More than fifty days have passed since detained legal activist and scholar, Guo Yushan, was taken from his Beijing home. His wife, Pan Haixia, posts her third letter to him online in his absence.
Since her last letter, more of their friends have been taken away by police and more wives must now comfort one another in their husbands’ absence. Pan is asked by friends how many years can she take enduring a loved one in jail, as she considers the potential for destruction such an event can wreak on a marriage: brutal questions she cannot sit with long as she prepares to secure a new lawyer for Guo (his first lawyer has since been detained).
Pan Haixia: A Letter to My Husband III
Posted to Pan Haixia’s Sina Weibo account and reprinted by the New Citizens’ Movement (a grass-roots movement promoting citizens’ rights and rule of law) on December 4, 2014
Darling, time goes by so quickly, you’ve already been away for more than fifty days. Beijing is warmer now that the central heating has been switched on,1 which is great: I can finally stop worrying that you’ve gotten frostbite. The first time I sent you clothes I was in a hurry, and at that time it was still quite warm, so I didn’t send your winter coat and long johns. (You won’t call me a stupid wife for that, will you?) When I sent them, I realized that the next time I sent you things I could rely on the request form that you would write. It made me happy to think that soon I would see your handwriting. But I never received a request form. Did you write one after all? Also, I couldn’t find your card details in the detention center system. I had hoped to learn more about your life inside by seeing how much money you’d spent, but my hope came to nothing.
Forgive me for once again rambling on about unimportant things. It’s just that I really don’t know how to begin talking about the important things.
This month has been terrible, worse than just after you left. Several times I’ve thought about writing you a letter to tell you about something bad that’s happened, but before I could finish writing, some other bad thing would happen immediately. After editing my letter several times, I almost lost the courage to write at all. I suppose you don’t know? After you left, six of our friends were taken away, one after another. Kaiping,2 Xialin,3 Xiao He,4 Xiao Shu5 – all very close brothers of ours, probably implicated by their relationship with you. Xue Ye6 and Xu Xiao7 are also our close friends and teachers, but they’ve always been very low key and level-headed. I don’t know the concrete reason; I’ve only heard that Teacher Xu Xiao was taken away, accused of “endangering national security.” I thought things couldn’t get any worse, but I was wrong. Immediately afterwards, other people from the Transition Institute were summoned to court, accused of “operating illegal business.” We have some experience of this – we know that usually people aren’t notified in advance that they will be taken away. (The lucky ones, after a few days, will receive official notice of criminal detention; the unlucky ones will be like Kaiping, and just disappear.) So, when each person is summoned, I become very anxious, until they come back and tell me that they’re safe. If I cannot reach someone by phone and then can’t get in touch with him or her for more than half a day, I think: they’ve finally been implicated.
“Implicated” is the word that’s been most on my mind recently.
In 2012, because of a certain matter, you were under house arrest for almost three months, and we discussed whether what you did was worth it.8 You pointed out that in The Disasters of the Partisan Prohibitions, many people sided with and protected Zhang Jian, and their lives and families were destroyed as a result.9 Afterwards, Zhang Jian failed to achieve anything significant, so were these people’s sacrifices worth it? In any case, how can we predict the future? In the moment, how can we possibly evaluate the value of acting or not acting? You can only ask yourself, do I want to act or not, can I bear the consequences or not – and that is all. As to whether or not to save Zhang Jian, at the time you had already thought it through calmly, but we both forgot to discuss one issue: if you yourself were Zhang Jian, what would you do?
It really is an irresolvable moral dilemma. Everyone hesitates to act when it might compromise things they care about: money, reputation, honor, dignity, family, friends … those able to exploit this aspect of human nature without compunction can become very powerful and get whatever they want, I suppose. The instinct to seek benefit and avoid harm impels people, in the end, to give up in order to obtain what they most desire, or to defend what is most precious to them. Of course, I know that what is most precious to you is dignity. But I also know that you could never give up your friends. Now, having passed more than fifty days alone in a small room somewhere, if you knew what had happened to your friends recently, that they’ve been implicated because of their relationship to you, between that which is most precious to you and that which you cannot give up, what would you defend? And how much could you defend it?
