The Gao Qinrong Interview in Southern Metropolis Daily
(Southern Metropolis Daily; also backup) Reporter Gao Qinrong: "I won't admit to fabricated crimes; I only told the truth." By Jiang Yingshuang. December 14, 2006.
高勤荣 after getting out of prison
The infamous Yuncheng fake irrigation towers
Gao Qinrong and wife Duan Maoying in happier times
Gao Qinrong, born January 19, 1955, Chinese Communist Party member, former reporter at the Shanxi Youth Daily and then transferred to the Shanxi bureau of Xinhua's <Reporter Observations> magazine. In May 1998, he was the first to expose the fake irrigation project in the Yuncheng area. On December 4 of the same year, he was detained and then formally arrested on December 26. In August 1999, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for "receiving bribes, pimping and swindling." On December 7, 2006, Gao Qinrong was released after serving his prison term (he received a four-year reduction based upon good behavior in prison as well as making many contributions). He has returned to his barren home.
On December 12, Gao Qinrong was interviewed by this reporter and he spoke in detail about his eight years in prison.
Aside: On May 27, 1998, the People's Daily internal section of letters from the readers published Shangxi Youth Daily reporter Gao Qinrong's article titled "Yuncheng (Shanxi) Wasting Huge Amounts of Money with Fake Irrigation." At issue was how Yuncheng official created a fake irrigation project to impress their superiors and thereby wasted more than more than 200 million RMB with this "image" project.
Soon afterwards, the Shanxi provincial disciplinary committee asked Gao in for "a chat." On December 4, 1998, Gao Qinrong went to Beijing to report on the situation. He was followed by the Yuncheng police and taken back to Yuncheng. The disciplinary committee and public security bureau people then searched Gao Qinrong's home in Taiyuan.
In April 1999, the Yuncheng procuratorate charged Gao Qinrong with receiving bribes, committing fraud and pimping. On August 13, 1999, the Yuncheng Middle Count convicted Gao Qinrong on the bribery, fraud and procurement charges with sentences of 5, 3 and 5 years respectively. The combined length of the prison term was set to 12 years.
Q: It was eight years before you returned home again. How do you feel inside?
Gao: I returned home and I saw the many photographs of movie stars that my daughter had posted on the wall. There was also cartoon drawings. I feel that this is a warm and happy shelter. It has been eight years since I went to prison. When I came out and see all this, I want to cry. On one hand, I feel very happy to see the daughter whom I have not seen for eight years. On the other hand, I feel very grave, sorrowful and angry. During those years, I wrote more than 100 petitions. More than 100 experts wrote on my behalf. It has been eight years. This is as long as the War of Resistance Against Japan. I have not obtained victory, and so I feel very sorrowful inside.
Q: You were 39 years old when you went to prison. That was the prime of your life.
Q: How did you find out about the fake irrigation project?
A: I was doing a report in Yuncheng. On the way over by train, I heard a few local people chatting about the irrigation project in Yuncheng. They cited a doggerel: "The American satellites are watching and seeing that Yuncheng is preparing for war again by building blockhouses even though the Japanese left fifty years ago." So I asked them about the matter. They complained that Yuncheng is well-known to be on hard yellow earth, so that building these irrigation towers to allow water to seep through the earth is impossible. But the local officials were showcasing this irrigation project in order to impress visitors. So after I got off the train, I found a car and I started going down the highway. I saw the the rows of irrigation towers which looked like concrete blockhouses. I got out of the car and took a closer look. Some of these were just semi-circular walls facing the road with nothing behind. Some were filled with weeds. Some do not even have the floor sealed with cement, so they could mpy possibly be used to store water. This was a fake project that wasted money and it also made the people very angry. So I went through some channels and I found out that this fake project actually cost more than 200 million RMB. I was really very angry.
Q: When you wrote the report, did you anticipate the storm that would result?
A: I really did not imagine it. At the time, it was an instinct. I found something out and I had to speak up. This was not because I was after some particular person. I want them to make amends. I am just a writer and I tend to imagine the world to be good and perfect. I did not think that I was doing anything bad, and therefore people can't do anything to me.
Q: Yuncheng is your hometown. To expose these matters meant that you would become the enemy of some of the local officials. Did you hesitate as a result?
A: Not for a minute. I am a honest and frank person. If you do right, I will praise you. If you do wrong, I will criticize you. I had reported on the matter related to the son of the former Taiyuan city party secretary. This is like a basic instinct of a journalist. If you find out about it, you report it. It does not matter if is black or red.
