The right to refuse to "chat": Liu Xiaoyuan on Ai Weiwei's police visit

Friendly officers mean no harm

Ai Weiwei has been publishing data from an investigation into student deaths in last year's Beichuan Earthquake, as well as the difficulties that investigators have encountered at the hands of police and local authorities, to a number of online blog providers. Today, his blogs hosted on Sina, Sohu, and Netease have been suspended.

Ai was invited to have a "chat" with police on May 26. Two of his last blog posts (translated below) dealt with the events.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a well-known rights lawyer, posted the following discussion of the logic behind "chats" and why citizens might agree to talk to plainclothes policemen even though they have the right to refuse:

Ai Weiwei has the right to refuse to "chat"

by Liu Xiaoyuan

At 11 pm on May 26, I received an unexpected call from Ai Weiwei. He asked me, after you've called the police hotline and have finished making a report at the station, should the police issue you a receipt?

I quickly asked him what had happened, and he described it briefly. Police had come to his mother's home wanting to chat something over with him. A "rice steamer" (in Ai Weiwei's words) did not show any ID and talked in circles, and Ai was incensed and dialed 110.

Ai went with them to the police station to make a statement, and when he asked for a written acknowledgement of the report, the police would not give him one. He didn't know whether or not this was legal, so he called up to ask.

After I gave him a basic explanation, I hung up, but probably only ten minutes later Ai called again and said that the police wouldn't let him go, and he'd kicked at the main door several times. It turned out that after Ai had gone into the station, someone was worried that he would leave on his own, and so locked the door. Ai called 110 again, and when the police saw him fuming they hurried to open the door.

Ai said, I'm not sure what you've called me here for. When they came, they only said they wanted to chat. Ai thought that since they didn't know each other and had no common language, so there was no point to wasting their time. Ai speaks bluntly and doesn't mince words, while the approach of the "rice steamers" is to strike up an inconsequential conversation and then when you're frustrated enough, come out with the real topic. Seeing his lack of frankness and his refusal to show ID, Ai could only choose to call the police.

Ai's encounter has been shared by a number of rights defenders. Reportedly, an amicable approach to the work won't lead to antagonism, and might reduce the psychological distance between the two sides. However, this trick failed to work on Ai Weiwei.

Ai said, the next time, you'd better bring handcuffs. Otherwise, I have no time for idle chatter. Artists talk big, and if it were anyone else, they'd have been less than polite.

A lawyer once told me of an incident in which the local police station had sought him for a chat after he took part in a petition activity. They came at nearly midnight and didn't notify him before-hand. They banged on the door in the middle of the night saying they needed to consult him about something. The lawyer asked them to show the summons, and they said, what summons? This is just a chat. The lawyer refused, but the police wouldn't leave. So that he wouldn't disturb the sleep of his family and neighbors, the lawyer ended up going with them to the station, where they talked for several hours.

Police chatting with people for several hours while on night duty get overtime pay and can take make-up rest the next day. Looking up a lawyer to talk about a situation is a form of consultation, so on principle a consultation fee ought to be assessed. I joked with the lawyer, the next time they look you up for a chat, you can't keep on providing free consultation. The saying goes, if you haven't done anything wrong, you won't be afraid of ghosts knocking at your door, but when ghosts actually come knocking, you'll be stressed out, if not actually afraid. They say that this trick is very effective in dealing with people.

There's an even meaner trick: if you're renting an apartment, they call up the landlord to dissolve your contract to drive you out, even to the point of driving you out of the precinct before they let up. And of course there are ways to deal with people who own their own homes, too. One lawyers, from out of town, was dragged to the suburbs by unknown individuals and beaten in order to pressure him into leaving Beijing.

Sure, they're civilized some of the time: they don't curse at you, they don't beat you, and they provide you with no-cost bodyguards. Wherever you go, they're there behind you, and sometimes they'll send a car to carry you. Anyone unaware of the details would really think you'd moved up, gotten rich enough to hire a personal bodyguard.

Ai Weiwei's actually a very amiable person. So long as you contact him beforehand, it's no trouble to meet him for a chat. He's not unapproachable and he doesn't comport himself like a celebrity. It's only because the "rice steamers" didn't understand his personality and used improper work techniques that the two sides didn't get along well.

From a legal standpoint, citizens have the right to refuse to chat. This is a citizen's fundamental right. If someone is unwilling, forcing him to "chat" is harassment and an infringement of his rights.

Domestic Security Rice Steamers

by Ai Weiwei

At 7:40 pm, I exited the embassy, which has at least three levels of prison-like security. Listening to Ms. "Human Rights" Pelosi, I was struck by the amount of money that could turn a once-crafty heroine into an obsequious, felonious old bag. Even more ridiculous is the claim that the US Embassy inherits from ancient Chinese styles. Gag.

So that my mobile phone wouldn't be confiscated by US Marines, I left it in the car. When I returned my mother's phone call, she said anxiously that four plainclothes policemen were waiting at home and were continually asking about my residence out by the airport road. I immediately said I was coming home. It had been a few days since I'd seen her.

What happened afterward is like an absurdist novel gone bad. The seemingly nice domestic security officer was not carrying a police ID, and I refused to talk with someone whose identity was unknown. He said his colleagues had ID, I said my comrade was Clinton. He began to talk about feelings, something I avoid altogether. I had to ask them to leave, and then called 110. The mincing 110 response — two pitiful policemen who hadn't brought any ID. They said, it was you who called us, so I said, I'm a tax-payer, and he said, we've got badge numbers on our uniforms and there's a police car outside, so I said, where's the proof you didn't steal them, so the two of them had to go back and pick them up at the station. Then we all went to the station, and the officers there were a little surprised to see a domestic security officer being brought in to make a statement. One officer did both the questioning and the recording. It was a little comical, but I benevolently signed my name. Then they refused to issue a written acknowledgement of the report, saying, we were just talking and it wasn't a crime. I said, I didn't call 110 for fun, and then I called lawyer Hao, but the signal was poor in Shanxi, so I called Liu Xiaoyuan, who said that state security had chatted with him in the past. The domestic security officer I had reported vanished. I stormed out of the station and, I'm not exaggerating this at all, said, you've wasted tax payer money, you're dishonorable, you're pathetic. If you don't unlock the door, your station's not going to have a door anymore.

