Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen, was riding a train from Shanghai to Beijing in the company of two Swedish diplomats in January when 10 Chinese plainclothesmen stormed aboard, lifted him up and carried him off the train and out of sight.
Three weeks later, Gui was paraded before Chinese media to recite a bizarre and apparently coerced confession. He hasn’t been heard from since.
This is what passes for the rule of law in China today.
I think of Gui sometimes when I hear Chinese President Xi Jinping boasting about a country that “has stood up, grown rich and is becoming strong.”
Would a truly strong and self-confident nation behave this way? Why would it feel the need to kidnap — for the second time, no less — a peaceable 54-year-old gentleman such as Gui and keep him, in poor health, locked up for, now, more than a thousand days?
Gui left China as a young man to study in Sweden and got marooned there when the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre rendered his home country inhospitable to anyone inclined toward democracy. He earned a Phd, married, had a daughter, Angela, who is now, at 24, beginning her own PhD studies at the University of Cambridge in England.
Eventually, as the political climate in China eased, Gui moved back. He established a book business in Hong Kong, where he published insider accounts from China’s Communist Party — books that were banned in China itself.
In October 2015, he disappeared from his small vacation home in Thailand. That was the first abduction, followed by the first bizarre confession: Gui showed up on television in January 2016 claiming he had voluntarily returned to China to take responsibility for a long-ago hit-and-run car accident.
Angela could never find out where he was being held, but last fall he was released into a kind of house arrest in Ningbo, a coastal city south of Shanghai, where he was allowed to resume a careful communication with his daughter.
He told her that, while in prison, he had been composing poems. His captors had not permitted him pen and paper, but he had committed them to memory — and last fall he began writing them down and sending them to his daughter.
In one, he compares himself to a Père David’s deer — a species that, by the time a French missionary became in the 19th century the first Westerner to see it, existed only in captivity, in the Chinese emperor’s hunting preserve.
“When I was caught I started to evolve/When I started to evolve, I was tamed,” Gui wrote. “But while I am shamed in the swamp/I still yearn to run through the Swedish woods.”
Also last fall, Gui began to notice alarming signs of neurological deterioration — perhaps a result of maltreatment in captivity; perhaps, as a Ningbo doctor believed, early signs of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“He was very shaken by this,” Angela recalled. “He told me, ‘I’m not afraid to die, I’m just not ready yet. There’s so much more to be done.’”
The Ningbo doctor said he should see a specialist; the Swedish government agreed to send one to Beijing; China’s ambassador to Sweden said Gui would be permitted to travel to the capital for the exam. It was on the way to that appointment that he was, again, abducted. And at his next “confession,” he was being charged, even more absurdly, with stealing “state secrets.”
What kind of state secrets could Gui possess after nearly three years in captivity?
Angela wonders, sadly, if the secret is not the case itself — a story that has become such an embarrassment of injustice atop injustice that the Communist Party can’t bring itself to turn her father loose.
All of this is happening while, given America’s forfeiture of global standing, China is, understandably, trying to present itself as an alternative model. Yet how can its leaders convince the world that they are “an unstoppable and invincible force” (that’s Xi, again) if they fear a man such as Gui Minhai? Who wants to imitate a regime that behaves like gangsters?
Angela hopes the Chinese will let her father see a doctor. She hopes his health is not deteriorating. Sometimes she even lets herself dream that her father — who was not there to see her graduate at the top of her class this spring — will be with her when she earns her next degree.
Today, The Post is proud to publish two of Gui Minhai’s poems for the first time. Like Angela, I hope he will be free and publishing a full volume of his verse before too long.
“There is so much more he wanted to do,” she says. “There was so much he wanted to tell people.”
Père David’s Deer
By Gui Minhai, translated by Anne Henochowicz
Under the harsh light day and night
I quickly turned into a Père David’s deer
it took only seven hundred days or so
for my graying hair to evolve into antlers
These strange creatures don’t live here
they say my name is “Neither Fish Nor Fowl”
When I was caught I started to evolve
When I started to evolve, I was tamed
As soon as my clothes were peeled away
I became a tamed David’s deer
I sobbed in front of the cameras
admitting I was a deer that had strayed away
In the secret garden, my swift devolution
turned speech into furry groans
turned a hat into a black hood
turned nationality and citizenship into diplomatic dispute
In every Chinese encyclopedia, it is written
that Père David’s deer is a rare beast unique to China
thus one such deer, at ease in the Swedish forest
began a new life in an Asian swamp
I am a devolved David’s deer
unable to choke down poems or prose
but while I am shamed in the swamp
I still yearn to run through the Swedish woods.
first written in prison
rewritten Dec. 10, 2017
By Gui Minhai, translated by Anne Henochowicz
When I was young, I cared for a cute little chicken
in the time of my childhood it laid an egg
an egg that shone toward the sun’s light
with a round, round yolk inside its shell
I took this egg with me everywhere
and made many yolk-yellow drawings
when even the moon was curved with exhaustion
I dreamed dreams as round as a yolk
Only when a pair of boots trampled my egg
did I know how frail an eggshell is
the forlorn, helpless yolk on the ground
the egg white flowing out like tears
A bare chicken egg is so weak
after the yolk had been ravaged
I curled into a ball, surrendered the egg’s genetic code
and admitted I really was a duck egg
I burn to my end in the red-hot pan
only because I have this humble notion:
once I’m fried into a fat omelette
a hero’s death will be wrapped inside me
written Dec. 27, 2017