Road To The Olympic Games

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Author waits for China door to open wider

Yu Jie, a soft-spoken 35-year-old author, stands on a street on the southern outskirts of Beijing. Noisy tree insects called Chan buzz in the heat. He points to the lobby of his apartment building where national security officers are stationed 24 hours a day.

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Yu Jie, a soft-spoken 35-year-old author, stands on a street on the southern outskirts of Beijing.  Noisy tree insects called Chan buzz in the heat. He points to the lobby of his apartment building where national security officers are stationed 24 hours a day.   Speaking in Mandarin, Yu says he's got nothing against the men who've been sent to watch him.

"Generally those guys, those police, are very polite. They plead with me not to leave this place by myself otherwise they will be blamed for not doing their job very well and even they might lose their jobs."

Yu has been put under surveillance during every national holiday since 2004. That's when he was arrested for planning to write a book about China's jail dissidents.

But at the end of July when the surveillance teams arrived in advance of the Olympics, they added a new demand.  While Yu is able to wander the neighbourhood he can't leave unless he's driven by his watchers.

Saves him money on gas

"It's illegal what they're doing to me, but the police have politely told me this is like a special service during the Olympics, that because the price of gas is so high, this will save me a lot of money."

Yu chuckles, but he knows the politeness of his chaperones has its limit.

Yu says he tried to drive himself once, and the police surrounded his car.  Fearing conflict, he gave up.  He says his friend, prominent human rights lawyer Li Heping, wasn't so lucky.  He says Li resisted the offer of "special service" and ended up in a scuffle that left him injured.

Yu says he hasn't bothered to launch a legal challenge to his virtual house arrest because he has no faith in the Chinese courts. And he's been told this round of surveillance will end when the Olympics are over. It's all rather pointless, he believes, as he has no interest in the Olympics, let alone getting involved in any protests against them. 

"It doesn't make any sense to me. I'm a writer, I just use my pen and write articles to express different opinions to the Chinese government. I will not do anything on the street or at the stadium"

Met President Bush

He's permitted to speak with foreign journalists and travel internationally.  Two years ago, he met with U.S. President George W. Bush. He spent the past year in the U.S. studying religious freedom.  Yu's four-month-old son Justin was born in America.

Yu says the real reason for the state's paranoia about his movements may have something to do with the fact that he's a devout Christian and involved in China's "house church" movement.  He is one of an unknown number of evangelicals who gather in unauthorized and therefore illegal locations to worship.

Yu lauds the Chinese government for easing restrictions on foreign journalists, and allowing protests (albeit under strict rules) during the Olympics at designated parks.

And as he sits in a neighbourhood bookstore, thumbing copies of his books that have been banned in mainland China, Yu is stoic about being his house arrest. "We are in a difficult phase of reform," he says.  "Some people have lost much more than me. Some have lost their apartments, some people have been jailed."

Yu says he can see a day when his son lives in a democratic China.

"China is like a door and the door has already opened but not fully. And now it's difficult to close it again. So what Chinese intellectuals like will me do is use this chance to make this door fully open."

Until the Olympics are over, however, two men are always waiting on the other side of the door to Yu's apartment.

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