As China continues its crackdown on reform-minded scholars and civil liberties, the wife of yet another detained member of the respected Beijing-based think tank, Transition Institute, has spoken out in an open letter circulated online. Reaching out to her husband, Huang Kaiping, in the only way she now can, Zhou Qinghui recounts in vivid voice their first meeting, as fifth graders, up until the current day’s events, cast in shadow by the question mark of an uncertain future under a repressive regime.
Huang Kaiping is the executive director of the Transition Institute, one of China’s few independent think tanks. TI carries out social and economic research, publishing scholarly essays, reports and books on many subjects from energy and transportation policy to law reform. Huang Kaiping is best known for his book, The Truth About Chinese Taxes: A Citizens’ Guide, which became a bestseller. In addition to a Masters in Psychology from Beijing Normal University, Kaiping pursued a longstanding interest in psychiatric and mental health care abuses and was a regular columnist on the subject.
Huang Kaiping was taken by Beijing police from the Transition Institute’s offices on October 10, 2014. The police do not acknowledge Kaiping is in their custody. Meanwhile, Kaiping’s family has received no official notification of his detention, nor have charges been laid against him.
Looking Forward to the Moment when You Return (期待着你回来的那一刻)
Beijing winters are always frigid, but to my surprise, I have been enjoying these windy days, when the piercingly cold wind cuts across my face and hands. The pain that penetrates to my bones allows me to forget, for a moment, the pain in my heart. Who knew that cold wind could be so agreeable.
In primary school, when I was in the fifth grade, you came to our school and arrived at my classroom. Many years later, my primary school classmates told me that back then, you bought the same pencil case as mine, and wrote an acrostic poem using the letters of my name …
During middle school, you very bashfully gave me gifts …
At university, other people informed me that I was your girlfriend …
During your first year at graduate school, you had an accident and hit your head and got a concussion. You couldn’t remember anything except me. At that moment, I took your hand in mine and decided that I would grow old together with you. You have never said any sweet words to me, but you said one thing that I will never forget, that touched me to the bottom of my heart. You said to me: “You’re ugly.” I replied: “If I’m ugly then why did you marry me?” You said: “Because I like ugly women.” I asked: “Sister Feng is ugly, why didn’t you marry her?”You said: “She’s better looking than you.”
Whenever you practice calligraphy, I always walk over to you and shake my head. Once I said, “Ah, still no progress after all these years! They say that you can tell a person’s character from their brush strokes; yours are like meat without bones, simple and bold, but not energetic enough!” You turned your head and said, “What do you know, kid!?” Then you painted the character for “ugly” (丑) on my forehead! Later, after our son was born, you would paint the character for “king” (王) on his forehead, with two curving strokes (丿) below his nose, like whiskers.Married life contains joy and laughter, as well as arguments and conflict. It’s impossible to avoid getting on each other’s nerves, but after all, that’s for husbands and wives to deal with in private, behind closed doors.
But who could have predicted that seeing you, let alone holding you, would one day become a luxury?
I remember the fog in Beijing was especially thick on the day that you were taken away, October 10, 2014. I bought corn, pork ribs, and fish at the market, to make a sumptuous meal for you. We hadn’t enjoyed a meal together for a very long time.
Soup has to be simmered for a long time to make it really tasty, so I started cooking at midday, imagining that you could eat as soon as you got home that evening. I called you, and you said you were busy … I didn’t call again after that. In the afternoon, I heard you had been taken away. The moment I heard the news, tears began rolling down my cheeks. A week later, I still hadn’t finished eating the sweet corn pork rib soup.
At 10.30pm that evening, I went to bed. Just as I lay down, I heard multiple sets of footsteps stop outside the front door. Seven or eight policemen (only one, a younger man, was wearing a police uniform, several wore camouflage, and the others were in plain clothes) came into the house, and the one wearing a police uniform showed me a search warrant. I stood there, and allowed these people to search every corner of our home. When they had finished, many things were gone: computers, books, even your bank card and the CDs I had used to learn English at university. When they made me sign the inventory of items seized, I glanced at the clock on the wall, and saw that it was already past midnight on October 11. I lay down on the bed, but after the house had been violated by so many people, there was no way I was getting to sleep.
After that, I said to Ah-Panand Xinghui, “The computers have been taken away by the police, and even if they return them, I don’t want them; it feels like they’ve been violated, and I’m not sure what they might have installed.” Ah-Pan said, “The computers would be very sad to hear you say that.” I thought carefully, and realized she had a good point. After being violated, the computers must be very sad indeed. If their owner abandoned them, how could they not be even sadder?
At the beginning of 2014, we joked that this year there would be a “leap” in the ninth lunar month, and so you could celebrate your birthday twice!On your birthday, your father called me, and I lied and told him you had gone abroad. I said that the leap month was still to come and that you could celebrate your birthday then, and it wouldn’t be too late. Who could have known that you wouldn’t even celebrate one birthday? Fortunately, this lie just about convinced your father.
One morning at dawn, I was riding my bike to work, when I saw someone coming from the opposite direction, and I really thought it was you. I sped up, but it wasn’t until there was only 200 or 300 meters between us that I realized I wasn’t thinking clearly: this early, in clothes I hadn’t seen before, with a rucksack on his back and carrying a shoulder bag, how could it possibly be you?
Ah-Pan told me to come and stay with her, so we could stick together and support each other. I neither refused nor agreed. I didn’t have the courage to stay with her. I was afraid that being around her would bring more pain than the two of us by ourselves were already enduring, afraid that our emotions would cross-contaminate. I didn’t have the capacity to support Ah-Pan, nor did I have the capacity to console myself.
