It’s a strange sensation reading through the personal musings of Hao Wu on his Beijing or Bust blog. There is an entry, Teacher for Life, in which Hao recollects a recent meeting with a former teacher. The entry is dated February 22 — the same date that the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau arrested Hao, jailing him for 63 days (and counting) without charging him with a crime.
Hao lived in the U.S. from 1992 to 2004, getting an MBA at the University of Michigan and working in the high-tech industry for web portal Excite and Internet service provider Earthlink, before becoming a filmmaker and blogger. Hao’s film, also titled Beijing or Bust, looked at the lives of six Chinese Americans coming to terms with their heritage in Beijing. The film was shown at the San Diego Asian Film Festival last fall.
Just before he was arrested, Hao became an editor for the Global Voices website, helping to translate the writing of Chinese bloggers into English for a Western audience. And about a month after his detention, Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon of Global Voices set up a blog, Free Hao Wu to spread the word about his arest.
So why did the Chinese authorities arrest Hao in February? No one knows, but Global Voices’ MacKinnon pondered the government’s motivation.
“One of the possibilities is that the authorities who detained Hao want to use him and his video footage to prosecute members of China’s underground churches,” she wrote on the Free Hao Wu blog. “Hao is an extremely principled individual, who his friends and family believe will resist such a plan. Therefore, we are very concerned about his mental and physical well-being.”
As I was researching and writing my blog post about the Singapore elections, I noticed all the Asian blogs that had “Free Hao Wu” badges on them. These badges, similar to the graphic above, pointed people to the blog maintained by Zuckerman and MacKinnon.
The blog is a shining example of quick-moving activism online, with petitions to sign, explanations on how to write Congresspeople or write newspaper Op-Eds, and of course the “Free Hao Wu” badges to add to your blog or website.
While Hao’s family was initially reluctant to talk publicly about the situation — for fear it would make it worse for Hao — his sister Nina has written extensively on her Chinese blog about her prolonged efforts to find out why Hao is in jail and what she can do to free him. MacKinnon has been posting English translations of Nina’s words, and they are increasingly heartbreaking.
Here is part of Nina’s post from April 23:
My brother was taken away by police without any legal procedure. He can’t see his family or lawyer. This is the unjust treatment of Hao by the police. His family members have been unable to get information about him for a long time, and have not received an explanation from the police or government. They also endure torture from the words of the police. Is this the unjust treatment that a suspect’s relatives must endure? Our life is laid out before their eyes; must we endure the humiliation of being stripped naked? Must we endure the lasting effects of shadows on our psyches? Worried about unnecessarily troubling friends and relatives who do not yet know, and even influencing their lives, we hurriedly end our phone conversations. We also do not warmly welcome friends into our house or drop in on them, nor do we enthusiastically take part in all kinds of social events. Must we endure the hardship of leaving behind a normal social life? If these are the hardships that we must endure, we have the courage to endure them. I only hope that sun and moon can witness the great pains we have taken, and friends and relatives will one day understand our temporary rudeness and unreasonableness. I hope that someday lighthearted laughter and welcoming smiles can return to our household.
And this from April 21, when Nina talks about her parents learning what happened to Hao:
When I finally step through the door to my home, my eldest Aunt calls; she had met with my parents that afternoon and tried to describe my little brother’s situation in the most positive way possible. She said my mother walked her to the door and seemed calm enough. I hid my agony; the more composed they seem, the more overwhelmed they actually are. Sure enough, they called me a few minutes later, speaking with heavy nasal sounds. I know they have been hiding their grief, only showing their true emotions in front of their daughter whom they can trust. It’s odd how I am usually gripped by despair whenever someone mentions little brother, yet this time I was surprisingly calm on the phone. I gathered all those consoling words that other people tell me and fed them to my parents, and I tried to make light of little brother’s situation. In fact, as I try to convince my parents to believe what I say, I am also trying to convince myself to believe that little brother will be okay. My parents and I believe in my brother’s judgment, but they have experienced the difficult times of the past, so they can’t help but see the present situation with pessimism.
If there is one thing Hao does have on his side, it is that the blogosphere hasn’t forgotten him, and will keep up the pressure on the Chinese government. Plus, Zuckerman and MacKinnon are well aware of how to get the attention of the mainstream media. MacKinnon recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post about Hao’s detention, describing how China is raising the living standards for millions of its inhabitants while also remaining a secretive regime that doesn’t respect their basic human rights.
“With Chinese President Hu Jintao in the United States, Americans have an opportunity to assess his regime,” MacKinnon wrote. “What is this country to think? On the one hand his government has raised the living standards of millions of its citizens with economic reform and international trade. On the other hand his underlings trample shamelessly on his people’s basic human rights.
“The careers of some politicians in both countries — not to mention military budgets — would no doubt benefit if our two nations became enemies. As an American who lived and worked in China for more than a decade, however, I continue to believe that peaceful engagement between the United States and China is in the best interest of both nations’ people. But we have a serious problem that won’t go away: How can Americans respect or trust a regime that kidnaps our friends?”