceptionally good and tempting. (The previous method of sentence commutation took off very little time, up to only two months per year.) Those who earned a perfect score could have a year commuted for a year served, and those commended by the bureau could receive an additional five months’ reduction.

Prison leaders have always viewed ideological reformation of political prisoners as a top priority of their job. Prisoners’ awareness and admission of their crimes and their repentance were included in their work assessment. Guards who succeed in their conversion work would be recognized and rewarded as per the relevant regulations.

From Team 4, where I was, Block Head Liu Fuli (刘富立) and Wang Wenli (王文立), a disciplinary officer, sought me out many times, asking me to admit guilt and saying that if I did, I’d get a “points record card.” “You guys with good writing skills can write propaganda pieces for the prison. Others won’t be able to earn the kind of points you’d earn. With your skills, you’d at least be able to go home a good few years ahead of schedule. The prison leadership would value you greatly, and the block leadership could find you a suitable post, and let you earn perfect score....”

I believe that Wang Xiaoning and other political prisoners at the jail were in more or less the same situation at the time.

Over more than six years, on the question of why Wang Xiaoning had maintained his innocence, the answers I received from the prison guards and other inmates in the Sick Team were: “Wang Xiaoning is really dense, he’s too dumb. If he’d admit guilt, he could go home much earlier.” “Other well-known political prisoners didn’t admit any guilt because they were planning something in the future, and that’s still excusable. Are you, Wang Xiaoning, that influential? Just who knows about you? What would ten years in prison signify for you? You’ll be over 60 when you leave—is it worth it to be so obsessed?” “The head of our team often works on him, but Wang Xiaoning wouldn’t admit guilt. Isn’t that just making life hard for himself?” “We don’t understand at all why Wang Xiaoning won’t admit any guilt. We really don’t.”

I had a great deal of contact with Wang Xiaoning in prison. I could feel from his words and see in his eyes that he was a resolute man with will of steel.

Wang Xiaoning and I both felt that there was nothing wrong with our past words or deeds. As there was nothing wrong with them, we would admit no wrong, let alone acknowledge or admit guilt, or repent. Eight or ten years of life spent in freedom is precious, but we could not forget our own ideals and the principle we lived by that truth was more important than survival. If one must spend time in prison in order to achieve freedom and democracy in China, then we would be willing to do the time.

There is another point about admitting guilt that I would like everyone to understand, especially those who have never been imprisoned and therefore would otherwise have no reference.

In my opinion, getting sentence reduction by admitting guilt is a good option. It does not just allow one to leave prison several years ahead of schedule, but also tends to reduce the amount of monitoring in prison by the guards and bring a change in living condition and a reduction in pressure from the prison, which is conducive to learning and beneficial to one’s health. I have always been supportive and understanding of my friends who get reduction after admitting guilt, because the friends who admit guilt are doing no harm to others and they can leave prison early. But for me personally, when it comes to admitting guilt or maintaining my innocence, I tend toward the latter.

Wang’s fearless, revolutionary integrity in maintaining his innocence for a decade and stay locked behind bars highlights his truth-seeking spirit.

He Lived Frugally, Studied Hard, and Was Kind to Others

Wang Xiaoning’s life in prison was simple. He did not smoke or drink. He did not have any expenses other than his monthly purchases and his annual newspaper subscription.

If one is willing to spend the money in prison, one can still buy cigarettes, alcohol or any food or item that one can buy outside. The prison dubs these things “contraband.” However, driven by huge profits, guards dare to take risks. Thus, these contraband items can be bought without difficulty. Yet Wang Xiaoning never spends frivolously (it’s too expensive). In the ten years, he lived like the other prisoners, never showing anything special.

In May 2007, the Prison Administrative Bureau instituted a new rule to increase the amount of money that ill prisoners could spend—at their own expense (because the quality of prison food is abysmal)—in order to deal with the poor nutritional value of the prison food, and to appease the frequent complaints of long-time malnutrition suffered by prisoners’ relatives.

At the time, prisoners were only allowed to spend 160 yuan (in total) on personal purchases of nutritional items (food) each month. Prisoners with a medically diagnosed illness could spend an additional 60 yuan. Because of the malnutrition resulting from the long time spent in prison, increasing the amount of money that individuals could spend in total could be significant to a prisoner’s health. I obtained a note from the prison’s medical staff the month that the new rule was released to warrant that I could increase my total monthly purchase. (I have high blood pressure and related complications.) To be frank, in my eight years in prison, I spent an average of more than 500 yuan per month, sometimes more.

Due to inflation and international attention to China’s prison conditions, beginning March 2012, the amount every prisoner could spend each month was raised to 300 yuan, or 360 yuan for those with diagnosed illnesses. During the summer, another 100 yuan was added (to prevent heatstroke), totaling 460 yuan per month.

Other expenditures for prisoners included: toiletries (toothpaste, laundry detergent, etc.), education tools (books from the prison book market, radios, tape-players, and various classes), annual newspaper subscriptions, self-paid medicine, and other things.

I learned when I was chatting with Wang Xiaoning at the time that he had not applied to the prison hospital to increase his spending allowance by 60 yuan. He explained, “I don’t need the increase, my current amount’s enough.” I could not understand his logic at the time—we were served such terrible food, how could it be enough? Later on I thought, Wang Xiaoning lived like everyone else. He never tried to stand out and held himself to a high standard; these were the good habits he had developed in his regular life. He continued to live frugally, study hard, and be kind to others, even an under harsh prison condition—that was not easy.

