The Gao Qinrong Interview in Southern Weekend
Image of Southern Weekend, January 11, 2001
<What happens after an anti-corruption reporter told the truth>
(Southern Weekend; also backup) The Reporter's Eight Years in Prison. By Ma Changbo (马昌博). December 14, 2006.
As he took off his prisoner's garb, it was like Gao Qinrong could not wait. He did not wait to go back to the prison office but he immediately changed to "civilian" clothes in the prison classroom.
This was the first time that Gao Qinrong had put on "civilian" clothes in eight years.
Then he turned in all his prison possessions. He gave away his lunch box, prisoner's uniform and blanket to other inmates.
Then he began to walk towards the outside. One iron gate. Another iron gate. The fellow prisoners left behind yelled aloud to send him off. Gao Qinrong became so emotional that he cannot speak. He kept making bows with his hands in front. "I was thinking about how I will finally be able to see the outside world," said Gao Qinrong when he was interviewed by our reporter on December 12.
What does eight years in prison mean to a former reporter? 46-year-old Gao Qinrong could not answer. He only said, "When I walked out of the prison gates, I appreciated the value of freedom most of all. When you are out of prison, you can go to sleep anytime that you want."
In May 1998, this former Shanxi Youth Daily reporter was the first to report that the Yuncheng government wasted 28.5 million RMB on a fake irrigation project. On May 27, the internal edition of readers' comments in People's Daily published Gao Qinrong's "Yuncheng (Shangxi) wasted huge sums on fake irrigation." Afterwards, various other media including Southern Weekend followed up and exposed the issue to the world.
One year later on May 4, 1999, Gao Qinrong was sentenced to 13 years in prison by the Yuncheng local court for "accepting bribes, pimping and committing fraud" and he was sent to serve his time at the Jinzhong Prison.
Eight years passed by in a blink.
On the morning of December 7, Gao Qinrong went to the Jinzhong prison classroom in order to proof-read the two articles that he recently wrote for the prison newspaper. Ever since arriving at this prison, this ex-reporter has been responsible for editing this prison newspaper.
Previously, Gao had received two sentence reductions. According to custom, he should have been informed when he was released. But nobody told him the precise time. This was because the former Yuncheng district deputy director of the Beijing liaison office Gao Manqiang, who had supplied tips to Gao Qinrong about the fake irrigation project, had also been sentenced to 7 years in prison. On April 18, 2003, Gao Manqiang completed his sentence. As he stepped out of the prison gate, he was assaulted by three thugs with steel poles. Even the prison guard who tried to intercede was injured. Based upon those circumstances, the prison authorities did not inform Gao Qinrong about his release date until noon on December 7.
Q: Can you describe how you left the prison?
A: The deputy prison director told me that the court decision has been delivered. The only question was whether I wanted to leave quietly now or tomorrow morning in their escort. I said that I wanted to leave immediately.
Q: What did you feel at the time?
A: Elation, solemnity, anger, sadness, anger. I was elated because I will get to see my wife and daughter immediately. I was solemn because even though National People Congress representatives, National Political Consultative Committee members and many media spoke out on my behalf, nothing ever came out of it; I was angry and sad because the assault on Gao Manqiang is still an unsolved case.
Q: Was Gao Manqiang in the same prison as you were?
A: The same prison. He was crippled as soon he walked out of the prison gate. He was unconscious for 48 days. Some fellow inmates who left before me told me to let them know when I was coming out, because they would bring me a steel helmet and a bullet-proof vest. Fearful of another Gao Manqiang incident, the prison authorities took me home in their vehicle.
Q: How did you feel when you got past the prison gate?
A: I sighed a breath of relief.
Q: What was the first thing that you did when you got out of prison?
A: I called my wife and I told her that I am out.
Q: How did your wife react?
A: Very calmly. She was numbed.
Q: What were you thinking on the way home?
A: I was looking at the outside world. All the walls have now turned into shops. When I tried to report to the Taiyuan public security bureau, I could not even find the place even though I had been there several times in the past. And I could even find my home.
Q: Did you have dinner with your family that evening?
A: No. I saw my child two days later. When I left, she was eight years old. She is now sixteen years old. I embraced her and I asked her if she missed her father. She nodded while she cried.
Q: How many times have you seen your family during the eight years in prison?
A: The prison regulation is one visit per month. At first, my wife was very worried. She cried every time that she saw me. In 2000, I called my child. She picked up the telephone. My wife did not want to tell her that I was in prison. So she said that I was overseas. For the past eight years, my daughter had no idea where I was. I asked, "Do you miss your dad?" She said yes and then she began to cry. Once she started to cry, I could not say anything more. So my wife was crying and my child was crying. I thought that I owe my family too much. When I came back, I saw the copies of the materials and the petition schedule to Beijing, I really wanted to get down on my knees and tell my wife how sorry I am.
Q: You exposed the case of the fake irrigation project. What exactly was it like?
