China’s Secret Prison

The following interview was conducted with a Chinese artist who during the late 1960s and early 1970s spent five years in the top-secret prison complex called Qin City, which is here described in detail for the first time. He had been a strong advocate of the Cultural Revolution and had supported extreme leftist policies toward the arts. During factional disputes, however, he was falsely accused of leading a “counterrevolutionary” organization to which many artists were said to belong. He was seized, sent to Qin City without trial or any form of due process, and kept in solitary confinement.

For obvious reasons, both his name and that of his interviewer must be withheld.

—Thomas P. Bernstein and Andrew J. Nathan


Q: Wei Jing-sheng, the political dissident and democratic movement leader, published something about the life in Qin City in his underground magazine before his arrest and trial in October of 1979. Does that report seem accurate to you?

A: Basically, yes, although not complete. Some fiction writers, like Ding Ling, have also mentioned it, although briefly and not by name. The material exposing Liu Shaoqi by China’s ex-Soviet ambassador Liu Xiao was originally stamped as having been written there, but the words were later deleted. In any case, some day people will know about it. Mainly high-ranking and famous people have been prisoners there, like Liu Shaoqi’s wife Wang Guangmei, the Delai Lama’s older brother, the discredited members of the Cultural Revolution Directorate, the great pianist Liu Shikun, and a number of foreigners. I assume that the Gang of Four is being held there now.

Q: Where is Qin City?

A: In northern Changping County, northeast of Peking, near the Xiaotang Mountain Sanatorium. You take the road from Peking for an hour, and there’s a right-hand turn with the sign, “Restricted Area. No Foreigners.” Drive down that road forty minutes between the wheat fields and the double row of white poplars straight to the end, and you’ll see it. It’s very pretty, like a military hospital. There’s no one there but the Kings of Hell and the little ghosts.

Q: How did you know you were in Qin City?

A: At first, I didn’t. They held my head down when they drove me in, a Security Bureau officer on each side. I couldn’t see a thing. When we stopped I saw we were in a big compound. They took me to a preliminary questioning room. There they ordered me to sign the arrest warrant. It was ridiculous, since my arrest was already a fait accompli. I demanded to know what I was accused of and who was prosecuting me, but they wouldn’t answer. I was tempted not to sign so that it would be an arrest under protest, but then I thought, this is an organ of the dictatorship of the people, so why should I be afraid? Someday my innocence would be clear. So I wrote my name. Then they ordered me to strip, and confiscated…

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