Once again, on the afternoon of December 14, I was interrogated by agents of the Pudong Subdistrict Security Bureau. After two hours of small talk, they had asked about my daily life and my continuing job search and expressed their concern, and after they had gotten a good sense of my personal affairs, they finally got to the point: “We received a notice from the police in Beijing. The Independent Chinese PEN Association is having an awards ceremony on December 22 in Beijing. Did you know about this?”

I replied that I didn’t. I said I’d heard that the Board of Directors were talking about such a thing, but I didn’t know about a time frame, nor had anyone told me, nor had anyone invited me to participate. “It looks like you know more than I do.”

They acted as though they didn’t believe me, and they again said that if it were true that no one had notified me, that was for the best. “The Beijing Police hoped that we would prevent you from participating in this activity, so we want you to promise us that you will not go to Beijing before the end of the month.”

I replied, “I’m a law-abiding citizen. If the law forbids a citizen from doing something, then I will certainly obey. However, as far as going beyond what the law requires and prohibits, I can’t promise such a thing; what’s more, if there’s a request that goes beyond what is legal to require or prohibit, even if I promise such a thing, it has no legal standing and is meaningless.” I then suggested to them, if after their investigation they discover that the PEN meeting is against the law, then I would please like the Shanghai Public Security Bureau or the Pudong Subdistrict Security Bureau to issue an official statement, explaining, “Following the investigation by the Public Security Bureau, the Independent PEN awards meeting of December 22 in Beijing is against the law, and so we have suggested to Li Jianhong that she cannot participate.” If they could write this notice, [I said,] then I certainly would follow their orders and not go. “Even if my friends in Beijing invited me, if I had this notice, I would have a reason to refuse them.”

The head of the security team, Director Huang, smiled awkwardly and said that not all things require an official document, and then he repeated the same old line I’d heard before: “We hope that you do not go, out of our concern for you. We don’t want you to be influenced by bad people.” Then he took a step forward and added, “If you don’t heed us and insist upon going to Beijing, then I’m afraid we’ll have to do what we did last year when you went to Qingdao and ‘invite’ you to come back here.”

We talked for yet another hour or so, but we couldn’t come to an agreement, so there was nothing left to say. Finally, Director Huang said, “For the next few days, we’ll have a car posted outside your door. If you need to go out anywhere, our car can take you.” By now, it was around 7:30 in the evening, and after these four plus hours of unhappy interrogation, they had a car take me home.

I felt so sad! That evening I’d made a date to see a friend. I’d figured that since I was meeting with the National Security Agents at 3 p.m., they’d let me go after two or three hours and it wouldn’t affect my appointment with my friend. Now everything was changed, and I could only send a quick note to my friend about my situation and cancel our meeting.

In fact, I had already experienced this type of “treatment” once before not too long ago. From October 7 to October 25 when the 17th Party Congress was meeting in Beijing, I was told not to leave Shanghai, and the Pudong National Security Bureau had agents stationed outside my home for twenty days. At that time, I thought their making such a big deal out of nothing was both infuriating and laughable! I told them I wasn’t a Communist Party official, I could not attend their glorious Party meeting, I couldn’t elect anyone or be elected to a position, so I had nothing to do with the 17th Party Congress. Perhaps if the “historic and splendid occasion” had any bearing on my life as a humble citizen, things would be different, but since I understood completely that it had nothing to do with me, I had no intention of going to Beijing to join in their festivities. “I guess Shanghai is such a peaceful place, the police have nothing better to do than watch me.”

This situation was not normal nor was it in conformity with any law. It was ridiculous! The next day, I found a way to sneak out of my apartment, (I won’t go into the details), and slipped away to a friend’s home. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about whether I’d go to Beijing or not. Because of the Shanghai Security Bureau’s galling and roguish behavior, I figured they would notice my “disappearance” and would send people to Beijing to find me. For the time being, I thought I’d just play a joke on them in order to express my opposition and dislike of their unlawful limitations on citizens’ freedoms.

My friend said I could stay safely at their place for a few days, but if I wanted to go to Beijing, I shouldn’t take the train. Agents could pick me up at either station but if I took the bus to Suzhou or Nanjing then to Beijing, there were too many bus stations for the agents to patrol and they wouldn’t be able to catch me.

I stayed at my friend’s home for three days. I was afraid security bureau agents would be patrolling the vicinity looking for me, so I didn’t dare go outside, but everyday my friend cooked for me and generously took care of me.

I began to worry that after I had left home, the agents might start to terrorize my family, and I was afraid that if I were gone for a week, my parents would be worried. I lived in Shanghai so that my elderly parents and I could look after each other. My family had just found a new, bigger apartment and was about to move.

