The law: soldiering on in China.

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Brian Hennessy. An Australian in China. January, 2010

I am an Australian Vietnam veteran. I have a friend here in China who is also a Vietnam veteran. Whereas I fought local Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars in South Vietnam 1966-67, he fought North Vietnamese troops along the China-Vietnam border in 1979.

The law: soldiering on in China


We were both infantrymen who engaged with the enemy – thus we are brothers. Because I am couple of months older than him, I am Dage: elder brother. He is Xiongdi: my younger brother. All relationships are stratified in China.

We met each other one year after the Sichuan earthquake. We had returned to the epicenter to pay our respects to the thousands of citizens who remain entombed in the rubble of a terribly beautiful little town, Beichuan. Those people who had been fortunate enough to survive the initial shock and the subsequent collapse of the town, were soon buried by a series of avalanches as whole mountainsides slipped then hurtled down into the valley floor below burying everything and everyone. It is the saddest place that I have seen on God’s earth.

Xiongdi was one of the volunteers who dropped everything and travelled independently to the epicenter to do what he could to help. That help included identifying, bagging, and burying bodies which had not already been entombed by landslides. He is one of china’s heroes.

Hero status has not helped him today however. Six months ago he was arrested along with thousands of others in an anti-corruption drive here in Chongqing. The investigation began at the top, and has been slowly working its way down through the system. The mayor is gone, and so is the chief of police. Six mafia gangsters have already been tried and executed, and there will be more to follow. This is what happens when an alternative power-base becomes so strong that it threatens the power of the Party.

Xiongdi has not been charged with anything. He has been scooped up with the corrupt local county administrators who demanded graft from him if he wanted to stay in business. So Xiongdi paid up. It was either that or be put out of business.

You can imagine how distraught his family has been. Here one day, gone the next. No information. And I have been unable to offer any material or emotional support to either him or his family. No phonecalls or emails. One verbal message of support via a trusted third party to his family, then being advised that the best way for me to help would be to stay as far away in the background as possible.

Why? Because if the prisoner is known to be associated with a foreigner, paranoid Party investigators will have a field day. It would make Xiongdi’s situation much worse.

It is better now, however. We know for sure that he is innocent. So also does the judge who he appeared before last week. But the judge has a problem. Firstly, he is not independent. There is no separation of powers here as we understand it in the West. He must protect himself first.

Secondly, although Xiongdi is innocent, he has been incarcerated for six months. There is a law in this land of contradictions which says that if someone has been wrongfully arrested, that person is entitled to compensation. It also means that someone made a mistake in the first place, and in China, mistakes don’t go unpunished.

So the judge, smart survivor that he is, suggests that Xiongdi should plead guilty. This way, he can be sentenced to the six months that he has already served, then released. The state would be protected.

As I write, Xiongdi is still in custody, and I don’t know how he and his family will handle this conundrum.

The judge is a victim of the system also. When Xiongdi’s legal representative asked him if his foreign friend could visit him in jail, the judge refused the request saying: “Do you want to make my life more complicated than it already is?”

Read between the lines.

Xiongdi may have to soldier on for a little while longer.



Two Vietnam veterans: Australian and Chinese. Dage and Xiongdi.


Post Script: April, 2010

Xiongdi has been released. Innocent of all charges.



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