Q: When the judge who participated in your trial was interviewed, he said that your were a reporter without journalistic ethics. What is your own assessment of yourself?
A: We do what we do and we do not need to be assessed by others. We have a standard -- if you feel that what you do is right, you can hold your head high.
Q: Do you feel angry? Assuming that you are innocent.
A: I am angry, but it does not matter to me. It suffices that I feel having done right by the Party and the people.
Q: Do you remember what happened at the trial?
A: I remember. I had been in the detention center for nine months. Actually, there are good and bad aspects about the prisoners. When I was at the detention center, they treated me very well. I told them about the principles, about the law, about the general situation. They even elected me as the chief. When I left, many of the prisoners at the detention center were sad. The trial went from morning until it was dark in the evening. As I left the courthouse to return to prison, many people were waiting by the roadside and they rushed over to give me food. I cried at the time. An old man shouted out to me from afar: "You hang in there!" When I heard that, I began to cry.
Q: Very touching.
A: Very touching. I feel that they did not forget me. They did not forget what I did.
Q: You were sentenced to 12 years. Did you really think that you would have to stay for the whole time?
A: No. Even before the verdict, I was thinking that the verdict had to be based upon facts and the law as the basis. I thought that I would be able to get out quickly. I did not think that I would get 12 years in prison, and I did not think that I would have to serve the whole time. Even when the verdict was delivered, I felt only anger. I did not realize what 12 years meant.
Q: Did you lost hope?
A: After spending three years in prison without any news and having so many hopes dashed, I was desperate. I thought about committing suicide.
Q: So how did you conquer yourself?
A: I forced myself to read books. I chatted with the friends inside. We helped each other. Some of them said, "I got 20 years" and "I got a life sentence, so yours is just a short term!"
Q: You can only use that type of Ah Q spirit to encourage yourself.
A: That was all I can do. I waited. I waited while I fought back. Over these eight years, I fought back every month, I fought back every day, but there was no result.
Q: How did you fight back?
A: It is my right to appeal. I sent out more than a dozen letters each month. I do not know if the people outside ever received them.
Q: Why did you keep writing if there was no response?
A: This was my mental support. I had to keep writing even if there was no response.
Q: So you treated your appeals as a mental support.
A: Yes. I thought that God will be touched somehow.
Q: You thought that something would come out of it.
A: I thought that something would come out it. In fact, nothing came out of it. I started a prison newspaper. In the competition among all prison newspapers in China, I won two First Class Prizes. I received many prizes and awards in each of the 8 years. Based upon the sentence reduction, I should have been released with the July batch of people. But they said that I have never admitted to the charges and therefore they kept me in. I felt particularly bad because I wanted to get out so badly. The prison head said, "Why don't you compromise a little? Just go through the formalities and write out some kind of confession, and you will be out." I said, "No. I am not guilty. So what I am going to confess to?"
Q: You won't even go through the motions?
A: I have to maintain my human dignity. Outside prison, I'm an honest and frank person. Inside prison, I'm also an honest and frank person.
Q: What if you wrote a confession?
A: I will look down on myself. Like that poem says, "Crawl out on your knees and I will give you freedom!" No, I would rather stay in there for another four months. I will not lower my head and crawl out on my knees.
Q: According to you, you have never admitted to the crimes all these eight years.
A: Why should I admit to any crime? All three charges against me were fabricated.
Q: The people outside did not forget you.
A: What supported me to live on over these days are my family and the miscellaneous and uninterrupted concerns from the world. There were also the various reports in newspapers and magazines. They all represent hope.
[Aside: After Gao Qinrong went to prison, various media covered the injustice of his case. More than 100 famous writers, scholars, painters, media workers and lawyers wrote to the National People's Congress, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate without any result . Gao Qinrong's wife Duan Maoying took the long road to petition and traveled to Beijing more than 30 times on behalf of her husband.]
Q: Your wife made a huge sacrifice for you, including bringing up a young child on her own and traveling to Beijing to petition for you.
A: After I entered prison, she brought up the child with her 700 or 800 RMB in income per month. I needed money in prison too. She went to Beijing to petition on my behalf. She usually took the last night train to Beijing which arrives at 6am so that she could start going about immediately. Then she took the last night train home, so that she saved two nights of boarding. Actually, most of the time, she could not find anyone or else she was chased out. She sat all morning at the office of some department and then she came home without any results. When I got out, she showed me a list which is a densely filled out schedule of where and went she went over those years. When I saw that, I really wanted to get down on my knees and tell her, "I'm so sorry."