So I decided to go home and see how things were going and to look after my parents. If I had an opportunity again, I’d go to Beijing. But if I were prevented from doing so, I’d first help my family move and get them well situated. My friend sighed, “If you go home, it’s likely you’re not going to get out again.”

On December 18, I secretly returned home, carefully looking around my neighborhood, and when I didn’t see anyone, I went inside and started packing. In the afternoon, someone knocked on the door. My little sister answered and when they asked for me, she said that I hadn’t come back. She told me later that it was a man and a woman claiming to be “friends.” I immediately knew just who these special “friends” were who were so “concerned” about me. I told my family that no matter who called or knocked, they should say that I had not come home.

I had arranged for a moving company to help us move the day after next. That evening at 10 pm, my family and I were still packing boxes when again someone knocked on the door. This time my father could not stop them. The Pudong Subdistrict Branch Chief Cao came in and saw that I was home. He pretended to be overjoyed and exclaimed, “Li Jianhong, you came home! Why are you still playing hide and seek with us?” I angrily responded, “This is a private residence. No one invited you inside. Get out! This is my own home and I can come back anytime I feel like it! I don’t have to talk to you!”

After that, they posted some security agents in the fifth floor hallway. In the deep of night, I could hear my neighbor’s footsteps. It made no sense to put these people outside our door in the middle of the night, disturbing the neighbor’s rest with their coming and going.

On the evening of December 19, I was carrying some stuff out the door, when I came face to face with several Security Bureau agents blocking the hallway. I told them, “We’re moving tomorrow. I have to carry these things out. I’ll give you ten minutes to get your boss here to discuss this.” After ten minutes passed, these people had not move at all. They were still in their old places blocking my path. They said they weren’t allowed to let me go out. I called 110 [the Chinese equivalent of 911] to report them to the local police, saying, “There are some unidentified people blocking our household from moving and they are also blocking the free movement of other residents.” When the police came, Security Bureau Chief Cao came up the stairs and spoke to them for a few minutes. The civilian police insisted that my father, the security agents, and I all go to their nearby Mei Yuan Police Substation. Upon arriving at the substation, they put me in the reception room and ignored me while Chief Cao took my father to another office and talked to him for about half an hour. He then told my father to tell me that they wanted to put me into a government “guest house” for a few days in order to conduct an investigation “for our benefit.” Otherwise, Chief Cao said, once we moved to our new home, they would still have to post security personnel at the entrance of the building and our new neighbors would get a bad impression of us.

Since the tranquility of my family was being threatened, I felt obliged to agree to go with them to the Bai Shui Jia chain hotel at 231 Lu Shan Road. I said to Chief Cao, “You are threatening my family. How are you any different from a criminal gang? Congratulations for successfully kidnapping me.” I was then indeed detained at the government guest hotel in room 336. They added two cots to the room and in the evening two female police officers slept in my room.

Facing this unreasonable act by National Security agents, I became furious. When I had time to go to the bathroom, I used my cell phone to call a friend in Beijing, Hu Jia, and explained my situation to him. I hoped this unreasonable detention was the result of a nutcase in the Shanghai Security Bureau and was not affecting writing group members in Beijing or other areas. I hoped Beijing’s police were more rational and would allow the Independent Chinese PEN Center members to continue their legal activities. As for my personal troubles, I hoped that they would not affect other members. For the time being, I was not going to contact PEN members. The majority already had their phones tapped. Instead, I asked my good friend Hu Jia, who is not a member, to let the world know about my arrest. I assumed that by using a nonmember to spread this news, I could prevent the Beijing police from using my troubles to suppress or take revenge upon all of PEN’s legal activities. I was too naive! The Beijing police put tremendous pressure on the PEN meeting, making it impossible to take place. I don’t know if the crackdown on PEN was a pre-planned, set-up by the political police, or an act of revenge resulting from my call to Hu Jia asking him to spread the news of my troubles. If it is the latter, then I want to apologize to all the members, especially the venerable Mr. Sun Wenguang, for all their hard work to get the meeting going only to have it cancelled. In the final analysis, this all happened because the authoritarian regime pretends to be strong on the outside when it is actually very weak, so much so that they do not think about reputation or face and are afraid of a few literary types who only have pens and organized a very simple banquet and meeting.

The next morning, I took advantage of the changing of the guards outside my door and used the hotel’s phone to call the front desk to make a long-distance call. I briefly talked to Hu Jia as well as a friend in Shanghai: I told her where I was, my room number and my telephone number. That friend was the one I was going to visit originally on December 14. She told me that on the 15th, she had guards posted in front of her home for the entire day and they didn’t let her go outside. It seemed to her as though they were trying to catch someone. At that time, she thought perhaps it was me trying to “escape.” She never imagined that I was being held in this guest house. She asked if she could visit me. She didn’t know if the National Security agents would allow her in. I said, the odds were slim, and the security agents might cause trouble for her. So I told her not to come. The security guards had already told me clearly that their only purpose was to prevent me from attending the PEN activities in Beijing and once those were over, I could go home and I’d be able to see my friends again.

