[UPDATE: RFA's Cantonese service -- 粤语部首页 -- interviews Yu and Gao as they arrive in China - see below] Here are some highlights of recent interviews given by Shi Tao’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, and Wang Xiaoning’s wife, Yu Ling, to RFA’s Mandarin service (ZH). You can hear the 30-minute Mandarin audio clip in its entirety here, and find a longer English extract here.
Here is Gao on her private exchange with Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang, who was called a ‘moral pygmy’ during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing into Yahoo!’s role in the convictions of Shi and Wang for ‘revealing State secrets’ and ‘incitement to subvert State power’ respectively:
Later, after the meeting, I said that I had heard that he and my son were exactly the same age. Your mother took you from Taiwan to the U.S. when you were a child, and you grew up in such a powerful, free and democratic country. You had every privilege. But you helped the authorities in an unjust case, and the result was my son’s downfall. I told him this after the meeting. He repeated his apology. He said Shi Tao is a good person and I have let him down. How do you think I will feel if something happens to him during 10 years of labor camp, and I lose my son?
I said that people were more important than money, and that perhaps he believed that money was more important that a person’s life? He said, yes, yes, and kept nodding and apologizing to me.
That must have been a sticky moment emotionally for Yang; there’s nothing like a maternal guilt trip in any culture. But what does it mean politically? Some commentators have already pointed out that some folk in Congress are singling out Yahoo! to suit their own political ends; China is a convenient and popular bad guy at the moment, who isn’t all that bad. I mean, they don’t go round blowing people up or anything. A sort of moral opponent who is worth battling with, because of its real and potential economic and political power. This, I suppose, makes China-bashing seem like a constructive activity and maybe it is. The government certainly notices what its critics say; whether it really absorbs it is debatable. The real conditions on the ground, are, it says, not easily understood by outsiders, and maybe they’re not.
Yu Ling was far more passionate and vocal in her interview than Shi’s mother, who has a quieter, more considered manner, referring to Shi’s wife, who divorced him in order to hang onto her livelihood, as ‘also a victim’ of the whole sorry affair. This might be a generational thing. Yu described her husband’s living conditions in prison thus:
Inside the jail, they have a daily living allowance of four yuan (U.S. 50 cents) a day and they’re not allowed to spend all of it on food. I kept telling him to eat more greens, because out in the normal world we of course think that eating more vegetables is good for you. But he said the vegetables were too disgusting; that they were made from the outer leaves of cabbages thrown away by street vendors.
So of course when I received an apology from Yahoo!, I felt it had come a bit too late. I really hope that my husband will be released. Since he went to jail he has lost his basic human rights and his most basic personal security.
Of course I hope that they will give us compensation. That would only be right.
But she wasn’t going to let Yahoo! off that easily…
But actually, that’s too easy for them; a big company like that with so much revenue. They would be able to afford any sum you named. But they wouldn’t find it very easy to have him released, although how come it was so easy to get him in there in the first place?
So that’s why I told [Jerry Yang], if Yahoo! can’t get my husband released, I am going to sue the pants off you. He didn’t answer.
Both women gave a chilling account of the realities of being the close family relative of a political ‘criminal’ in China. Here is Gao:
I get to visit him once a month, but I can’t stay long in Changsha because my landlady charges me too much rent. I stay in a basement room there but I can’t afford to go there for every visit. He wants me not to stay in such a horrid place, but he is also afraid of losing his mother. I am his only relative now. His wife divorced him when he went to jail in order to keep her job and her means of existence. She was a victim of this too, so now all the property belongs to her.
Shi Tao and I don’t have a home. I stay with my other two sons and friends, but even his brothers are afraid because everyone is afraid of being associated with political prisoner. They know that we are being watched and followed. So I have become very self-reliant. I have never asked them to do me a favour, or for help of any kind. I always say I’m fine.
They wanted to get as much as they could to make the charges against him more severe, so they beat him and kicked him to force a confession out of him. Then, his two cellmates started to give him verbal abuse. When we hired the lawyer, the first thing he said to me after his very first meeting with Wang Xiaoning was that his cellmates were abusing him verbal. But he never said anything about it directly to me, because he didn’t want me to be upset.
Before that first meeting on March 15, 2004, I had never even been allowed to see him. They wouldn’t even let me in the building when I went to the detention center to take some things to him. So, when I first saw him, he had a glazed stare, straight ahead, with no expression on his face at all. He was in a very poor state of health. He couldn’t stop coughing, coughing.
Both described different coping strategies. Gao described a life which had become utterly focused on Shi and her as a partnership which might end with the loss of her own life. As for Yu, she is trying to stay positive:
I have a rule that when we write to each other we are only allowed to say good things, to talk about happy things. We don’t mention the difficult stuff. That’s the same when we meet, as well. I also tell him to be sure to force himself to think of something happy every day.
Our Cantonese service has since spoken to Yu and Gao since they landed in China. Service director Shiny Li writes:
- Shi Tao’s mother and Wang Xiaoning’s wife went back to China on Friday after the settlement with Yahoo. RFA’s Cantonese Service interviewed them exclusively at the airport (the first time they spoke to the media after the settlement). They said that the settlement was not an end. They asked Jerry Yang, Yahoo Chief Executive to help release their loved ones.
- Shi Tao’s mother said, “ They(Yahoo) have to reflect this to the (Chinese) government…It’s important to save people first…..I talked to him (Jerry Yang). I said, your mom brought you from Taiwan to the US, this land of freedom that provides abundant resources for your creativity leading to your great wealth. My son Shi Tao is also very smart. But you helped an unjust trial to send him to prison. Can your money buy back my son?”
- “Jerry Yang said he was also very worried about the incidents. (He was) very sincere. “
- Yang said some groups in China are looking for dissidents whom are jailed for the reason of Yahoo’s release information to the Chinese government. They believe more lawsuits with Yahoo are coming.