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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
'Suppression is Not Going to Save China'
Outspoken Shenzhen-based journalist He Qinglian speaks out
By ISABELLA NG

Beijing is once again silencing its most prominent critics -- just ask Shenzhen-based journalist He Qinglian. The outspoken He was attacked by authorities for propagating dangerous ideas after a March article in which she criticized the government and the Communist Party. Last month, she was demoted and had her salary cut. State media have been warned not to publish her work. He talks to TIME Asia reporter Isabella Ng. Edited excerpts:


TIME: It's been reported that your problems with the Chinese government began after you published your article, 'A Comprehensive Analysis of China's Current Social Structural Evolution,' in March. Is that true?
He:
Well, the problems didn't just begin in March. The government has been asserting pressure on me a long time. Officials in Shenzhen have been pressuring my danwei [working unit] and other officials have criticized me in their committee meetings. They have been telling some newspaper editors not to publish my articles or interview me. Well, that's fine. I don't care. I don't need publicity. But in March their dissatisfaction became clearer: My article, which totaled about 25,000 words, was published in Hunan's Shuwu Magazine [Bookstore Monthly]. Shortly after, the Hunan government started a serious investigation. I knew they were going to fix me. In May, I was invited by the American State Department Cultural Office to visit America, and when I came returned home on June 21, a colleague called and told me that I was being transferred to the research department. My title was also taken from me, and editors from other newspapers published nationwide were told not to publish any articles from people like me. This was an order from above. The editors were not even allowed to use pen and paper during the briefing. And when they told the officials they couldn't remember all the names, the officials told them to use their brains and memorize all the names. The authorities were worried [of this getting out] because they knew that the international community was very concerned about China's human-rights situation.

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TIME: How did you feel when they first told you about your demotion?
He:
I was quite prepared. I thought to myself, 'since I am jetlagged, I might as well get some sleep first.' After all, as an intellectual in China, you've got to be prepared as a mishap could come just like this [she snaps her fingers]."

TIME: When you published the article in March, did you ever think that you would get into trouble?
He:
In fact, I wasn't prepared to publish the essay in China. It was just an academic exchange with friends, and when they decided to publish it, I knew I was going to have problems, despite the fact that the most sensitive elements had already been cut out. But I guess I should let Chinese people know what is happening in their country.

TIME: Where were you planning to publish the article?
He:
In the U.S. In fact, it had been released in the States before it was released in China.

TIME: So what do you do in the research department?
He:
I am asked to comment on the paper -- tell them which story is good and which is bad -- and give them advice.

TIME: Have you talked to your husband about this saga?
He:
No, it's better not to discuss these things with him. I don't want him to worry too much. I spend most of my time in my home office so that he won't get disturbed. A lot of my friends have also called me up to see how I am doing. The situation is not too bad.

TIME: At least you can still talk to me.
He:
That's true.

TIME: Do you think they have tapped your phone?
He:
Well of course they have tapped my phone, there's nothing surprising about that. Just a few days ago I started a new e-mail account and I started sending out some e-mails. All of a sudden all these emails kept coming back to me. My screen also keeps on flashing and a friend, who knows about computers, told me this happens when someone is transmitting something through the computer. My human rights have been completely exploited.

TIME: Do you think that Beijing will arrest you one day?
He:
I don't think they dare. Look at the way they operate; it's like operating inside a black box. They can't arrest me without proper charges. I haven't committed any criminal offence.

TIME: Do you think this crackdown is orchestrated by the central government or by the local government?
He:
I think it's orchestrated throughout the country, targeting those prominent and popular intellectuals who can shake the masses, so as to silence the masses. If we are shut up, do you think the ordinary citizens will dare to speak out? No way.

TIME: Why do you think they have launched this crackdown?
He:
Perhaps the government is paranoid; it may be undergoing some political struggle or it may be facing political problems. Another reason may be because they cannot deal with corruption in China and cannot put up with the overt criticism [they're receiving] over the corruption. The government probably thought they could handle reform, but eventually discovered that such reform was not workable because even those at the top are very corrupted. So for them it's better to shut us up.

TIME: Do you think you have done anything wrong?
He:
What have I done wrong? What's wrong with what I say? After all, I am just speaking the truth. My books sold out completely. In Beijing, my research remains unchallenged. No one says it is bad. I did all my research and all the material can be found publicly. If they are challenging me, then they are challenging all the publications in China. That's bad.

TIME: Does China sometimes give you and others room to express your views?
He:
They never let us speak. It's only when they relax a bit that we start talking. They never let us talk freely. But generally, officials like to read what we write. An official from Hunan told me "I don't know what to ask my staff to read if they don't read your books."

TIME: So there are some differences between government officials?
He:
Yes. People have told me that some of the cadres ask: "Can someone tell me what's wrong with He's article? I can't see anything wrong." The answer usually given to them is that the order has come from "above".

TIME: Will this crackdown stop you from writing?
He:
Of course not. I will continue to write. Why should I stop writing?

TIME: What's your advice to the Chinese government?
He:
Suppression is not going to save China. Only the rule of law and democracy can rescue a crumbling society.

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