Chinese Lawyer Jiang Tianyong’s Last Major Interview Before His Disappearance

Jiang appears to have vanished after a work trip to Changsha, and has been uncontactable since Nov. 21.
By Li Hui
Li Hui
Li Hui
November 25, 2016 Updated: December 22, 2016

Very recently, Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong went incommunicado after a work trip to south central China. Jiang was in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, to look into the detention of fellow rights lawyer Xie Yang.

In the late evening of Nov. 21, Jiang told his wife that he had bought a train ticket to Beijing, and was due back the next morning. That was the last communication between the couple, and Jiang has since been missing for over 48 hours.

Jiang Tianyong, a native of Luoshan County in the central Chinese province of Henan, used to teach Chinese in middle school for nearly a decade.

Later, he became a lawyer, defending AIDS victims, victims of kidnapping and slavery in Shanxi Province, and practitioners of Falun Gong. The Beijing-based Jiang was also involved in an appeal for suffrage in the Beijing Bar Association elections.

For all this, Jiang, predictably, has been targeted: put under surveillance, harassed, and threatened. On a number of occasions, he was severely tortured in prison, and subjected to an attempt at “thought reform,” where he would renounce his previous activities and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party. But Jiang didn’t break.

This interview with Jiang was conducted in Chinese in spring 2016 (the precise date is being withheld for security reasons), and is being translated and published by Epoch Times following his disappearance as a way of showing the man he is and his importance in the rights defense movement in China.

Epoch Times (ET): Mr. Jiang, what was it like teaching Chinese language in middle school?

Jiang Tianyong (JTY): Textbooks in China, be it on language or history, are aimed at indoctrination. All topics selected are the Communist Party’s stuff, and much of it is deception.

For instance, the so-called “Premier Zhou’s pajamas,” and the 3-mile line of Beijing residents that supposedly sent off Zhou Enlai during his funeral, are meant to paint the former Chinese premier as a saint. But Zhou is by no means a saint.

Textbooks say that the Korean War was waged to resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea. U.S. imperialists, it was written, had intended to use North Korea as a springboard for the final invasion of China. I later learned that the Korean War was no invasion; we were all hoodwinked by the Chinese regime!

Textbooks in middle and high school—such as “Moral Education for Youth,” “A Brief History of Social Development,” “Common Legal Knowledge,” “Communist Outlook on Life,” “Economic Knowledge,” and “Political Knowledge”—all tell lies.

For example, “A Brief History of Social Development” stresses that the Communist Party’s leadership is absolutely correct, and that we will eventually realize communism. That’s sheer nonsense.

There’s communist propaganda even in subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, moral education, and political science. For instance, a math test question would ask how many guns and cannons were produced during the Cultural Revolution.

When I was teaching, I’d prepare two sets of instructions for my students. I’d present what the textbooks said, then inform my students of my suspicions and what I believe to actually be correct. But I’d tell my students that they can’t use my personal teachings in their exams or they would get a score of zero…

Communist indoctrination has become so ubiquitous in school or at work units that oftentimes we unwittingly imbibe propaganda. As long as there’s the Communist Party there will be brainwashing; the Party emphasizes political work at all rungs of society, and even in the streets. Political commissars and political instructors all serve to brainwash people … Whatever they say is bad is bad, whatever they say is good is good; you have to believe in their role models, and anyone whom the Party wants defeated will be hauled down in an instant…

I often remind myself to keep both eyes wide open, stay clear-minded, and not get deceived by propaganda, but still I get hoodwinked anyway.

Take the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, for instance. Many people took to the streets, and though I didn’t protest, I was quite agitated as well. I formed many negative opinions about the United States.

If a person doesn’t have access to information from the outside and only gets information from one source, its very difficult to stave offindoctrination.  

I used to enjoy reading international news from Reference News, World Military Matters, and even Global Times! The news got me all fired up … I am a patriot, after all!

Teaching in a middle school is really boring. I got interested in freedom and democracy a long time ago, and being a lawyer allows me to be very closely involved with human rights, democracy, and freedom. That’s why I became a lawyer later.

ET: Why do you think that government has accused you, a very patriotic individual, of “subverting” the state?

JTY: We were taught to love our country since childhood, to care about politics and have a sense of social responsibility. But that’s all a lie—the moment you become a true patriot, and seek to uphold the rule of law and do some good for the country, you become the Communist Party’s biggest threat. When you truly love your country, you will likely be branded a criminal. What the Party means by the so-called “subversion of state power” is really just subversion of the communist regime.