Darling, it’s hard to take, isn’t it? If you want to cry, cry. If you want to curse, curse. Whatever you choose, I understand. If, in the end, your actions make you the victim of oppression, you will still have your dignity. I know this is very hard. Just do your best, ok?
Just after you left, many of our friends advised me: “Don’t worry too much about him, those inside are fine, those outside are the anxious ones.” Somehow, I felt that they were just trying to comfort me. But recently, I’ve hoped against hope that it’s true, because each of our friends that have been taken away have offered similar words of comfort to me in the past. The friends who can give each other mutual support are growing fewer by the day, while more and more family members of those in detention stick together for warmth. At the beginning, it was just me and Kaiping’s wife that were going through the same ordeal, but soon after there were the wives of friends older than us, and then wives of friends younger than us. Two days ago I was talking to one of the younger wives, and we began discussing how all the men have been taken into custody, one by one. I suddenly blurted out: “The male generals of the Yang family are no good, only the female generals remain now.”10 After I said it, in my heart I ruthlessly ridiculed myself: Female generals be damned! Besides making inquiries about the whereabouts of their men, sending them clothes, finding them lawyers, and writing them letters that they absolutely cannot read, what can women do?
These words that I’m writing, what benefit can they bring you? And what change can they bring about? In this absurd reality, with the weight of history, each person is as insignificant as an ant, not at all important; that one ant writes a few words to another to tell them that they miss them, even less important. Beyond having no benefit, will it also produce more danger? We ants cannot understand or grasp the line between safety and danger. Like you. For two years you’ve exerted yourself, struggling for the security of the Transition Institute – in the end was it not impossible to avoid this disaster? You worked to no avail. But sometimes, knowing perfectly well that your effort is futile, you can’t bear to give up, because for you, that futile effort is meaningful. Similarly, the fact that I miss you doesn’t change anything, but it is certainly meaningful. The pain of missing you reminds me that your absence should not become normal for me, that I must keep doing things and saying things to prevent myself from becoming numb.
I’ve already stopped thinking about how long it will be before you can come back. At the beginning, our friends guessed different numbers of years, and then asked me: “How many years can you take?” I could only lower my head, so they couldn’t see me trying my hardest to hold back tears. How many years? I wasn’t prepared for such a brutal question. In the past, I didn’t know that there would be a price to pay for living an honest life. After living with you I understood that clearly, but I still wasn’t fully prepared. How many years? Some people say that even in the happiest, longest marriages, there will be at least five times when you will think about strangling your partner and at least fifty times when you will consider divorce. What about if your married life has been torn apart? I am not confident, but I will work hard, and I hope that you will do the same. Working hard in the face of destruction makes us better people, which makes our partner appreciate us even more. This way, after eight years of marriage, our love can enter a new phase.
Finally, I want to say something about the lawyer situation. After your lawyer was detained on some obscure charge, I spent an entire week in shock. I only began looking for a new lawyer after I got a grip on myself. There are not many trustworthy, high quality lawyers who are willing to defy risk (I didn’t want the new lawyer to be like Xia Lin, implicated because he took on your case). On top of that, with so many of our friends detained recently, there aren’t enough of those lawyers to go around. I am a little discouraged, so have set the matter aside, temporarily. Give me some time. It’s actually incredibly hard. If the worst comes to the worst, you’ll still have me; I’ll be your lawyer.
Yesterday, Kaiping’s wife went to the detention center and the preliminary hearing department of the city public security bureau again. She was still unable to file an inquiry about Kaiping’s whereabouts. She said, “For the past few days I’ve dreamed that Kaiping is dead …” and began to cry before she could finish her sentence. Then she said: “The others have all received their clothes, he’s the only one who hasn’t got anything, what will he think of me, his wife?” I don’t know how to advise her. As is normal for me, I almost never dream of you. I hope you’re not dreaming that I’m being mean to you like you usually do, because when you wake up, there won’t be anyone next to you complaining or pouting.
