Sven Englund, a Swedish foreign exchange student in Shanghai, China, couldn’t resist the temptation recently to mock the political system in his host country, with a cheeky letter and suggested “flash mob.” This was not appreciated by the Chinese authorities, however, and he was given 48 hours to get out.
“Dear Chairman Hu,” begins the letter written by the 24-year-old, who had been in China since August 2010. It was a class assignment, and returned to him marked “very good!” by the teacher.
“It wouldn’t have been much of a letter if I didn’t send it, though, so I did what I usually do and put it on my blog for the whole world to read,” Englund says in an internet commentary to the events.
Englund had a few other things he wanted to clear up with Hu Jintao, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, who is also the head of state, and he published a Swedish version with some comments on the internet.
“I have a question, why do you call it the ‘People’s Republic of China’? China is not a republic, since the definition of a republic is that the president is elected by the people [perhaps I should have put parliament or something] and you’re just elected by the Communist Party. And why ‘People’s’, since China is not a democracy! It seems like you should change the name, maybe to ‘The Communist Party’s China’ [sounds better in Chinese], but what is best is probably that you actually make China into a ‘People’s Republic of China’.”
In his Chinese blog, Englund then went on to suggest that Chairman Hu participate in a flash mob, which was to consist of people turning up at a certain place in downtown Shanghai with the word “freedom” written somewhere on their bodies.
At this time the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party was approaching, and Englund had almost finished his studies in China. The day after he published his blog post, a teacher relayed a message from someone within the Communist Party urging him to remove the post and also to write that the flash mob was cancelled.
Soon, Englund discovered that he couldn’t access his blog, but he managed to copy it and start a new blog.
The next day, three people turned up with some kind of housing tax, but Englund referred them to his landlord. He felt that they might have come for different reasons, however, and started to pack his belongings. When he was about to leave for the gym, he found two men waiting for him outside the apartment, and a third man over by an old police car. When asked to get in the car with them, Englund asked if he could change his clothes and get his hearing aid, which the men agreed to.
In his room, he prepared a recording device and sent an email to the Swedish Consulate. The men brought him to the university, where he was put in a room with seven or eight men and strongly urged to abort the flash mob. He was told that the mob was illegal, since that kind of gathering requires filing for a permit 15 days in advance.
Englund agreed to cancel the activity and volunteered to write a post about what had transpired during the day and what the men in the room had told him. The men didn’t like that idea, though. A policeman asked to see his passport, which was then taken away and not returned.
At this point, Englund got a call from the Swedish consulate, telling him that he might be considered responsible for what anyone does during the flash mob, so he told the men that he would update his blog and cancel the flash mob activity.
Since the Internet connection at the university was too slow, Englund was taken back home to post the message. In the first version of this message, he wrote that the activity “seems to be illegal,” which was not appreciated. It should say “is illegal” and he was also told to write that he advised people not to go, which he refused to do.
Englund was then questioned the whole afternoon, and answered to the best of his knowledge, but refused to give up the password to his blog.
“I said over and over again that I wouldn’t answer that question. I really didn’t think that I was required by law to answer any question they could come up with, just because they were policemen,” he wrote in his commentary to the events.
On the way back to the apartment, he brought out his recording device, which had been running for 10 hours, wondering why the police never asked him what he had sticking out from under his shirt.
Sven was allowed to take his final exams, but was deported to Sweden on July 9.
“I’m pretty happy to be home. I don’t want to go back there again,” he told Swedish news site helagotland.se.