Dissidents from China and Tibet have accused British police of a significant overreaction after they were arrested under public order laws and had their houses searched following peaceful protests against the visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
Shao Jiang, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre now based in the UK, said he was shocked to be tackled by police after holding placards in front of Xi’s motorcade in London, and to learn his home had been searched and computers seized while he was in custody.
“It feels like it was when I was in China,” Shao told the Guardian. “Then, every time I was arrested the Chinese police would search my rooms and take things. It reminded me of that.”
Tibetan exile groups have also reacted with anger following the arrest of two women shortly after Shao for waving a Tibetan flag near Xi’s car. They also had their homes searched while under arrest.
I remember when I was living in Beijing in 1999, when the state’s crackdown on the Falun Gong cult was in full swing. The Falun Gong was an interesting phenomenon, a personality-led Tai Qi type physical philosophy, and at its height had around 14 million followers (it still exists and faithful practitioners have been protesting opposite the Chinese embassy in London for years). The Chinese Communist Party hated (and hates) it, ostensibly because it posed a threat to its followers’ health, extolling them to simply pray and yoga their way to health if they got sick, kind of like Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this had apparently led to deaths. On the other hand the Gong also wanted its followers to be exclusively loyal to it, and for people to think and act independently of the CCP and the state, if not actively act against the state’s directives. This was a handful of years after Tiananmen Square, and there was no way the CCP would countenance that, particularly a cult that could take over the minds not just of impressionable urban youth who could be counter-impressed with a stunning display of violence, but it was signed up to by people of all backgrounds, across the country, many being middle aged and prosperous, with no reason surely to behave in this way, the kind of people who the CCP would think should really know better … So the Party went big on them, big time, mass arrests and incarcerations and brutal re-educations by the tens of thousands.
I remember learning Tai Qi with an elderly but very lithe lady in the park near my flat in Jianguomenwai, a diplomat flat with my then girlfriend, and in this park one morning we saw a group of people standing behind a hedge near where we were practising, them looking furtive, tabbing away, and the teacher wafted us away from them, and murmured ‘Falun Gong’.
Even emails mentioning the Gong wouldn’t make it out, state censors caught and deleted them and I’d find my email account out of action for an hour or so, while one article I wrote about the FG for Salt magazine I had to change all reference to the Gong.
Most relevant to the above despicable act in London however, was one day I was in Tiananmen Square, it was a classic Beijing winter day, biting dry cold, the sky light blue overhead, grey all around the horizon, and I was there in the square with a handful of tourists and locals, all in big coats, some heads half buried by raised collars and scarves, all milling around gently on the frosty stone slabs. I was squatted down a la locals, with a couple of men next to me, when one suddenly patted his friend’s arm and nodded to look at these two women a few yards in front of us, one I remember was well dressed, she had a fine cashmere coat, into which she had reached to pull out a bright yellow scarf with characters on it, and was about to hold it high in what was a classic, very brave Falun Gong protest, but she got no further as immediately a half dozen of the milling locals – who were in fact undercover police – just set on her and her friend, a large paddy wagon slid over the frost and into the back they were piled. It all took seconds. There was a middle-aged American couple filming the whole thing and as I recovered from the shock of the speed of it all I was going to go to them and say, ‘go away now, take your film to the CNN office on Jianguomen,’ but too late, they were seized too, camera taken, film removed.
And so we see it here.