Every day I try to face the world with a smile. I believe that smiling brings good fortune. Even as I witness more and more families of others, who have been detained, grow lonely and helpless, I believe that the sun always shines on people who smile.
Almost every night for the past few days I’ve dreamed that you’ve suffered all kinds of accidents. I have been enjoying the morning because after I wake up, I realize it was just a dream, and that makes me so happy.
Every day I’m apprehensive, yet hopeful. I prick up my ears to listen for footsteps at the door, expecting you to knock, ready to let you in. At the same time, I despise the prospect of the police coming to the door. In the past, I thought that this house was our home, and that home is a place that makes one feel safe. When people that you detest rummage through all your possessions and search your home, it feels like every single part of your private life has been pried into, completely exposed. Only then did I realize that you were right, that it’s inner strength that makes us feel safe, and that it’s family that makes us feel warm. On the one hand, I hate this house; on the other, I’m using all my energy to preserve it, because I hope that when you come home, I’ll be able to give you that warmth, and support you with my embrace.
Every day when I get home from work, I pause at the bottom of the stairs and unconsciously look up at the window, hoping that I will see lamplight shining from within, even though I know you don’t have a key to get in.
Every day when I reach the fourth floor, I slow down, because in my heart I expect you to be standing outside our door on the fifth floor, waiting for me to let you in. Even though I am disappointed every time, I still hope every single time.
I hope that I’ll run into you on the subway, that I’ll run into you on the street on my way home, that I’ll run into you at the entrance to our housing estate. I feel deep gratitude towards Xinghui for giving me so much support lately. He consoled me by saying that at this time I should try to focus on your shortcomings, so that your absence will be easier to endure. I have tried hard to consider your flaws, but right now it seems that all of them added together aren’t equal to your virtues.
One day, Xinghui took me to climb Mang Mountain. The weather was warm and fine, but the visibility was poor. When we got to the summit, I asked Xinghui, “Where is Shahe University Park?” Xinghui gestured in the 11 o’clock direction, and I followed the direction of his finger and looked straight out, hoping to see the Haidian District Detention Center. I remembered that it is next to a rocky hill, and hoped that you were there, even though the detention center staff told me that you weren’t on their records.
I might not know where you are, but being able to breathe in this terrible air with you is a good thing.
I know that by disposition you are upstanding and resolute, and I also understand that you have always worried about Yushan.I even understand the purity of spirit, the inner determination and perseverance of you, Yushan, and everyone else in your group. How could people with such clear consciences be released quickly? I became deeply confused when Xia Lin, the lawyer, was detained, because I knew what Xia Lin’s arrest would mean for Yushan – and you and Yushan are in the same position. Right after that, Lao Healso suffered … and other people were also subpoenaed.
I am so grateful that lawyer Qingshi is representing you,but I’m also scared that he will be detained. Qingshi said that wouldn’t happen. But seeing these people in power behaving like rabid dogs, biting everyone they encounter, who can really know for sure?
When all my efforts have no effect, tears come quickly, and can’t be stopped. Qingshi said I shouldn’t cry, especially in front of these people who lack even basic morals. He tells me to be strong, and makes me look straight into the face of this system and the faces of the people within it.
Every day after your forced disappearance, I have tried hard to make myself stronger on the inside and use my inner strength to control my emotions. This is never easy for me, but while I might not be strong, I’m also not a coward.
In life, people always want to do something that they can be proud of when they face death. You have always worked hard for that. Because of your efforts, the best and most honorable thing that I’ve done in my life is marrying you.
In all these years together, we’ve been through so many ups and downs. Now, at this moment, I just want to say to you, “As time flows by like water, we exchange words; during days of peace and happiness, we keep each other company; as things flourish and fade, we will grow old, hand in hand.”
1“Sister Feng” refers to Luo Yufeng 罗玉凤, a Chinese Internet celebrity and reality TV star.
2In traditional Chinese culture, the tiger is considered the “king” (王) of the animal kingdom. Here, Zhou recalls how Huang playfully transformed their son into the tiger king by painting this character on the boy’s forehead, along with two curving strokes below his nose (to resemble a tiger’s whiskers).
3“Ah-Pan” is the nickname of Pan Haixia, wife of the founder of the Transition Institute, Guo Yushan. Since her husband was taken into detention on October 9, 2014, Pan has published letters to him via Chinese social media. Probe International has published English translations of two of these letters: the first letter is here and the second one here.
4Ren Xinghui is one of Huang Kaiping’s colleagues at the Transition Institute.
5A “leap” (or intercalary) month was added to the Chinese lunar calendar in 2014, after the ninth lunar month. Since Huang Kaiping’s birthday falls on the 29th day of the ninth lunar month (October 22, in the Gregorian calendar), he could have celebrated his birthday twice in 2014. (His “second” birthday would have fallen on November 11.) By the time his original birthday arrived, however, he had already been taken into detention.
6 When Qinghui’s father-in-law telephoned on Kaiping’s birthday, she lied to him about Kaiping’s whereabouts, so as not to alarm him. She expected Kaiping to return home soon. Though Qinghui’s father-in-law was anxious, he believed her until someone told him mid-December what had really happened, based on what was known via the Internet.
7Guo Yushan, the founder of the Transition Institute, was taken into detention on October 9, 2014.
8Lao He (“Old He”) is the nickname of He Zhengjun, the administrative manager of the Transition Institute. He was taken into detention on November 26, 2014, and officially arrested on January 3, 2015, charged, like Guo Yushan, with operating “illegal business.” He is currently being held at Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.
9Qingshi is the nickname of lawyer Zhang.
10Here, Zhou quotes several lines of verse from “You Just Keep Silent,” a novel by online fan fiction writer, Meirudai.