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China: One dream, One prison

Posted by Author on January 14, 2008

by Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4, UK, 11 Jan 2008-

She’s the Chinese blogger who’s been dubbed “Tiananmen 2.0” and was selected for the TIME 100 list of heroes and pioneers. Lindsey Hilsum writes on the day she had to shout to Zeng Jinyan through a barred window.

I last saw Zeng Jinyan in December, a month after her baby was born. Jinyan is a sparrow-like woman, who looks even younger than her 24 years. She was in love.

Her mother looked on indulgently as Jinyan told my friend Bessie and me how beautiful the baby was, how perfect, how exceptional – until she giggled in embarrassment at her own enthusiasm.

We saw her again today.

She stood at the window of her fourth floor flat, behind the burglar bars, holding herZeng Jinyan and her baby sleeping daughter and shouting to us below. We couldn’t go in, because Jinyan is now under house arrest.

(photo by Channel 4)

Her slightly nerdy-looking bespectacled husband, Hu Jia, was arrested on December 27th and charged with “incitement to subvert state power,” a charge known as “counter revolution” in the bad old days.

Jinyan said the police cut her telephone line, and took her computer, mobile phone and bank card. Her mother is able to go and buy food, but they’re running out of cash. Friends who try to bring things for the baby are blocked.

For several days, the police camped in her flat – she protested and now they’re outside the door, day and night.

It’s hard to see how this couple, who seem like rather earnest and maybe naïve students, are a threat to the Chinese state. Hu Jia, who’s 33, started by campaigning for people with AIDS. Jinyan was catapulted into the spotlight in 2006, soon after their marriage, when he was first arrested.

She started a blog about her quest to find her husband and suddenly she was more famous then he. In 2006, Time magazine put her in their top 100 influential people in the world.

The Chinese government targets Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan because they join the dots. They use the internet to express their opinion that issues like land rights and AIDS are indivisible – the fundamental problem in China is the abuse of power by the state and Communist Party officials.

The government can tolerate isolated protests, but it knows that if one angry community makes common cause with another, that could become a nation-wide movement. The only national organisation allowed in China is the Party.

The Chinese government is determined to show China in a good light during the Olympics this August. The slogan is “One World, One Dream”, the idea that China is a leader amongst civilised peoples, a full member of the community of nations.

It’s all about giving a good impression – there are campaigns to stop taxi drivers from eating garlic, and pedestrians from spitting in the street.

Earlier this week we watched Olympic hostesses being put through their paces – learning to smile showing only six to eight teeth, stand up straight (with an English grammar book on their heads) and bow while presenting a medal.

The government’s fear is that people like Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan will spoil the party by presenting a bad image of China to the world – their solution is to lock them up.

But that will cause far more trouble. The images which will resonate around the world are not the identikit young women in immaculate uniforms learning to walk gracefully, but one young woman holding a tiny baby, shouting through the bars that they took her husband away and have imprisoned her at home.

Original report from Channel 4

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