You may have heard of Yang Jia. Two years ago, he was just another jobless Beijing resident with a bicycle. Now, he’s a “national hero” of sorts. He’s also dead, having been executed following a conviction on six counts of murder.
Yang’s story has been much discussed. For those unfamilar with it, the short version goes something like this. In 2007, Yang was arrested and interrogated by Shanghai police for, of all things, riding an unlicensed bicycle. During the interrogation Yang said he was beaten and verbally abused, and a suit for maltreatment was ignored. On July 1, 2008, Yang went to the police headquarters in Zhabei (a Shanghai suburb) and lit some molotov cocktails. When the guard tried to stop him, Yang stabbed him and ran inside the station, eventually killing six police officers. His trial and subsequent appeal (both held behind closed doors) were delayed until after the Olympics, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was executed on November 26th. Reports of a sympathetic Chinese populace might be somewhat overstated, but certainly there were many who felt Yang was mistreated and that his trial was unfair. (See the Wikipedia page for more information and some good sources).
Less well reported, but currently making the rounds on the Chinese internet is the story of Yang’s mother, Wang Jingmei, who advocated for her son and wrote about the case with the pseduonym Liu Yaling. The entire story is quite lengthy, but we’re paraphrasing and translating the interesting bits for you here (block quoted portions are translation, the rest is paraphrased summary):
The Story of Yang Jia’s Mother
On July 1, three police came to my home. At first, I thought they were there for me, but they said my son had committed a crime in Shanghai. More people came into the room, and they said they had permission to search the house.
“Do you have proof?” He pulled out a search warrant with the names of two people on it.
“Doesn’t this just say two people? Why did you bring so many others?”
“We couldn’t write them down.”
“Couldn’t write them down, what kind of excuse is that! You must handle cases like this often, not writing it down just proves you only need two people.”
They didn’t listen. Everyone came in and started going through my things, taking away my child’s journal and computer. After they searched his room, they began to search mine. I asked what does my room have to do with this? They said, our leaders said to search the entire house. After searching my room they told me they were taking me to the police substation to make a written record. I said OK, but no matter where we’re going, you must respect the law
Once we got to the police substation they wouldn’t let me go. I asked, when will you let me go, and they told me that tomorrow the Shanghai police were sending someone and I had to wait […] The next afternoon the Shanghai police came. Two people walked into the room and I was furious as soon as I saw them. One of them, named Gu, was the same police who had come to settle the bicycle incident! I said, how can you be framing my son again, last time the one who came to settle with us was you, and now my son has fallen into your hands again!
The police at the substation then asked me what was going on, and I explained the situation to them. I then gave my statement, indicating I felt that there must be something wrong, that my son was good and would not do something like this. But they still wouldn’t let me leave, I asked and they told me there was still a situation they needed my help with and I would have to wait. I waited a whole day but everyone ignored me, in the end they found me an office and I slept there that night.
July 3rd I waited some more. No one asked questions or spoke to me, I just waited for a whole day, they wouldn’t let me leave. At night, probably around midnight, a female officer named Song came and said, “Get up.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re getting into a car.”
I said, “What am I getting into a car for? Where are you taking me?”
She said, “We don’t know either, just get in the car,” and made me get into a van. Male and female officers sat on either side of me, and Song drove the van. I asked continuously: “Where are you taking me?”
“Pretend you’re going to convalesce.”
What does “pretend you’re going to convalesce” mean? Where the heck are you taking me? Again, no one paid attention to me, just drove, drove until there were no people outside the car, just trees, and then mountains. I said, “What are you doing, taking me to the mountains?”
“When we get there, you’ll know,” they said.
By the time we stopped near a large doorway, it was very dark; all I could make out was the word “management” on a sign but I didn’t know management of what. We walked through doors and into a room with a bed and clothes, which I was made to put on. I said, “Isn’t this like a hospital? What’s going on,” but they made me put on the clothes. Then someone came over and asked if I’d been injured, and later they took some blood.
The next day, people called me Liu Yaling. That isn’t my name, but they told me that was the name I showed up with.
In my heart, I understood. I asked, why are you calling me this name, and everyone ignored me. That night, they made me take medicine. I said, why should I take medicine, I’m not sick, how can you just be giving me medicine to take? My doctor always says not to take medicine at random, how can you give me this without asking me anything at all? Not understanding my body, you make me take medicine, and don’t even tell me what medicine it is!
“It’s calming, it will help you sleep.”
“I don’t have a problem sleeping, you don’t even know that and you make me take medicine!” I persisted in refusing the medicine and afterwards they didn’t make me take it again.
