In 2005, Chen started playing violin on the street in Lanzhou on weekends to repay debts he had incurred for heart surgery. He was repeatedly harassed by local authorities in Lanzhou and began blogging about his ordeals and the cruelty of city officials. In August 2012, the Lanzhou procuratorate charged him with “inciting subversion of state power,” basing its indictment on 34 articles posted on his blogs.
After Chen’s trial, his story spread on the Internet and, on September 9, Sun Yat-sen University professor and documentary filmmaker Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) initiated a signature campaign to protest his prosecution. As of September 13, 2012, 323 people have signed, including well-known scholars, writers, and rights defenders inside China and abroad.
There is no indication when the court will rule. It was reported that on September 13, the police officers who have been monitoring Chen left. Chen has been under residential surveillance since June 27, 2012.
A Portrait of a “Subverter”
by Yaxue Cao
On Tuesday, September 4, a 55-year-old man was on trial for “inciting subversion of state power” in Lanzhou, the capital city of northwestern province of Gansu, China, and the evidence cited in the indictment (see below for translation) consists of a long list of blog posts and nothing else. So it is a case of the crime of self-expression. The sentence hasn’t been announced, and at the end of the trial, the court announced that he would continue to be “residing under surveillance” (监视居住) until the sentence comes.
His name is Chen Pingfu (陈平福). He was 20 years old when China, under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, reinstituted national college examination. He excelled in the exams, and entered Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou majoring in mathematics. Upon graduating he was assigned a teaching job at the vocational school of Victory Machinery Factory of Capital Steel (首钢胜利机械厂) in Gaolan (皋兰) on outskirts of Lanzhou. There he taught math for more than two decades.
In May 2005, he suffered a heart attack and was sent to a hospital. His employer, a Mao-era state-owned enterprise on the brink of bankruptcy, was unable to help him with funds needed for surgery, nor could he afford it himself. He had to leave the hospital. His father gathered his younger siblings, pleading help from them for their older brother. They pulled together more than 50,000 yuan [about $6,000 at the time] and Chen Pingfu underwent a successful heart bypass surgery.
He was anxious to pay the debt, losing sleep sometimes, not because his siblings were pressuring him, but because none of them were well-off. One of his younger sisters, a cleaning woman in a small town making 150 a month yuan [about $20], gave him what was likely her life’s savings: 10,000 yuan [about $1,212].
With few means to make money, Chen Pingfu decided to play violin on the street. On Saturdays and Sundays he traveled 30 miles from Gaolan to downtown Lanzhou to do that. It wasn’t easy for an educated Chinese man with a keen sense of “face.” On his first trip, he chose a site but paced for an hour before taking out his violin and spreading a sheet on the floor that read: “Employee of Victory Machinery Factory, deeply in debt due to heart surgery, have to perform on street for alms.”
He played the famous Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto (the musical retelling of the Chinese classical tale of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the so-called Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Robert Shumann’s “Träumerei,” among other pieces. To those who thought he was a fraud, he gave his employer’s phone number for verification. But mostly he met with compassion, encouragement, and generosity. Once, a five-year-old girl pulled her mother to a stop, listened, and handed him a 1 yuan [about $0.15] bill with both hands. Another time, a man stopped and listened, then disappeared into a hotel but sent a porter with 50 yuan [about $6]. Other musicians gave him tips on how to play better. Along the way, he improved his playing.
It went well, so well that Sohu.com, a major Internet service provider in China, interviewed him about his “success” and the positive social aspects of his story. It is from this interview, now available on Youtube, and the articles listed in his indictment that I learned his story.
In 2009, as his factory prepared for bankruptcy and he had no job to go to, he played violin on street in the afternoons. For one reason or the other, he didn’t talk about the dark side of his street experience in the interview. On the street he was scolded and threatened by liuguan (流管, migrant population administration) and jiuzhu zhan (救助站, relief station) workers who came not to lend him a hand but to get rid of him. They told him, “The government forbids performing on street for money!” They pressed him onto the ground to subdue him. An officer from the relief station shouted at him, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” (Quoted from his blog post “Fight against Brutality and Pursue Civilization.”)
One time, a group of men from the Relief Station seized him and threw him into a truck with metal bars. In the heat of the summer, after struggling with the thugs, his heart beat faster and his chest tightened. He begged his captors to let him out, but they laughed at him, and one of them told him he was out of his mind.
On the street, he also witnessed other cruelties. A woman’s basket of peaches was snatched away from her by a chengguan (城管, urban management) officer; a middle-aged shoeshine man was chased away.