A: At the end of 1997, I was gathering news in Yuncheng. On the train, I heard about the fake irrigation project. How fake was it? Some of the 'circular' storage tanks were just semi-circular walls facing the road without nothing behind.
Q: What was the reaction after the report was published?
A: The People's Daily published the report on May 27, 1998. On October 16, 1998, CCTV broadcast a report about the fake irrigation project. I was indescribably elated. Iin December, I went to Beijing again. On the afternoon of December 4, I received a telephone call from an acquaintence who asked me to go to the Yuexiu hotel. I knocked on the room door but there was no reply. Then the elevator door opened, and three men came out and took me away.
Q: Can you tell me what happened in prison?
A: I was sent to bootcamp for a few months. After the Chinese New Year, I was assigned to work at the prison newspaper. In 2002, I took two first-class prizes in the Huabei and Dongbei rating of prison newspapers.
Q: Did you settle on serving out your prison term?
A: At first, I could not sleep at night. Then I thought I might as well as accept this. I have no issues with the prison itself. So I wanted to do well for the newspaper while I continued my appeals.
Q: Are you aware of what is going on the outside during these eight years?
A: There are lots of newspapers in the prison. We can also watch television. In March 2001, some National Political Consultative Committee members filed a joint petition on my behalf, and I was quite moved. In 2003, a Shanxi National People's Congress representative Mrs. Han went to the Supreme People's Court and presented my case. Bingxin daughter Wu Qing also sent a letter to my wife and asked her to remain firm.
Q: What was the worst part of your prison experience?
A: I was depressed. When people come around to inspect, their looks are an insult to your character. It was depressing. My health deteriorated. My hands trembled whenever I get worried.
Q: Did you personally meet Gao Manqiang in prison?
A: We met quite often . He was convicted with swindling and making a fake official seal chop. But Gao Manqiang called me a couple of days ago to say that he has been vindicated for which he received more than 600,000 RMB in compensation. After Gao Manqiang was assaulted, the reporters looked up his father. His father cried and explained that Gao Manqiang hurt himself when he fell down while repairing the house. Later, my wife told him that there was no need to be afraid of the lawyer, and so the 80-year-old man told the whole story.
Q: Did Gao Manqiang blame you?
A: No. When he saw me in prison, he cried.
Q: How was your relationship with the guards and inmates in the prison?
A: No matter whether it is the guards or inmates, they all have sentiments of pity. For example, when a prison political commissar talked to me once, he said, "We understand your situation through the media reports."
Q: How is your family situation?
A: My wife makes about 700 or 800 RMB per month. She has to bring up a child. The wages are not enough. My in-laws help out a bit. Later on, we got some donations from the public.
Q: During your eight years in prison, what is the issue that you contemplated the most about?
A: I thought most of all about about what I was doing. Those eight years gave me a chance to read books.
Q: What did you read mainly?
A: About history. And the practice of journalism.
Q: So you read about the practice of journalism?
A: I read it because I needed to run a prison newspaper. I also read the series of books about <Law and Rights>, <The Humanistic Spirit> and so on.
Q: You wrote out a will once. When did you write it?
A: I wrote it before I left prison. I was worried about any danger after I got out. In my will, I said that I was an orphan and my adopted parents have passed away. I possess nothing and my family is scattered. Therefore, I have nothing to give away. I came naked and I shall leave naked. I have no regrets.
Q: In retrospect, what do you think?
A: I can respond this way. I have been thinking as follows. As a reporter, I have to speak for the people. If I had not written that article, then this thing would not have happened. But if everybody shuts up, then what hope is there for this nation? Therefore, corruption must be exposed. Of course, the risks associated with this exposť were huge. Without a proper system, watchdog journalism is empty talk that is always vulnerable.
Q: Do you have any regrets?
A: I have no actual regrets. There is no other way. This is fate. It is impossible to get out of this matter. But eight years have elapsed and I am still alive. For the past several days, I have been writing letters of thanks. Then I want to write a book about my experiences. I have written a 50,000-word reportage article. If I work on it some more, I can get a long essay. I also want to write a screenplay based upon my prison experience. I have also thought about being a reporter again.
Q: According to the regulations, a person who has served time for crimes cannot become a reporter.
A: Yes. So I will have to be vindicated in order to become a reporter.
Q: Are there any other specific plans?
A: There are many economic criminals in prison and they have offered me some suggestions. Some of the friends offer me special rights to think about. The upfront investment is relatively low. I can get going with 10,000 RMB.
Q: Do you have a feeling of fatigue now?
A: I am firm-willed in my appeal. I cannot spend eight years in prison for no reason. But I am worried about the family finances. After all, I am a man and I cannot let my wife feed me. This is a practical issue.
Q: Have you adapted after getting out of prison?
A: In prison, I kept reading the newspapers and I learned to use the computer. After I got out of prison, I felt that this society has changed a lot. I need to understand this society. Freedom is a blessing. That is something that I can feel deeply.