Bits and Pieces About Tianshui

After my arrest, I had been booked into the military jail.  Other than a few military inmates waiting to be tried, the whole jail was empty with barely a soul detected.  One day without any warning, I was transferred from the Xishanqiao Jail of the Political Department under Nanjing Military Region to the Tea Pavilion Jail of the Nanjing Public Security Bureau.

It was a summer evening.  I was sent to cell Five of the jail.  Upon my entrance, out came a guy in glasses with beard, who said “hi” to me.  He was sent to another cell carrying his personal belongings.  With a loud bang, the cell door closed.  I was told by other inmates that the guy was Tongyan Yang, also known as Tianshui Yang.

Due to the jail rule that not two “ring leaders of the anti-revolutionary gangs” could be housed in the same cell, Tianshui had to be sent to another cell because of my arrival.  We were jailed separately.  Yet at that time, that jail was overcrowded with political prisoners.  It was impossible to separate all political prisoners.  Therefore in just a few days, Tianshui’s accomplice Yaowei Zhan was transferred to my cell, number five.  It was not until Zhan showed me his indictment paperwork did I find out the details of their case.

After that, we were tried and sentenced separately, but both were convicted for organizing and leading “anti-revolutionary gangs” as the ring leaders, and both were sentenced to 10 years in prison.  It was not until the winter of 1991 that we met again.  

When I was sent to the Dragon Pond Prison, Tianshui had already served several months here.  At the time, the Jiangsu Province decided that all the ring leaders of political prisoners of the province to be collectively locked up here.  In time other political prisoners tricked in from various parts of the province.

I saw Tianshui on the first day I worked in the workshop of Dragon Pool Prison, because we were assigned in the same squad.  At the time we could only communicate with eyes.  I was a newcomer, and to talk with other prisoners would get myself severe physical punishment called “tight crowning”.  Being under intensive watching of jailers, I had no chance to talk.

With both of our long sentences dragging on, Tianshui and I got to know each other little by little, especially during the weekends, when most of the inmates went to watch videos.  Tianshui and I would stand in the hallway of our cells, looking at the blue sky beyond bar and talking about our dreams.  When it was boring, we would recite <On the Yueyang Tower> by Zhongyan Fan and <Passing the Lingding Ocean> by Tianxiang Wen.  We gave each other support and encouragement, and how to maintain good health to survive a nasty environment like this.

Life is especially tough in prison.  One time I could not bear to eat the moldy rice and threw it away.  I was found out and denounced in all kinds of meetings.  One night during that period of time, Tianshui came to me with a bowl of over cooked noodle and told me with endearment, “Jianmin, it is our job to maintain good health and live well, so that we can fight together in the future.”  He made sure that I finished all the noodle in his presence, and took over the bowl with a big smile and washed it.  When he turned around, he sneaked to give me a hand gesture of “V”.  

The taste of that bowl of noodle remains in my memory for decades.

I regained freedom two years before Tianshui, but I was not allowed to remain in Nanjing.  One day when I went to visit my parents in Nanjing, I was told by friends that Tianshui had been released.  I asked immediately to be arranged to see him.  Tianshui came the next day.  Under the free blue sky, his smile was ever so kind and sincere.  Having endured so many years of tortures, the two fighters gave each other a hearty embrace.

However, I found out soon after that just like me, Tianshui had been followed and threatened because of his continued involvement in democracy activities.

We met again in secret not long after the breakout of SARS, and I remember we both wore masks.  At that time, Tianshui already sensed that he was probably going back to jail, but he told me firmly, “Jianmin, I have nothing to worry about already.  My wife and children have left me.  I am prepared to be the Mandela in China at any time.”  My heart sank hearing these words.  I told him, “Tianshui, you’re being silly.  We can’t make senseless sacrifices by throwing ourselves back into prison.  You want to be Mandela and there is nothing wrong with it.  But China is not short of Mandelas.  Instead, China is short of Frederick Willem de Klerks.  You thought the Chinese Communist Party were the same with the government of whites in South Africa?  There would have been no Mandela had there not been a de Klerk.”

Actually Tianshui knew it well.  Of course he knew how Chinese Communist Party is.  It is Facist.  It is Hitler and Stalin.  How could anyone expect it to have any moral bottom line?  In China, no one has seen the Communist Party ever showing any bit of remorse, either morally or conscientiously, for sentencing any fighter of democracy to long-term prison time.  Therefore, we all know that the last thing the Chinese Communist Party would be wary about is sending the democracy fighters to prison.  

But, as the famous saying goes, “If my life or death serves to benefit the country, how can I avoid it either way should it bring me good or bad luck?”

Tianshui was put in prison again after all.  This time serving twelve years for “instigation to overthrow the government”.

Other than an aging sister who maintained contacts with the prison, he no longer had any family around him.  For the longest time, no one was even aware of his imprisonment.  I know very well that for people like us who have been accustomed to the oblivion by other people, our only choice is to serve out the term, except this time for Tianshui, the imprisonment was excruciatingly long, so long that by the time he was months away from being released, Tianshui was in his final days.  

I heard that the prison granted him parole citing health reasons and he was checked into the Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.  I was deeply concerned about him.  Our comrades got together in Nanjing and saw him off, praying for his recovery in Shanghai.

The devastating news came today: Tianshui passed away.  He could not fight with me anymore.

Within a short year, Ming Peng, Xiaobo Liu and Tianshui Yang — several democracy fighters have been tortured to death in prison.

An unprecedented atrocious government like the Chinese Communist Party is never shaken no matter how much its people are suffering.  Enough is enough.  Too much blood has been shed — is there any alternative to pay back blood with blood?

Many people would ask me, “When is the right time to make the Chinese Communist Party pay back all the debt of blood?”  I hope those people who bring up this question could ask themselves, “What do you plan to do?”  I hope to find more comrades who share my wish and are willing to fight for it with me, because when it comes to Communist Party, angry words serve no purpose.  Only actions to overthrow it do.





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