Wang Xiaoning always slept on the top bunk from the time that he was admitted to the time that I left, so that he could read at night. The [cell’s] light bulb was about a meter away from the top bunk, and the light was always on. Even though prison was dimly lit (the bulbs were 20 watts), it was enough to read from a close distance. There was definitely no way to read clearly at night if one slept on the bottom bunk.

Wang Xiaoning insisted on having the top bunk for eight years in order to read and study. What was his motivation? Anyone who has been in prison can understand the sacrifices he took in doing so.

I spoke with the Officer Zhang from the Prison Administration Department, who was in charge of political prisoners, numerous times while I was in prison about how Wang Xiaoning slept on the top bunk, and requested that the prison give a bottom bunk where there was sunlight to help with his health. At first Officer Zhang would say that he would look into it. When I would mention this again later, Officer Zhang would immediately say that it was Wang Xiaoning who would not sleep on the bottom bunk, and that I should not worry about him. After I was released, I went to the Prison Administrative Bureau to discuss various issues at No. 2 Prison, including that Wang Xiaoning, who was 60 years old, still slept on the top bunk. My intent was to ensure that people were monitoring conditions in No. 2 Prison and the situation of political prisoners—that way the lives of Wang Xiaoning and other inmates could improve.

I will never be as hardworking a student as Wang Xiaoning. Throughout my entire sentence, I only slept on the top bunk for a few months, the rest on the bottom. I did not read at night, I would just listen to the radio.

Wang Xiaoning is kind to people and never fights with others. Guards and prisoners alike have a good impression of him—they all say he is a humble and decent person.

Political Prisoners’ Concern for One Another

The communication and assistance among political prisoners is something we all shared.

In the six years spent in No. 2 Prison, the dozen of us political prisoners privately provided each other with enormous support. We solved many serious problems. I will not get into the details here.

In June 2004, in accordance with the law, I began making requests to the prison leadership. I requested meetings with the warden and prison administration chief to inquire in person about political prisoners’ situations, and made specific demands. The deputy head of the Prison Administration Department and the official in charge of political prisoners were always the ones to speak on the warden’s behalf.

I always raised the following individuals’ cases each time I spoke with the prison leadership: Wang Xiaoning, Xu Wei, Yang Jianli, Yang Zili, Zha Jianguo, Gao Hongming, Jin Haike, and Hu Shigen. I asked about their health and made specific requests. Some example: Yang Jianli’s undernourishment during group training; how Wang Xiaoning slept on the top bunk; beatings and forced feedings of Xu Wei; complications following Jin Haike’s surgery and his need for more nutritious food; Cha Jianguo’s cerebral aneurysm and its treatment. I also asked about other inmates’ health, e.g. Wu Jie (吴杰) and Lu Liansheng (逯连升). Every time that I would inquire about political prisoners and make demands, the prison leadership would say that they were fine, and if they were to have problems, the prison would solve them. They would tell me not to worry. To add weight, I would write the names of individuals that needed assistance along with some notes on a slip of paper and would pass it to my wife when I would meet with my family each month, and ask that she make inquiries with the relevant departments. I was warned many times (with suspension of phone calls with outside) by the guards because I would always talk about the prison conditions during visitations.

I always have felt that, in addition to supporting each other privately, political prisoners need to openly show prison officials that even though they had separated us physically, they could never tear us apart mentally. Should prison dare to persecute any one of us political prisoners, the rest of us would stand up to accuse them of their wrong doings.

The Last Political Prisoner to Leave No. 2 Prison

From 2006 to March 2011, the prison terms of that group of political prisoners ended one after another. One by one, the names disappeared from No. 2 Prison. First, Sun Gang left No. 2 Prison (he was transferred to Henan Prison). Then it was Gao Hongming, Zha Jianguo, Hu Shigen, Yang Jianli, Xu Wei (transferred to Yanqing Prison), myself, and Jin Haike. Jin Haike and I left No. 2 Prison in January and March of 2011, respectively. Wang Xiaoning was the only political prisoner remaining in No. 2 Prison.

The last time I saw Wang Xiaoning was in the autumn of 2011. He was going to the prison’s west gate to meet with his family that day. He passed by Block 3 just as Team 9, where I was, was being let out for our recreational period. (I was transferred from Team 13 in Block 5 to Team 9 in Block 3 in February 2010.) I yelled out to greet him from the iron fence, and he raised his hand in response. I ran from the east side of the Block 3 to the west, and again shouted to Wang Xiaoning. He shouted back, “I got it,” raised his hand, and waved.

A few months later, my term was up and I was released.

After I was released, I made dozens of calls to No. 2 Prison to inquire about Wang Xiaoning’s situation and those of other inmates. The prison acted the same way towards me as they had when I was in jail. An officer in the Prison Administration Department told me not to worry, they were alright.

The prison also sent relevant authorities to my home to speak with me about issues  inside the prison. Officers from the Supervision Department and Prison Operations Department met with me twice as representatives of the prison warden. They told me, “When you criticized the prison, both when you were in prison and after you were released, you said you hoped that the prison would improve. The prison leadership fully affirms this.”

I asked that they pass this message to the warden for me. There was only one political prisoner left in No. 2 Prison: Wang Xiaoning. The prison had to make his living arrangements good and to meet any demands he raised. If I were to hear that political prisoners were being pushed around, I would for sure ask the prison to explain things.

August 2012

Addendum: There are other political prisoners still jailed at No. 2 Prison in addition to Wang Xiaoning. Their names and deeds have not been disclosed out of concern to them and to their families.

* An early version of this release gave the wrong characters of "余陵" for Yu Ling’s name. The correct characters are 俞陵.

For more information on Wang Xiaoning, see:

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