When officers from the Internal Security Bureau called me to “have tea” with them early in my legal career, I tried my best to get them to understand that what I was doing was strengthening the country’s legal system, not to accrue personal fame or gain.

Alas, I was mistaken about their intentions. The officers seek to suppress those who want to do good deeds; they fear those who have a sense of social responsibility and work for altruistic reasons. In fact, the Internal Security Bureau officers find those who don’t seek fame or self interest the most troublesome because they cannot be bought; lawyers who do handle cases pro bono are hence seen as troublemakers and most dangerous. The communist regime loves people who work for money. They established this regime not for its people, but to further their own personal interests.  

I am a Christian. I know that there is an evil specter behind the communist regime. The communist regime came into existence with destruction as its sole purpose. Kindness is eradicated; the Communist Party is evil, and it just does evil things.

ET: Is it accurate that you were physically tortured and forced to sing “red” songs during your detention in 2011?

JTY: Being made to sing “red” songs is also a form of torture because that’s a type of brainwashing. The authorities’ goal was not to punish me, but to alter my views.

I don’t even know where I was detained back in 2011. It was a very tiny room, and all the windows and doors were tightly shut. The drawn curtains blocked all sunlight, so there was no way to know day from night, or what time it was. Everything with words on it was taken away, and there wasn’t even a scrap of paper in the room. I was completely cut off from obtaining information. Chatting was forbidden, and I had no opportunities to talk or write.

When I was finally released, I soon found that solitary confinement had left a very damaging impact on me. My memory had deteriorated severely, and I even forgot my Twitter and Skype passwords, which I had retained for many years.

Every morning, I was made to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to wash up and brush my teeth. After that, I was compelled to sing “red” songs. I said I don’t know how to sing them, but my minders than made me memorize and recite them. I can’t do that too, I said, so they forced me to read the lyrics aloud. Songs like Moving Toward A New Era, Party My Dear Mother, The Five-Star Red Flag… that was really nauseating! This was repeated every morning.

In detention, I was also forced to face a wall in an awkward position, with my knees touching the wall. My back hurt so much that I thought it was broken. When seated on the floor, I could only adopt two positions: stretch my legs until my feet were up against a wall, or stay in a posture where my legs were curled… both positions were unbearable. I was made to do this everyday, and they called it “repentance.”

Fists and feet would come flying my way during interrogations. They said: “We can either act according to the law or violate it because we have the power to do so.”

Once, I asked my interrogator: “You’re human, and so am I. So why would you do such an inhuman thing?” He stared blankly for a couple of seconds, then struck me again in the face. “You are not human,” he said. I stood up and looked at him. He hit me again, but I continued to stand back up. My mouth was full of blisters from that beating… I was also interrogated in the evenings to deprive me of sleep; for five days, I wasn’t allowed a wink. As a Christian, however, I felt all along that God was by my side.

Beatings and verbal abuse aren’t the worst to endure. Forced indoctrination is. They compel you to say that black is white; I nearly suffered a mental collapse! What you believe to be white, they will eventually make you yourself proclaim it to be black. It’s not even a simple matter of admitting that something is black; you are required to, at a deep, fundamental, state the logic of why black is white. Neutral terms aren’t allowed, only their terminology. The entire process of forced ideological conversion could drive one insane.  

My interrogator would just keep talking on and on, but I refused to take in a word. I just watched his lips move, and sometimes gaze at a wall. Then, I understood why people who are being interrogated want to commit suicide. I looked around, but the windows were all sealed shut. So I endured, and told myself not to go crazy; crazy or not, I thought, I mustn’t jump out of a window, or stand up and hit my interrogator. But who can guarantee that they wouldn’t lash out at their interrogator after an hour of abuse? Or suddenly leap from a window or run into a wall?

I also came to understand why some Falun Gong practitioners turned into cripples or went insane even though they weren’t detained for long in brainwashing centers. They simply weren’t treated like human beings. In fact, I had it comparatively better. Still, my interrogators were afraid that I would commit suicide, and they didn’t know how I might react from minute to minute. I myself didn’t know what I would do next, or for how long I could hold out without going crazy… Those beatings and abuses really weren’t the hardest thing to endure.  

ET: We heard that you once investigated some cases of forced family planning…

JTY: I used to think that birth control was necessary in China because there would be a lot of problems if our population was too large. But that was the result of brainwashing. I later realized that I was completely duped; China doesn’t have a problem of overpopulation.