One of the guards let it slip that when I had “disappeared” for two days, the Bureau already sent someone to Beijing to tell the police to look for me there. The whole incident with the Shanghai Security Agents’ tedious actions was therefore, in fact, a waste of money.

Because most of the time someone was in my room watching me, I couldn’t make any more phone calls. After I ate in the dining room with a guard, Hu Jia called me and told me that my friends were all concerned about me and hoped I’d take care of myself and told me to “rest” in the hotel. Afterwards, the phone line to my room was disconnected. By that time, my cell phone was out of power. In the morning, I asked to go home to help my family move and to get clean clothes. I expressly stated that I needed to help my family clean our old apartment, and that after the moving truck left, I would come back to the hotel and would not go to the new apartment. However, Chief Cao said I could only give my family a call and tell them what clothes I needed. In the afternoon, Chief Cao brought my clothes to the room, but he couldn’t find my cell phone battery charger. I suspect Chief Cao confiscated the charger.

I don’t know if this was to prevent my friends from visiting me or if they had too many agents and not enough room, but in the afternoon Director Huang moved us to an upstairs business suite, room number 528. After changing rooms, Director Huang wanted to “talk” to me. I asked him to explain the legal basis for his treatment of me, then I gave him a basic legal education. I said, according to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the personal freedom of citizens cannot be violated; no work unit or individual can limit the citizens’ personal freedom through illegal means; and that the unlawful incarceration of a citizen was forbidden as well as unlawful methods for ending a citizen’s personal freedom. “Currently, I have not violated the law, but you all have violated the law and can be prosecuted.” Director Huang again asked me not to publish antigovernment or anti-Party articles on the web. He said that if I promised not to publish these articles ever again, if I did not associate with friends I’d made on the internet anymore, and if I found a good job and lived a peaceful life, they could consider letting me live a “normal life.” They could even help me find a job. But if I didn’t agree to these conditions, my family would not have a peaceful life. I said, “I don’t need you to help me find a job. I need you to give me back my freedom and also guarantee that from now on you won’t violate or limit my freedom. As for criticizing all levels of government, this is a Constitutional right guaranteed by all citizens’ freedom of speech; the right to select any media to transmit ideas and news also has been guaranteed by the Chinese government when it signed the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. My present situation is ‘not normal’ but the ‘abnormality’ was created by you. Until you reverse this ‘abnormal’ and unfair arrest, I am not going to interact with you.”

A few days later in our suite, there were four to six National Security agents and an assistant Public Security Bureau worker all watching me. They had three shifts, so altogether there were about twenty people. I could not walk out the door and so food was brought into the suite. In the evening there were always two female police officers sleeping in my room. In the outside suite, there were two other guards to “protect” us. Apart from eating and sleeping, we all watched TV. Under these circumstances “Stockholm Syndrome” is easy to get. Apart from Director Huang and Chief Cao, I looked upon the others kindly. The others and I got along. They worried about my food and living conditions. In the evening an older police woman, whom I called “Big Sister,” and a younger police woman always asked me what I wanted to eat. They brought lots of fruit, seeds, pears, and other snacks for all of us.

It rained continuously, and only the outer room in the suite had a window; the inner room had none. The air became very stale, the light was dim, and I lost all sense of time.

A few days later on the afternoon of the 23rd, Director Huang again visited and said he’d “interact” with me a little before sending me home. I said “I’ve grown accustomed to this place. The food is good. I don’t have to worry about cooking. If you have the patience, I could live here for the rest of my life.” However, I still wanted him to explain to me this “unlawful arrest.” “And,” I said, “I reserve the right to sue you in the future.”

We were in a deadlock. Director Huang slipped away, leaving one man and one woman from the police as well as two guards from National Security. They said the “boss” had said that after dinner they could send me home at 9 pm.

After dinner, they waited until 9 before they let me go downstairs. They checked us out of the room at the front desk, and I walked out of the hotel’s big gate, finally breathing fresh air. I asked the two National Security agents, “Am I free now? If I’m free, I don’t need you to take me home. I’d like to walk outside. I can call a taxi to go home by myself.” However, they said that the “boss” had called my family and insisted that the security agents’ job would be done until they brought me home. I didn’t want them to get into trouble. I just didn’t want to get into their car. They drove me all the way to my family’s new apartment, and they insisted on accompanying me to the front door. Although I felt agitated—it was about 10 p.m.—I didn’t allow them inside, saying, “I’m here now. Please go back.” Then I closed the door.

Finally, I saw my family anxiously waiting for me. Because of this drama, I saw everything “in a new light”* compared to the days before our move.

By Li Jianhong
Translated by May-Lee Chai