I’m afraid that we won’t be able to spend our wedding anniversary at home this year. In a way it’s fortunate that I had a tantrum last year and didn’t get our wedding anniversary photos developed, because it meant that I could do it last weekend. This way, I can pretend that last year’s photos are this year’s. On the day we took the photos, you were inexplicably agitated (for the past two years it’s been very easy to agitate you). In the photos, you look unkempt, because you refused to wash your hair or shave. Thankfully, we’re both quite photogenic and smiled for the camera. No one could tell that we had been arguing moments before (or that we would quarrel again after leaving). Darling, have you reflected lately on how you haven’t always treated me well? Recently, I’ve thought: are my grievances not just over little things – a bit of housework, a few chores, having to listen to you rant? These are hardly grounds for conflict, so I should let them go. It’s not easy for you; I should concede more to you. Wait until you come back, and I will make you happier than ever.
My senseless worries have made this letter long-winded; I wanted to say all the important things. As long as I can still express myself, I will keep writing until you come home, at least one letter each month. In the past, you wrote love poems for me, but I was so busy with housework that I didn’t have time to pay proper attention to them. Now I write you letters that you can’t respond to immediately, so we’re even – I won’t let you complain to our friends about that anymore!
I’ll stop here. In the past two days, the weather has been pretty good. I hope you get to see the blue sky occasionally. Love you.
Your wife who loves you.
December 3, 2014
P.S. I’ve lost 1.5 kilograms, and everyone has made fun of me, saying: “You’ve only lost 1.5 kilograms, how is that fair to your husband, the fatty?!” I’m truly sorry. How much have you lost? I wish you success with your weight loss!
The Chinese version of this letter is available here: http://xgmyd.com/archives/10506
1 In Beijing, the central heating system is switched on for the winter in November.
2 Huang Kaiping, executive director of the Transition Institute, was removed from his home by police on October 10, 2014. On January 28, 2015, he returned home. During his more than three months of enforced disappearance, his family was unable to obtain any information on his whereabouts.
3 Xia Lin is the defense lawyer of Guo Yushan. He was detained on November 8, 2014 after demanding to meet with Guo at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.
4 He Zhengjun is the administrative director of the Transition Institute. He was detained on November 26, 2014 and officially charged with “operating an illegal business” on January 6, 2015. He is currently being held at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.
5 Xiao Shu is the nickname of Liu Jianshu, an Oxford-educated lawyer and former officer at Liren Rural Library, an NGO that maintained 22 libraries in remote rural communities across China. In September 2014, Liren Rural Library announced its closure, on account of the “tremendous pressure” placed on the group’s activities (including the forced closure of several branches) by local authorities. Liu was detained on November 26, 2014 at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, suspected of “operating an illegal business.” He was released on bail on December 24, 2014.
6 Xue Ye is a publisher and bookstore owner, affiliated with Liren College, a non-governmental educational institution established under the umbrella of the Liren Rural Library, which closed in September 2014 following pressure from authorities. Xue was detained on November 26, 2014 at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, suspected of “operating an illegal business.” He was released on bail on December 26, 2014.
7 Xu Xiao is a prominent writer and editor, affiliated with Liren College, a non-governmental educational institution established under the umbrella of the Liren Rural Library, which closed in September 2014 following pressure from authorities. She was detained on November 26, 2014 at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, suspected of “endangering national security.” She was released in late December 2014.
8 In 2012, Guo helped Chen Guangcheng to escape illegal house arrest by driving him from Shandong province to Beijing, where Chen took refuge at the U.S. Embassy. As punishment, Guo was placed under house arrest in Beijing for three months.
9 The Disasters of the Partisan Prohibitions refers to two incidents in which several Confucian scholars who served the Han dynasty government were imprisoned for their opposition to the court’s powerful eunuch faction. After the head eunuch ordered his arrest, Zhang Jian (115-198 CE) fled. Members of the several households that had offered him shelter were later executed for assisting a fugitive.
10 The Generals of the Yang Family refers to a collection of Chinese folklore, plays, and novels about a military family of the Song dynasty. In 1960, composer Du Mingxin wrote a Peking opera entitled The Female Generals of the Yang Family, in which the Yang family matriarch, along with several of the family’s widows, leads the Song army into battle against the Tangut invaders of the Western Xia.