Locked Up for Reading: Voices from the Novembe…

Locked Up for Reading: Voices from the November 15th Incident:


On November 15, 2017, police stormed into a student reading group at the Guangdong University of Technology (GDUT) and seized six participants, including four current students at the university and two recent graduates from other schools. The former were released the next day, but the latter were placed under detention as suspects for the crime of “gathering crowds to disrupt social order”—a charge we have seen increasingly leveled against multiple feminists, labor activists, striking workers and bloggers over the past five years. Authorities alleged that the reading group was an “anti-party, anti-society organization” that was discussing “sensitive topics.”

Despite Beijing’s massively staffed policing of the internet and cellular networks, a petition managed to circulate calling for the release of 24-year-old Zhang Yunfan—one of the initial two among what would turn out to be at least four young people detained for weeks as suspects in this case. Apparently the petition mentioned only Zhang, a “Left Maoist,”[0] because the authors were unaware of the others when it was penned. Although it was repeatedly blocked only moments after being reposted, over 400 people soon signed the petition, including many prominent intellectuals who risk repercussions because they are based in China.

On January 15, after 30 days in the Panyu Detention Center, two weeks under house arrest and two weeks of recovery, Zhang published the open letter that we have translated below. The letter mentioned three associates who had also been detained and released on bail awaiting trial, and four others who were still in hiding after having been put on the police wanted list.

The next day Sun Tingting, one of the other three detainees, released her own open letter, also translated below. It provides a more detailed account of the arrests, their context and her nightmarish experience in detention from December 8 to January 14.

Like the petition, both of these letters were of course quickly censored, but new WeChat feeds keep popping up and reposting them, to the point that “Sun Tingting” even briefly trended on Sina Weibo until the term was blocked.

Then on the third day, a third letter appeared by yet another detainee: Zhai Yongming. In the interest of making these translations available as quickly as possible, we are publishing the first two now and will add the third when it is finished in a day or two. Stay tuned!