Human rights activists in China would not be strange to “tea drinking”, which means an interrogation summoned by the state security police. Various acts of citizenship could trigger “tea drinking” – it could be writing a blog about freedom and democracy, attending political gatherings, signing online appeals for certain demands, or merely expressing interests in protests. It can be said that “tea drinking” is something that you need to go through if you aspire to become a citizen in China through acts of public defiance.
In an article written at the Human Rights in China Biweekly (translated below), Wu Gan (twitter: @tufuwugan, “Super Vulgar Butcher”) extensively analyses “tea drinking” and suggests strategies on dealing with it for aspiring citizens. Wu is a prominent Chinese rights activist and netizen reporter, well known for his sense of justice, enthusiasm and resourcefulness. He actively supported Deng Yujiao and the Three Netizens of Fujian, and was involved in the citizenship investigation into the death of Zhejiang village head Qian Yunhui.
Translation: The Tea Drinkers’ Guide
In a land without freedom, “tea drinking” is the only way to become a real citizen. “Tea drinking” usually refers to interviews by the police because of your civic actions or speeches. In fact, no tea or even no water is served for most of the time. I think that overcoming the fear over “tea drinking” is very important in the process of fighting against the dictatorship machine in China. Personally, I’ve been through the evolution from being fearful of to being accustomed to “tea drinking”. I intend to share this guideline to other people who will soon face “tea drinking”. Of course, this is only my personal opinion. Personal experience and the specific circumstance will make each case unique.
In “tea drinking”, the public security agents you face will be from either the Bureau of Internal Security Protection (guobao) or the National Security Bureau (guoan). Guoan will be involved in cases linked to foreign countries, while guobao deal with internal affairs. Guobao are usually more visible, while guoan maintain a low profile. While they execute orders from the dictatorship machine, they are all human beings, and we can classify them into three types:
（1）The brutal type: Such kind of people are of low quality and may have psychological problems. They abuse their power to sustain violence and have no respect for human nature. They use persecution and violence to prove their existence and authority, and derive pleasure and satisfaction from it.
（2）The understanding type: They know their work is disgraceful, and understand the nature of the dictatorship machine, and that the machine will not last long. Therefore, they will not take the initiative to do evil, but will only execute orders, just for a living.
（3）The robotic type: They are hopelessly brainwashed, and have thinking no different from that of the dictatorship machine. They think what they are doing is right, and even consider their work as honorable.
In “tea drinking”, it is either they visit you or they force you to their place. The main objectives are to warn you and create fear, forcing you to abandon your civic actions. They will also teach you political lessons and brainwash you with ideas they think are correct, such as “you live your own life, why are you doing these things?”, “now the country is rising, you need to trust the government and the party”, “these social problems are very normal during reforms, the party will be able to resolve them”, “so and so is an enemy of the party, you need to be aware, don’t be close to him”, “there is deep water behind that event, foreign elements are out there, don’t be utilized by them”, “if you don’t listen, we will not be so kind next time”, “you need to think for your family”, etc. Sometimes, notes will be taken and detailed questions will be asked about the ins and outs of a case. You may even be asked to sign a confession.
I’ve talked about what “tea drinking” is and the types of people you may face. Now I turn to things you need to be aware of.
As you cannot escape from the dictatorship machine, all you can do is to dance with the wolves. You need to go through “tea drinking” before you can become a real citizen, and that takes wisdom and preparations. I advise you to do the following:
（1）Make sure you can afford what you are doing, and be prepared for harassment, house arrest, “tea drinking”, labor camp or even imprisonment.
（2）When you fight for civil rights, it is important to be transparent, open and just.
（3）Be prepared in case you lose your freedom after “tea drinking”. Think about ways you can release information, seek legal assistance, and keep in touch with your family and the outside world.
Things to note during “tea drinking”:
（1）Be well mannered. Don’t show your fear. Don’t fall into their trap and be agitated in face of violence and insults.
（2）When asked about yourself, only tell your own part and not someone else’s. Act as if you are a fool. “Couldn’t remember clearly”, “I forgot”, “not sure about that” and “don’t understand” are all good excuses.
（3）Tell them what you are doing is open, just, and for all to see, and that you have made preparation for possible consequences.
（4）Try not to form personal enmity. Tell them that you have decided to go ahead and will bear the consequences, and ask them not to confuse public and private matters. Some sort of contract spirit is needed.
（5）Don’t insult, confront or humiliate them, online or otherwise, unless they did the same to you.
（6）If you form a personal enmity, you might want to investigate him privately. I personally have no objection to righteous blood revenge.
（7）Don’t believe what they say, and don’t try to convince them. And, very importantly, bear in mind that there is nothing they cannot do.
（8）Whether or not to sign a confession depends on the situation. Sometimes, you can sign it to end all the unnecessary entanglements. These confessions are for them to please their bosses. Confessions signed under threat are not binding and there is no need to comply with them.
（9）The best way to interfere in public affairs is to do so from another place in order to avoid troubles caused by local interests.
（10）Sometimes they will contact your employers, relatives and friends to create pressure on you. This is the most difficult thing to deal with and you have to face it. Let the people around you know what you are doing, and let them know you are doing something open and righteous. It is difficult to get their support, but you have to fight for their understanding and respect. This can ease the pressure on you.
When you are on the path to citizenship, you are either “drinking tea”, or on the way to it. When everyone is not afraid of “tea drinking” but treats it as an honor, we can say our society is progressing.