In foreign countries, birth control refers to a couple’s personal family planning. But in China, the term refers to a forcible policy imposed by the government, and not an individual’s choice. Chinese people need to get a marriage certificate for marriage, a pregnancy permit for getting pregnant, and a birth permit for giving birth. Otherwise, the child cannot get his hukou [household registration] permit, and the child will face trouble from the government at all levels.

The communist regime’s population control measures is evil.

First, this method of controlling people ensures that individuals cannot escape scrutiny from the state, even in private matters.

Second, the authorities take advantage of birth control to enrich themselves. In Shandong Province, for instance, there are so-called legal education centers everywhere. Anyone found to have violated the birth control policy would be arrested and locked up in these centers, where they have to pay 100 yuan (about $15) per night of detention. Inside, people are made to “study” how great the birth control policy is. Some people have even been arrested and subjected to forced sterilization or abortion. That’s really inhumane.

Later on, I realized that the devil doesn’t directly induce people to evil. Man was created by God. Everyone has kindness deep in their hearts, and that comes from God. They feel guilty if asked to commit evil deeds. When the devil induces people to evil, it does so through a person’s personal interests. Even doctors can become accomplices to evil. In one case, a woman who was about to give birth was arrested and taken to a doctor. The doctor inserted a long needle into the woman to inject the baby, killing it. Then the doctor removed the dead fetus. That’s really cruel.

Even though the communist regime now allows everyone have a second child, families still can’t do so with their own plans. Families can only have babies if they are allowed to. This is still state control.

ET: Did your family suffer from collective punishment?

JTY: When I was arrested in 2011, a police officer struck my mother to the ground, and my younger brother was also beaten up. They forcibly bundled me into a car, just like how bandits perform clandestine kidnappings. I was locked up for two months. My mother lost several pounds because she couldn’t eat.

We’ve had to move houses several times. In 2009, the authorities didn’t allow me to send my kid to school, and we had a confrontation. My wife was knocked to the ground in one blow, and my kid wailed loudly by her side. My child could still attend school, but she would leave and come back to a father that was under house arrest.

I didn’t pay much attention to my daughter’s early education. I thought that it was alright for her to be educated anywhere in China until elementary school, where she must go abroad. But on Children’s Day that year, she happily came home wearing a Young Pioneers red scarf, and echoed what her teacher told them. It was abominable. A movie called “Revelations” talks about this very clearly: If a person makes an oath to the Party or dorns its symbols—its emblem, the Youth League emblem, its flag, Mao Zedong’s picture, or the red scarf—that person will receive the Mark of the Beast. There’s an evil specter behind what seems like an ordinary item.

However, if I don’t let my daughter wear that red scarf when other kids are wearing it, she will stand out. And that red scarf has been propagated as a symbol of progress. How much can you expect a child to understand?

So emigrating is the best option. In 2013, my wife and daughter left China. There was no other way; my wife was being severely harassed. The authorities used my wife and child to intimidate me: “If we can’t get you, we can get your wife and kid.” This is explicit menacing; they also made implicit threats. I would get questions like, “what grade is your kid at school,” or “which school are you sending your kid to.” The idea is to make me feel like they are targeting my daughter. Security officers say stuff like whether or not she goes to school is up to them, and if I cooperate with them, they can easily allow her to attend the best school. Just one word from them, and the government will take care of my daughter’s college entry exam in Beijing. Between threats and incentives, I realized that my daugher had to leave China or become a hostage. I can only do what I think is right after my family is out of the country; I’ve never thought of leaving the country, however, because I can’t do anything abroad as a lawyer. I’m needed here in China.

In July 2013, I was blocked from leaving the country. I can’t visit my family. My daughter is now a teenager and receiving education. I’m rather anxious, but no matter how I see it, I’m not a good husband or a good father. I’ve failed in my duty to them.

ET: Have you handled many cases involving Falun Gong practitioners, and is there a difference in these cases and others?

JTY: When I first read Gao Zhisheng‘s investigation of the persecution of Falun Gong in northeastern China, I thought that the facts were accurate, but some details might have been exaggerated because it’s just so hard to believe. But when I took on a Falun Gong case in 2008, I found out that the persecution is really too evil, and whatever the communist regime does is beyond one’s imagination.