Q: Did you say it?
A: I said it. I owe her too much. I will never be able to repay her. She did not say anything. She just cried.
Q: Your case was hidden from your child for eight years?
A: She thought all along that I was overseas. On December 3, the day when I was supposed to get out, my wife told the child, "Do you know where your dad went?" The child said, "I don't know." Then she asked her mother, "Didn't you say that my dad was overseas?" My wife said, "He is not overseas. You dad went to prison because of retaliation against his anti-corruption activities. He is coming out of prison today."
Q: Could she take it?
A: (tears flowing) My daughter is an introvert. She just cried and she did not say anything. My wife then took out many news reports about me and showed her. She just cried as she read them.
Q: Why won't you let her visit you?
A: I was afraid that it would affect her education. After I went to prison, I called her once. She asked, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm your dad." I asked, "Do you miss your dad?" She started to cry out aloud and she wouldn't say anything. So I did not call her again. I was afraid that she would be emotionally affected.
Q: When you met her that day, what happened?
A: When I came back, it was a Thursday. The child's school is very far away, so she and her mother live with her aunt. On Saturday, she returned home with her mother. I saw that the girl who used to climb on my back is now already 1.65 meters tall. So I grabbed her and said, "Darling, do you miss daddy?" She did not say anything. She only nodded and cried.
Q: Do you feel that she understands you?
A: She can understand me. I said to her, "Darling, your mom has told you why your dad went to prison Dad did not shame you nor did he doing wrong by the Party and the people." (tears flowing) I said, "Darling, do not feel ashamed. Your dad went to prison because he spoke out for the people. You must hold your head up high and study well." She nodded her head.
Q: Do you any feel alienated from your daughter since you have not seen each other for eight years?
A: Yes. When I went to eat lunch with her and her mom today, I was speaking to her and she was very shy. She just nodded but she never voluntarily said anything. She will not crawl on me like she did when she was young. I feel sad when I see that. She is old enough, after all.
Q: Slowly, the natural affection will come back.
A: Yes, it shall pass. When I see the child and her mom, I feel that my lost world has returned.
Q: Live well.
A: Live well.
[Aside: Presently, Gao Qinrong's greatest wishes are to go back into journalism and to get his daughter transferred back to the Taiyuan Middle School Number 5 near his home (his wife lives with her sister in order to take care of their daughter). Then the family can see each other every day. Gao Qinrong is working hard on this right now.]
Q: Are you proud to have been a reporter once?
A: I'm proud. I merely spoke the truth. I would not avoid speaking the truth on account of personal considerations. In order to make this people strong, we must learn to speak the truth. If reporters do not speak the truth, then it is the sorrow of our profession. We are the spokespersons for the people.
Q: Do you feel that you paid too big a price?
A: For me personally, it was a very big price. But since it has happened, I can only accept it.
Q: You paid with eight years without freedom.
A: (silence) I had written my will already. Actually, I'm not afraid at all.
Q: Do you think that it was worth it? Have you considered this problem?
A: I've thought about it. I don't have an answer.
Q: Why do you like to be a reporter?
A: I help the people to say what they want but are unable to say.
Q: You have never regretted what you did?
Q: Even for the sake of your family?
A: Never. My wife supported all that I did. That is why she had the strength to go around on my behalf. If I were a real criminal, she might have left me early on.
Q: Your action won her love and respect, and that is why she did it for you.
Q: What if you never get vindication for yourself?
A: That is possible. I can only try to make a living while I write. There is nothing that I can do. I will have to accept it even if I don't want to. It is like going to prison -- you have to go even if you don't want to. A man has to continue living.
Q: You will live on while you petition?
A: I will never admit defeat. I will never say that I am sorry. I will continue to petition. The process of petitioning is the process of fighting corruption. I want to continue to fight the battle.
Q: But this is a unequal battle.
A: This is a gunpowder-less battle, but I will fight on. It is useless to be afraid. I can only fight on. At least I've tried to do what I can. I have a clear conscience.
Q: Would this experience, this suffering, make you detest the world and its ways?
A: I won't. I feel that this is a process that our nation and society must go through during our development. Sometimes this happens but society will continue to progress. Sometimes it rains but the clear weather will usually come quickly.