I went home to reassure my mother, and when I went back out, there was the same domestic security officer, who went on and on as if he'd never stop, so I called 110 again. This time the police were efficient. They displayed their ID, sent away the Dongcheng domestic security, and shook hands warmly with the Chaoyang domestic security.

I said, next time you come looking for me, don't forget to bring handcuffs, or maybe someone who can speak in complete sentences. I won't lie to you, times have changed. A "rice cooker" domestic security officer rates as an improvement. Who are you trying to scare, all in the same day?

On his original blog post, preserved on Google groups, Ai recorded the name and badge number of each officer he encountered, if they told him.

Ai's last post before the blogs were suspended contains a ten-point lecture to the police:

Don't have any fantasies about me

by Ai Weiwei

It's about that time, and the past few days have been busy. Sending your own people to the police station — another misunderstanding.

Two days ago I called 110 twice, to send a domestic security officer without an ID to the PSB.

Today, I called 110 another three times to send two plainclothes officers who were tailing me to the PSB.

To sum up: whether you're the domestic security mentioned above, or public security, or plainclothesmen, or 110 dispatched police, or cadre officers from the bureau, my actions are not directed at you personally, just as your actions aren't directed at me. If I've inadvertently harmed your dignity, I offer my sincere apologies. It was a misunderstanding.

You're just carrying out your duties, and no matter what the duties are, it's all for survival. This is basically understandable.

What I'd like to make clear is that as an individual, I have to protect my own rights. No one can force me.

I'll endure blog deletions, I'll endure phone taps, I'll endure having my home surveilled.

But when you charge into my home and try to threaten me in front of my 76-year-old mother, I can't accept that. Plainclothesmen secretly tailing me, threatening my safety, I cannot accept. You may not understand human rights, but at least you're aware of the constitution, right?

Hear this:

1. The world belongs to you, so you should act out in the open.

2. Observe the law while enforcing the law. Carry your ID — two days ago five officers didn't carry ID, and two pretended to be civilians. Respect your profession while you have yet to find a better line of work.

3. Citizens aren't soft persimmons, and who you offend today may not be so easy to push around tomorrow. Don't take and eat, and then turn around and pretend ignorance.

4. Don't come to talk to me. Your experiences in talking to other people aren't appropriate for me. Take care to study, and to use the Internet.

5. Procedures must be clear to avoid being put in a passive position. Previous experience won't work. You've got to learn from the lessons of Shanghai's Zhabei bureau.

6. The 110 response was prompt, and the operator spoke clearly and politely. I'd like to commend you — I love you guys. You've got my phone number, so we can meet in private.

7. Female officers are better than male officers. That can't be simply because of my weakness? My world is slanted.

8. It's that old saying again: this is just your job, so don't do things you shouldn't. Losing your job because of improper law enforcement is a minor thing, but it harms the image of the party and isn't good for the character of the nation.

9. Also, don't have any fantasies about me.

10. To be continued...

Update: China Digital Times has a translation of another recent Ai Weiwei post, I'm ready.

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There are currently 15 Comments for The right to refuse to "chat": Liu Xiaoyuan on Ai Weiwei's police visit.

Comments on The right to refuse to "chat": Liu Xiaoyuan on Ai Weiwei's police visit

Does the term "rice steamer" (电饭煲) have any history or is it something that Ai Weiwei invented? What sort of character does it indicate?

We were kind of hoping that someone would be able to tell us that. Judging from his parenthetical, Liu Xiaoyuan doesn't really seem to know, either.

Ai weiwei's blog was shutted down yesterday.

A personal twist on 飯桶?Just a wild guess.

I'm curious what the reference to "Shanghai's Yabei bureau" is for.

Fantastic post Joel. Thanks for sharing these with us.

Ah, that ought to be Zhabei, which was the location of the police station in the infamous Yang Jia case.

Might the term 'rice steamer' simply refer to somebody who 'is full of hot air'? It would certainly fit the story.

I don't think it has anything to do with "steam," actually - the Chinese term translates to something like "electric rice pot." I think MAC is probably on to something with 饭桶, "rice bucket," which means "good-for-nothing." This domestic security guy was just a little more modern, I guess.

From Jonathan Watts' (Guardian reporter) Twitter page: "Weiwei: I made up "rice steamer". it is a play on words with "guobao". Both gradually cook you."

Nice one, Alice.
Is Ai posting those essays on google himself? Does he have any blog that's still posting?

Good luck to Ai Weiwei. He's very patient and polite.

I hope this situation can be resolved peacefully.

There is no need to inflame passions; the next two years will be trying times as it is, globally.

Yeah! Reading about this guy gets me all pumped. We got fight the authorities that wants to walk all over us, all around the world. These dudes got realize they are simply the state's tool, for oppression. The State is not the People's. I'm sure they know this. However, it's just all just too much double-think, for a lot of people, everywhere.

Sometimes you need to stand up to protect your rights.
interesting post, thanks for sharing it.

Recent interviews with foreign media outlets, particularly those in France and Germany, might also be contributing factors to the drive to silence Ai Weiwei.

For a June 2, 2009 story from the Parisian daily Liberation that quotes and fully lauds both Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaoyuan, see link (Full text translated into English from the French.)

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