In 2009, I gave a testimony in the United States Congress: The Chinese regime has specialists and special places, methods, and funding to pursue their evil deeds. They have a specialized system, just like a production line, which they use to arrest and torture people. And how they arrest Falun Gong practitioners differs from how they arrest common criminals. Criminals are still treated as human beings when they are apprehended. But when going after Falun Gong, the police will kick down doors and rush in to confiscate credit cards, jewelry, and cash, which they then pocket for themselves; this is brazen looting and robbery. The police make no attempt at hiding their theft, because in their eyes, Falun Gong practitioners aren’t human, and they don’t have rights, and aren’t given a chance to speak up. However, the police don’t dare to treat murderers, rapists, or those accused of subversion in the same fashion. Falun Gong practitioners don’t even have the rights accorded to murderers. That is unthinkable.

ET: You once expressed the view that if you continued being an attorney in China, you would definitely become a human rights lawyer and get suppressed…

JTY: Yes, lawyers don’t set out to oppose the Chinese regime. In most cases of lawyers who haven’t been suppressed, it’s because they don’t put up resistance. They sell out their rights as a lawyer, and the rights of their clients as well. For instance, some lawyers abandon their clients when the authorities prevent visits. These lawyers remain silent in court when the judge forbids them from making a defense. If a lawyer doesn’t represent a client just because the judge doesn’t allow it, then where has the lawyer’s professional ethics gone? So long as lawyers abide by the law and regulations, they will definitely have conflicts with the police and the courts. That’s because the law enforcement system doesn’t adhere to the law most of the time, even for common cases.

In some cases, officials or government departments have already sent word to the courts, and if lawyers challenge their will, they become the opposition. The authorities will claim that lawyers are against the government department or against the Chinese Communist Party, and when lawyers wish to uphold their rights, they get oppressed. When lawyers offend the Justice Bureau, the Bureau won’t renew their law license.

ET: How do you get information from the outside world?

JTY: Right now I use a software to breach the Great Firewall of China. A friend told me about in 2004, and I used that to access external websites. Later, I taught many others to get over the firewall. Personally, I thought that I was clear on many things, but after the doors to the world were open, I realized how muddled and brainwashed I was.

In the early days, Falun Gong had five powerful softwares that allowed users to bypass China’s internet blockage: Dongtaiwang,  Ultrasurf, Garden network, FreeU and Freegate. Now there’s Psiphon, VPN, free and paid software, and others. They are like so many small ladders that one can use to get over the Great Firewall. In recent years, however, the communist regime has used the people’s money to bolster its Great Firewall, and some software are no longer effective. But there are always new software available. It’s a constant attack and defense between Daos and demons. The communist regime can’t prevent people from circumventing the internet blockade; it’s an unstoppable trend.

After people view real information from the outside world and see the truth, they will figure out the falsehoods behind state news reports. For instance, when it is reported that someone leaked classified state information, it is very likely that the person revealed bad stuff that the regime did. The communist regime accused the human rights lawyers suppressed in the “709 incident” of leaking state secrets and cooperating with anti-China forces abroad to incite riots, but these accusations are all false and were concocted to defame the lawyers.

ET: Where do you find the strength to keep going?

JTY: It’s really simple actually. I’m not doing this completely for others, but chiefly because I don’t want my life to be how it is now. I cannot tolerate the Communist Party’s stuff, and I don’t want my child to live this sort of life, either. My parents talk about being tolerant, but I often say to them: You can bear it, but I don’t wish to bear it like you both, and neither will my child accept it. I can still do things, and I still have hope. When I have lost all hope, that’s when I will leave. If I can’t leave, then I will just wait for death. If I want change, then I will remain, and work hard with others to achieve change. Things have to change; there is no other way!

Sure it’s very difficult to have change, but then do we want the Chinese regime to endure? If people find the push for change difficult and give up, then the status quo will remain forever, and there’s no hope at all. Without hope, there’s only despair. So we need to hang on to hope, and bring everyone together. At the beginning, there might be just a few people, but more will join up. The more people there are the quicker the communist regime will be finished.

I wish for a government that is transparently elected by the public. In that scenario, I won’t be accused of inciting subversion of state just because I get involved in public affairs. I can say whatever I want, and the police won’t arrest me for it.  

On what grounds are we being mistreated? I have carefully abided by the laws of the country, and I do good work. Why is it that those involved in human rights abroad live in dignity and grace, but not us poor and pitiful Chinese human rights lawyers? Lawyers in America, Europe, Taiwan and the Philippines receive support; in China, we have no support and are instead oppressed. But the more they oppress us, the more it makes us realize that so long as this system exists—a society that punishes the righteous and protects evildoers—people cannot live like normal human beings. All this has to change and be brought to an end.

Li Hui