And so I stayed there. There was a courtyard in the middle of the hospital where sick people could get outside, but my door was always locked and they wouldn’t let me go out. They didn’t let anyone speak to me, or let me speak to anyone. They didn’t let me give a phone number to family members, or contact anyone.
Afterwards I came to understand it was the Beijing Hospital Campus 3 that provided the papers allowing me to enter this hospital. I said, where is that hospital, I’ve never been there, how could they provide this information about me? And the papers were in the name of Liu Yaling, that isn’t me! […] Isn’t this fraud?
I didn’t want to make too much of a fuss, as I saw them tie up other people who came in saying “I’m not sick, what are you doing?” They tied them up tightly, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.
I didn’t know anything about [my son’s] first trial and appeal, it was only after strong demands that on October 31, a judge came and gave me the verdict of the second trial. As soon as I saw it, I said, “The verdict of the second trial, how could you not tell me? You’ve already decided the appeal and no one has tome me what happened, you’re just telling me the result! […]
They made me sign the verdict. I said, you didn’t let me participate, why should I sign?
After this, I again heard nothing. All they would say was they they were doing this to protect me, to keep the Olympics safe.
After two months, they switched to calling me my real name, having gotten new faked papers from the Zhaoyang Hospital that said I had mental problems, but they didn’t dare to tell me about this. I only found out from talking to people who came by.
So I asked, “Tell me something, why am I being held here like this?” They told me, “It’s obvious that there are no fundamental [health] problems with you.” Because the doctor and chair in charge of me had both told me there was obviously nothing wrong with my mental facilities, I asked, “So, if there’s nothing wrong with me, why am I here?” No one said anything.
After the Olympics, their excuse for keeping me was gone, so they just said, “The Zhaoyang Hospital has papers, proof that you have a mental illness.”
I said, “You’ve been keeping me here all this time, how can the Zhaoyang Hospital prove anything, that’s obviously fake.”
On November 23rd, I still didn’t know a single piece of information about the case. The department head came to find me when I was washing my hair and said to change clothes because I had a plane to catch at three o’clock. I argued with them because I wanted to return home before going to see my son, at that time I didn’t know my son’s execution had already been approved and he would soon be killed. I still didn’t know anything!
We flew out, and the next day, they took me to an interview room. My son was already sitting there when we walked in.
I put my hand against the glass and said, “Jiajia, let’s hold hands.” He stretched out his arm and I saw he was still wearing handcuffs. We held hands like that for a bit.
In that room we said a few words. Before I came in, a judge named Bao had told me three things. One, I could only speak with him for twenty minutes, two, we could not discuss the details of his case, and three, I should control my emotions. I really did control my emotions well, because I was afraid if I got worked up they would drag me away before the twenty minutes was up.
I asked him what life inside was like. I really didn’t know this was the last time I would ever see him. It never occurred to me. I told him I hadn’t been able to come see him before, and so came to see him now. I told him I believed he wouldn’t do anything to endanger the country or society. I told him I would follow his case, and that if he made reasonable requests they would surely be granted.
I told him, I believe you’ve done nothing wrong, I said, “In your mothers heart you are always the greatest and best, and moreover the most kind and strong, most filial and most courageous son. I felt he could feel that I could identify with him. When he got up to go, I said, “Jiajia, let’s hold hands.” He came over instantly and put his hand against the glass with mine, then he walked inside and I walked back out. From beginning to end, they never let me hug my son, nor did they tell me this would be the last time I could see him. He didn’t know either, I could tell from how she spoke to me.
When I came out, I demanded to be taken to the place where the incident occurred, and to speak with the judge of my son’s case. A judge named Xu came, and I told my story. He didn’t tell me the case was already decided, the decision approved. I asked why they didn’t let me speak in the first two trials and he said they couldn’t find me. “We can’t stop a trial just because a person can’t be found,” he said.
On the 24th, I returned home and began preparing the appeals papers, only on the night of the 25th did someone come and tell me that the execution had already been approved. The approval was dated the 21st, before they had let me out to see my son.
On the 26th, he was executed.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to prove Wang Jingmei’s story is true. Still, this is far from the first report of Chinese police and other officials illegally holding people for the sake of convenience. I highly doubt that there was anything Wang Jingmei could have said or done to save her son, but that they robbed her of five months of her life and a chance to really say goodbye to her son is truly heartbreaking. Whatever you think about Yang Jia, this woman committed no crime. Why was she, too, made to suffer?