Great People, Ungrateful Government

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

By Dorjeecairang

Feng Jianmei, a 23-year-old frail woman was lying in hospital bed in a shabby hospital in western China’s Shaanxi province, her black long hair covering her face. Lying next to her was the body of her unborn baby that was aborted. The fetus was bloody and showed signs of struggling before her short life was ended by ruthless officials using a poisonous injection.

Last month, angry relatives uploaded the gruesome picture above to the Internet; Chinese Internet users were outraged by the horrific act done by local officials. Many demanded those involved be brought to justice and lots of people condemned the government employees as murderers. I was equally outraged because that was my first time witnessing the horror inflicted by China’s freaky one-child policy. The policy made sense when it was first introduced, but it can hardly be justified when fertility rate in this land is now way below replacement rate; China is becoming another Japan.

Feng’s husband Deng Jiyuan, who was working in a mine in Inner Mongolia, immediately returned home when he heard the news. I managed to find his cell phone number and called him one morning. To my surprise, he sounded relatively calm was very soft-spoken. He told me that his 7-month pregnant wife was kept under house arrest for 3 days before being abducted to a local hospital; she was blindfolded when the abduction occurred. When I told him that I wanted to tape our conversation, he started to mutter. He said he needed more time to ponder.

I waited for his response for hours, repeatedly sending him text messages to persuade him that the media organization I work for is highly respected and our reporting would only help his wife’s case. Still, I received no response. Having worked for foreign media for a year, I understand people’s concerns here. On one hand, those voiceless want their voices to be heard. But on the other hand, they have great fear that talking to foreign media would get them into trouble. Their ambivalence is understandable for there is no lack of precedence of people getting into trouble for speaking to foreign media.

Since the story exploded in China and attracted international attention at the time, I pursued him tirelessly. He finally agreed to talk on tape around 10 p.m. on that day. I called him again hoping he would walk me through what his wife had undergone and how he felt. But before I could speak, he told me he didn’t want to bring shame to his country and he was concerned our coverage would tarnish China’s image on world stage. I reassured him and gave him the freedom to avoid questions that he felt uncomfortable with.

Our interview went ok. He selectively answered my questions and I didn’t push him too hard when I sensed his uneasiness. Maybe there was an element of fear in his resistance to answer some of the questions; he may be afraid of retaliation from local officials. But I clearly felt that he was genuinely concerned about how China is perceived by the rest of world. He was a real patriot, a humble farmer who just lost his child due to an inhumane policy of his government and who still cared deeply about his country’s future.

I was in shock after I heard the reason behind his reservation. Maybe he was just a good-natured person. But I blame his forgiveness to the way the Chinese are educated. We are taught from a young age that we should make sacrifices for the country. Our textbooks were filled with role models that endured extremely painful situations or killed themselves for the glory of the country. Individuals’ rights are overshadowed by public good, which is exclusively associated with the government. Many people’s obedience originates from their ignorance of their individual rights.

Days later, the story kept fomenting. After Mr. Deng talked to German media, local officials got irritated and they paid villagers from a neighboring village to stage a demonstration denouncing Deng and his family members as traitors. The banners those people carried read “beat down the traitors.” When Deng tried to flee to Beijing, he was beaten up by three strangers whom they suspected were thugs hire by local government. Deng later went into hiding and his family was still under close watch of the government.

After days of behind-the-scene discussion, earlier this month, Mr. Deng and Ms. Feng agreed to take $11,200 from local government to settle the case. The Associated Press reported that Deng’s family wanted to return to “normal life.” I am quite sure for Mr. Deng to go through all this, he is very disheartened. He is a great guy, but his government certainly doesn’t think this way.

Running AwayGetting a Driver's License in China
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Dorjee is a Shanghai-based reporter who works for a Western media organization; many of the stories he has worked on have enjoyed great popularity both in the West and in China.