As he played violin on street, he also set up several blogs, pouring out his anger, his frustration, and his thoughts on the ills in Chinese society. Not surprisingly, he was summoned and warned by the authorities.
As 2011 began, Chen Pingfu found a teaching job in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Still in Chinese New Year holiday season, he took a flight, for the first time in his life, to Yunnan, some 1,500 miles away. He had had enough trouble playing violin on the street and writing blogs. His plan was to give up both blogging and playing violin on street to teach children math and science and music. After all, he said, he needed to live first. Three days after he arrived in Yunnan, his former employer called, asking where he was. Soon after, the school’s principal, an old friend of his, received a call from police department in Gansu Province. The local police summoned the principal and interrogated him about Chen’s activities and their relationship. The principal pressed Chen about what he had done, and he didn’t want to be ruined for “hiding away a criminal.” Chen said again and again that he was not a criminal. The Yunnan police asked the principal to fire Chen and send him away within 24 hours.
He was back in Gansu Province in less than a week at his new job. This, despite repeated promises he has made to “relevant organ” that he would not write any more blog posts once he started working. Back in Lanzhou, he called the “relevant organ” to protest, and the person on the other end of the line burst out laughing.
In his blog posts, he told his stories, the humiliation and brutalities he had been subjected to. He reflected on the fundamental ills of the system, the lack of rule of law, and the abuses of power around him. He cheered the democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. He expressed deep gratitude toward the ordinary Chinese who had helped him in one way or the other. He voiced his intense disgust for an education centered on tooling children according to the Party’s design. He hoped China would transition peacefully into a democratic country where traditional Chinese culture can be restored and a constitutional political system established, and where he can make a living and play violin freely without being persecuted by the authorities. Chen was determined to continue to speak out. He said in one of his blog posts: “As long as they don’t have an explanation or justification for me, I will continue to tell my story, expose the inhuman crimes perpetrated by the so-called people’s servants, and condemn this lying system.” (Quote from “I May Be Beaten to Death by Thugs, but I Will Not Be Cowed to Death.”)
On June 27, 2012, he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for his blog posts and subjected to residential surveillance. He would have been jailed if not for his coronary heart disease.
“At the hardest time of my life when I had to give up treatment and go home to wait for my death…when I needed relief the most, there was no government to be seen. But when I was deeply in debt, and jobless, and had no choice but to play violin on the street to help myself, the Relief Station of Lanzhou’s municipal government came with a barred jail truck,” Chen Pingfu wrote in one post. (Quoted from “Weasels Serve Chickens.”)
In another, he wrote, “Looking back at my life thus far, I found that I had lived meaninglessly for all these years without doing one worthwhile and meaningful thing. I cannot swallow the humiliation in silence; I have kept thinking and reading to break the cultural dictatorship so that my mind can go to a farther and wider world.” (Quoted from “I Cannot Bear the Humiliation in Silence.”)
But instead of a farther and wider world, he has found himself in jail—in China.
(Yaxue Cao is a writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. She blogs about human rights conditions and the rule of law in China at Seeing Red in China.)
Lanzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate of Gansu Province
Defendant Chen Pingfu; male; Han nationality; born March 1, 1957; identification number 622725195703011415; undergraduate education; registration residence: Apt 101, 301 Xinxing Road, Shidong Township, Gaolan County; residing at Apt 3B-202, Building 2, Fengning Deshang Residential Complex, 284 Zhaolin Road, Anning District, Lanzhou. On June 27, 2012, Chen was put under residential surveillance on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power as determined by the Gaolan County Public Security Bureau.
