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China: A turmoil triggered by T-shirt

Lawyer Liu Shihui's T-shirt, on which a quote is printed, seems to have the power to attract police and disturb the social order. Below is a partial translation of Liu's blog entry about his experience in Guangzhou.


At 5 pm, 12 May, 2009, I was waiting for my girlfriend at a subway station in Guangzhou. Calling her, I knew she was on her way .


Right then, a security guard came up to me, staring at me vigilantly and questioned me with a threatening voice:‘What are you up to? What are you doing here?’ I told him that I was waiting for my girlfriend. But he opened up his terrifying eyes and pointed at my T-shirt, ‘Your dressing is wrong, what do you mean by that? You can't dress like this in here!’


I was wearing a self-made T-shirt, with the remark in the front as this quote: ‘One-party dictation is a disaster – by Xinhua Daily’. On the back, there is a line by the former president Liu Shaoqi, ‘Communist Party opposes the one-party ruling by KMT, and absolutely wants no one-party dictation!’ The front side alarmed the guard, whose sense of ‘class struggle’ is triggered.


I rebuked, ‘What's wrong with my clothes? What has it to do with you? Did I hurt anyone by waiting for people here?’

Unexpectedly, more attention was attracted.


At the time, a police came by with another security guard. So did a staff of subway, who held a camera shooting pictures of me. More people stopped by, circling us, watching curiously at my T-shirt and the situation. I felt life a canoe in the ocean with so many people looking at me and had the police, guards and staff surrounding me.


‘It is wrong to have such words (one-party dictation is a disaster) imprinted on the T-shirt. Go with us for further investigation.’ The guard said, in profusion of the class-struggle snetiment.


I pointed to the quote, telling the guard, ‘This is said by the Communist Party itself. It is an editorial of Xin Hua Daily (the precedence of the present state media in China). If you have been to school, you should know Xinhua Daily was a newspaper during the war against Japan in 1940s. You can check it yourself.’ I also told him I am a lawyer and warned him not to infringe on my legal right. The security guard was outraged, behaving like a thug, chiding at me in front of the crowd, ‘You the idiot, I don't care what ‘-er’ are you. I have read much more books than you have.’ He then ridiculed me,'You such a person have a girlfriend?’ I was disgusted facing the man cursing on me.


The police was not as mean as the guard, but evidently he viewed me as a suspect. I was so uncomfortable. I explained to him, ‘The line is an excerpt from the editorial issued by the Communist Party's paper, Xihua Daily, on 3 March, 1946.’ I also told him that my girlfriend had already get out of the station. I needed to pick her right now. But the police refused my request and was about to detain me. I pointed out it was an illegal restraint. At that time, more than a few police have gathered around, some of them appearing to be tough, while some polite. They dragged me to an open space and the staff immediately erected screens around me at the corner. It was to prevent passer-by to see the line on my T-shirt.

The police and guards later took Liu to a small room for investigation. A security guard, according to Liu, shouted ‘F**k you’ for several times and rushed to in an attempt to punch him. Fortunatelly, the irritated guard was stopped by the police. They then took pictures of Liu.


The police asked me where the quote is from. I explained to them in details and offered to help search it online. But They said they could not find any computer here. But I believed they must found out about the quote in some way soon.

During the process, Liu noted down their police numbers on the sneak with his cellphone.


I asked for documents that permited them to detain me, but was refused. I required them to help make a statement, but was first refused and then promised only after I was taken to another place. I later wrote a statement about my experience, asking for apology and compensation. I told them, ‘ This is illegal constraint. I, as a lawyer, would charge you and spread the word online.’



The police's attitude was apparently softened. He tried to persuade me, ‘During the anti-Japan war Communist Party was opposed to the authoritarian KMT, so it published the editorial. But the quote will be quite politically sensitive today…etc’.

I replied, ‘ I am a lawyer. The yardstick I use to judge about right and wrong is law. No one can stop me from doing anything that is not prohibited by the law. Isn't ‘ruling the country by law’ written into the constitution? It doesn't say ‘ruling the country by considering whether it is sensitive or not’.


A police finally made out a ‘note of investigation’. I took a rough look. It stated that I ‘made up rumors and disturbed social order’. I ridiculed, ‘ Don't you think this is a violation of common sense? Do you think this is more absurd than the ‘eluding the cat’ incident’? He remained speechless. Since the note distorted the fact and I was not allowed to get a photocopy, I refused to sign my name.


Perhaps the police had found out where the quote was from, perhaps I was so familiar with the due process of investigation, or perhaps they didn't think it proper to detain someone just for his T-shirt, perhaps they were alerted by my warning that I will put my experience online, they compromised, asking what I wanted.

Finally, the guard that cursed and shoved Liu apologized to him.



At 8:10 pm I left the police station. 3 hours has passed since I was caught at the subway station.
On my way home with my girlfriend I was exhausted. Today the world is no more like the one during the anti-Japan war. 2/3 states in the world have adopted democratic system. I simply printed a quote by the party on my T-shirt, a quote that told the truth. But now I was so treated like a state enemy, exactly by the same party that printed the quote decades ago. How many fingers can I raise if I want to count how many such countries still remain?


  • kailing

    Mmmm nice, may I have one? It is good to remember the good quotations from the old days!

  • Allemagne

    Why?Why are the foreigners always curious about such a tiny incident in China?Do they have the special personality or something else?What’s more,In my opinion,call such a little nail “a turmoil” is nonsence.

  • Bob

    If being detained because of wearing a T-shirt is not anything at all, then a citizen can be arrested in any excuse. No turmoil will happen. They are all wiped out.

  • wgj

    Actually, wearing a T-shirt that says “Jews are pigs!” will most certainly get you arrested (and convicted) in pretty much all European countries – as it should be.

    The extreme sanctity of the freedom of expression that exist in the US doesn’t exist in Europe. Various categories of expression are considered unlawful – which obviously doesn’t hurt Europe’s prestige as exemplary democracies at all.

  • Calling Jews pigs is totally different from pulling a quote from state media which is non offensive. The guy obviously believes in justice and believes that China would be better if not under one party dictatorship. How’s that offensive? In China you’re not allowed to have an opinion about this because the one party is terrified of the people’s actual thoughts, so they repress them using threats.

    Protecting Jews from insults is not at all the same thing.

  • On the day China is mourning the one year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake (May 12) this smart lawyer decides to wear his own personally designed political statement T-shirt in downtown Guangzhou. What a genius!

    I’m going to design a T-shirt with one Chinese word, “豆腐”, and wear it on one of those earthquake tourism tours next year on the second anniversary of the Sichuan quake. If the local police hassle me, I’ll just tell them that I love tofu! “我爱吃豆腐:麻婆豆腐, 红烧豆腐,… 日本豆腐!”

  • wgj


    I didn’t – and wouldn’t – say they were the same thing. I was only countering Bob’s argument that “being detained because of wearing a T-shirt” is by itself proof of the dictatorial nature of a state.

    By the way, it’s also a crime in many European countries to wear a T-shirt saying “KZ gas chambers are a myth!” Of course you could argue that this is still “offensive” to all the Nazi victims, but then you must accept that the “disaster” statement may be considered politically offensive as well.

    The fact that it comes from a CCP publication doesn’t matter, since it’s obviously quoted out of context – you can find many offensive and even vulgar words and phrases in the Bible, too.

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