Released Dissident Reveals "Political Psychiatry" in China

November 6, 2005 12:00 am Last Updated: November 6, 2005 12:00 am

In the first case of its kind, a Chinese political prisoner held in one of China's police-run mental hospitals has been freed, allowing him to widely expose the brutal conditions he lived under.

Wang Wanxing had been forcibly held in a Beijing asylum for the criminally insane for 13 years and forced to take powerful anti-psychotic drugs, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Wednesday November 2. He was detained after staging a brief pro-democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square on the eve of the third anniversary of the June 4, 1989 student massacre, the report said.

On his release, he was sent to exile in Germany, where he joined his wife and daughter, also political refugees, in Frankfurt.

"Wang's release is welcome news, but it highlights the fate of hundreds of other political detainees forced into psychiatric care in China for no good medical reason," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"It is time for China's leaders to decide that their 'modernization' drive should include an end to barbaric practices such as using psychiatric facilities and medically unnecessary drugs to punish those with different political views."

Wang was one of an estimated 3000 or more political prisoners held in China's Ankang ("peace and health") system of psychiatric hospitals. Held at the Beijing Ankang unit, he was eyewitness to regular "sadistic" abuse of detainees by hospital staff, and was warned by an official on his discharge: "If you ever speak out about your experiences at our hospital, we'll come and bring you back here again."

Spending his final five years in a ward with severely disturbed inmates, Wang says there was a terrifying level of patient-on-patient violence, and he had to remain vigilant of sudden and unprovoked inmate attacks, frequently having to keep himself awake all night. He would take brief catnaps throughout the day to maintain his basic health and sanity, and dose himself up with several saved anti-psychotic tablets to get a good night's sleep once every week or so.

Almost every week, Wang says sadistic hospital staff would torture stubborn or difficult inmates by tying them to a bed and administering painfully high levels of electric acupuncture treatment. All other inmates would be forced to watch.

Wang witnessed at least two deaths during his stay. One died from a heart attack while being punished with electric-shock treatment. Another, a political detainee who had gone on a hunger strike to protest his incarceration was force-fed without a feeding tube, causing him to choke to death on the bed. Hospital staff filed a report saying he had died of a heart-attack. Neither case was subject to outside investigation.

Chinese authorities have maintained that Wang suffered from either "paranoid psychosis" or "political monomania", with the latter condition not to be found on any internationally recognised list of psychiatric illnesses. A medical report issued by Beijing Ankang to the German government describes Wang as exhibiting "litigation mania", a charge which is apparently often applied by Chinese police psychiatrists to victims of political persecution who frequently lodge petitions or complaints about their treatment.

Wang's case attracted widespread international attention from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, along with various Western governments and foundations. Due to his status as a high-profile political detainee, he was treated relatively leniently due to staff fears that their ill-treatment of inmates might be exposed.

However others were not so lucky. The November 3 issue of Germany's Die Zeit magazine presented detailed interviews with two other recent political victims of China's Ankang system. Mr Qiu Jinyou and Ms Meng Xiaoxia were both subjected to regular torture during their stays in Hangzhou and Xi'an Ankang, including electric shock torture and outdated medical treatments with severe side-effects.

China's psychiatry system has long been a tool of political oppression against political dissidents, religious nonconformists, as well as "whistleblowers" against corruption, the HRW report said. The Chinese government continues to bar outside observers from visiting its high-security psychiatric facilities.

For the full text of the Human Rights Watch report, visit