The Gaolan County Public Security Bureau has concluded its investigation of this case. The Gaolan County People’s Procuratorate submitted his case to the Lanzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate for examination and review for indictment. The examination conducted according to law has found that:
Between July 2007 and March 2012, the defendant Chen Pingfu registered blogs or microblogs under the name “Chen Pingfu” on NetEase, Baidu, Sohu, Mtime.com, Sina, Tianya, and other websites where he published or reposted 34 articles including “This Is a Fight for the Spiritual Destiny between Good and Evil” (这是一场心灵归宿的正邪大战), “Weasels Serve Chickens” (黄鼠狼为鸡服务) “Fight against Brutality, Pursue Civilization” (对抗野蛮，追求文明), “Robbery or Law Enforcement?” (抢劫？执法？) “How the Rule of Law Can Be Used Only to Bind Ordinary People” (依法治国岂能只顾捆绑普通百姓) “An Unyielding Soul Will Never Be Conquered” (不屈的灵魂永远无法被征服！) “Learn from Egyptians—We Will Not be Fooled by Sweet Lies Anymore” (向埃及人民学习，我们不想再忍受花言巧语的愚弄) “I Cannot Bear the Humiliation in Silence” (我无法默默地忍受屈辱), “Prop Up Socialism , Suffer Hard Times, Dance in Shackles” (社会主义挺着，艰难的日子忍着，戴着镣铐的舞跳着), “Do Not Be Accomplices of Education That Enslaves” (不当奴化教育的帮凶), “The Bugle Call to Overturn the Dictators Has Sounded” (推翻独裁者的号角已经吹响), “Withdraw All Political Parties from Schools” (一切党派退出学校), “A Ghost under the Dictator’s Knife: To Wang Lijun” (专制刀下的鬼— 送给王立军) “Don’t Trick Me, the Whole World Knows” (不要忽悠我，地球人都知道), “Wake Up, Living People!” (活着的人，醒来吧！), “Wherever Great Leaders Appear, the People Are Bound to Suffer” (伟大领袖出现在哪里，那里的人民必定遭殃！) “Use Bright Lights to Illuminate Reality, Use Beautiful Violin Music to Move Society” (用明亮的灯光照亮现实，用迷人的琴声感动社会), “Attempting to Stop the Tide of Democracy Is to Resist the Will of God” (企图阻挡民主潮流，就是抗拒上帝的旨意), “At the Heart of an Authoritarian System Is Official Power, at the Heart of a Democratic System Is Civil Rights” (专制制度以官权为中心，民主制度以民权为中心) “Chinese Characteristics: Leaders Create Thinking” (中国特色—领导创造思想), “Government Bans Making a Living Illicitly, Tunisians Overthrew Ali” (政府不许非法谋生，突尼西亚人将阿里赶下台), “Truth Has Power, True Words Have Energy” (真理具有力量，真话具有能量), “The Whole Nation Will Be at a Loss If Democracy and Rule of Law Are Resisted” (抗拒民主和法制，全民族都是输家), “A Nightmare: Traveled from the Northwest to the Southwest over 10 Days to Find Work But Was Forced to Return” (十天内从大西北到大西南打工挣钱，又被迫返回原地，一场噩梦), “Humanity’s Quest for Freedom and Dignity Is Reaching a Consensus” (人类对自由与尊严的追求正在达成共识), “I Protest with Anger the Authorities’ Infringement of My Right to Make a Living” (愤怒抗议有关部门剥夺我打工挣钱谋生的权利！), “I Am Left Helpless, I Can Only Continue to Pursue the Path of No Return to Freedom and Dignity” (我被逼无奈，只好接着走这追求自由和尊严的不归之路), “I Want Freedom, Dignity, and to Live a Normal Life” (要自由、要尊严，我要像正常人一样生活), “This Tiger of Power Is Frightening Indeed” (真的好可怕啊，权力这个老虎), “I Was Bullied by Civil Servants in My Own Homeland” (我在自己的祖国被自己的仆人欺负), “A Nation That Imprisons Thoughts Is Hopeless” (被禁锢思想的国家是没有希望的), “There Is Such a Political System” (有这样的一个政治制度), and “The Greatest Enemy of Our Times” (我们这个年代最大的敌人). In these articles he expressed such inflammatory views as that Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thoughts, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Represents, and Scientific Development have no benefit for the society and the people; that the Communist Party rule knows only to push ordinary people around and not let them make a living; that the current system is not democratic enough, and that democracy and constitutionalism should be implemented.
The aforementioned facts of crime are proven by documentary evidence, material evidence, and the defendant’s statements.
The procuatorate believes that the defendant Chen Pingfu disregarded state laws and spread speech attacking the Communist Party and the government to unspecified Internet users, defaming and slandering state power and the socialist system. His actions have violated the stipulations of Article 105(2) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The facts of the crime are clear, the evidence is reliable and sufficient, and he should be found criminally responsible for the crime of inciting subversion of state power. This procuratorate is initiating prosecution proceedings against the defendant on the basis of the provisions of Article 141 of the Criminal Procedural Law of the People’s Republic of China, and asks for a judgment in accordance with the law.
Gansu Lanzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court
Deputy Prosecutor: Wang Hailong (王海龙)
August 2, 2012
(The original Chinese indictment is available on Citizens’ Square.)