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China: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The past week has seen a real-life version of film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” reenacted in China. The Chinese protagonist, Xu Wu, has been detained in a psychiatric hospital for four years over a labour dispute against a state-run enterprise in Wuhan, Hubei province.

He escaped from the hospital and told his story to a television station in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. Having traveled to Guangzhou, police from Wuhan then forced their way into the station building and abducted Xu, remanding him back to the psychiatric ward.

The story of Xu Wu

Xu Wu was once a firefighter in a large state-owned company in Hubei province – the Wuhan Iron and Steel Group. In 2000, as a workers’ representative, he started a legal battle with the factory, which offered to settle the case with RMB 30,000 in compensation.

Xu rejected the offer and chose to petition his way to Beijing in December 2006. His local district government then forced Xu's family to sign a document which declared him insane. Xu has been detained in a psychiatric hospital ever since.

On April 19, 2011, Xu escaped from the psychiatric hospital and traveled to Guangzhou where he testified to the Southern television station that he had been illegally detained in a hospital for the mentally ill for four years. During his stay in Guangzhou, he visited the Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital for a second diagnosis.

However, before the test results were issued, a group of unidentified men claiming to be Wuhan police officers abducted Xu while still inside the station campus and escorted him back to Wuhan. Read a translation of a news piece telling Xu's story at the Ministry of Tofu blog.

Both the police and the hospital refused to let Xu's parents see their son. Below is a video showing Xu Wu's mother yelling outside the hospital, telling her son not to be scared:

The clip was deleted from Sina Video and other main video sharing websites in China before this post was published, however can still be viewed on YouTube.

There were [zh] more than 121 comments under the video, including:

2011-05-02 15:44:37 这是个黑暗的社会

2011-05-02 15:43:01 该关进精神病院里的应该是武汉警方,他们把法律给践踏了。

2011-05-01 23:14:35 我们都是徐武

2011-05-01 00:27:28 阳光下的丑恶~!!! 纸包不住火的。。。

2011-04-30 19:44:29 徐武,顶住,我们一定要来救你。这帮猪狗不如的东西

2011-05-02 15:44:37 This is a dark society

2011-05-02 15:43:01 The Wuhan police should be locked up, they have trampled upon the law.

2011-05-01 23:14:35 We are all Xu Wu.

2011-05-01 00:27:28 Evil under the sun!!! Paper cannot hold back fire…

2011-04-30 19:44:29 Xu Wu, hold on, we will save you. They are worse than dogs and pigs.

Politically mentally ill

It is not the first time that a petitioner has being diagnosed as mentally ill. A Weibo user searched around the Internet and discovered that in Wuhan city alone there are currently 18 petitioners who have been locked up in psychiatric hospitals [zh]. From the discussion thread:

小文zheng: 作为一个武汉人我震惊了,转发不会被神经病吧?虽然害怕,还是要转发,请大家关注。(59分鐘前)

李一樊: 访民肯定都是精神病。被强奸时都不会享受精神肯定有问题。(今天 10:49)

林昭的灵魂: 前苏联也干过类似的事,看来凡事法西斯国家都很相似。(今天 10:49)

Xiao Wen zheng: As a Wuhan resident, I am totally shocked. Will I be diagnosed as mentally ill for reposting this? Although I am scared, I have to repost it. Please pay attention.

Li Yifan: Petitioners are mentally ill because they don't enjoy being raped.

Lin Zhao's soul: Similar things used to happen in the Soviet Union. All fascist countries are similar.

Blogger Yu Ge points out that such social governance tactics [zh] have a long history:

这背后,则是一种历久弥新的治理术,即 权力机器热衷于将那些严重扰乱了其正常运转的反对者,以及那些变了形的齿轮、溢出了正轨的螺丝钉,在政法领域,自然要除恶务尽;而在道德、智识领域,同样 要极尽打击、贬低之能事,譬如诬蔑他们为败类、渣滓、寄生虫、黑五类……精神病人只是省略号里一个微乎其微的点。

判定徐武们为精神病人,一来 可以解释此前他们破坏社会稳定的“反常”行为,二来,假如能对徐武们明正典刑,我相信有司绝不会手软,无奈连株连、罗织都不得其法,那只能暗度陈仓,将他 们投入密不透风的精神病院。在此,精神病院扮演了一个十分尴尬的政法角色,它不是看守所和监狱,却被迫发挥后者的功用。这无疑是对医学与真正的精神病人的 惨重伤害。…

This is a governance tactic with a long history that has never become outdated: the power machine wants to, through legal and political means, eradicate opponents – damaged gears and screws – who affect its normal function. In terms of moral and intellectual domains, it has to debase them as scum, parasites, the five black categories, etc. Mentally ill is just one of the labels.

To diagnose Xu Wu as a psychiatric patient can explain away his “abnormal” behavior which might disrupt social stability. If they could prosecute Xu through legal means, they could have done so. However, authorities clearly could not have put a case up against him without exposing their own problems, which is why they had to lock him up in the psychiatric ward. Thus the mental hospital plays the very awkward role and function of both a prison house and detention center here. This damages the entire psychiatric profession.

Local government, state-run corporations, and the media

China.com forum writer balusw digs further into the political implications [zh] and predicts the potential consequences of Xu Wu's treatment:

1、[…] 我们围观徐武,是对公权践踏人权的强烈谴责,是对“被精神病”患者徐武的深深同情,是对坚守正义的记者的良好祝愿;[…]

2、…徐武事件的背后利益集团,是“共和国钢铁长子”的武汉钢铁集团公司,这个中央企业一贯宣称是国有老企业,身上的包 袱重,因此在处理内部劳资纠纷时,往往都是一副高高在上的姿态,让P民没有发言权。若P民不服上访、上告,武钢就会仗着和政府千丝万缕的联系,动用公权, 让P民往往没有好下场。…由于武钢的产值占据武汉市的半壁江山,所以,只要副部级单位武钢 一打喷嚏,武汉市的公权部门很快就“指哪打哪” […]

3、…在全国媒体和人民积极关注徐武事态进展的同时,武汉媒体集体选择了失声和沉默。按照常理,武汉媒体在采访这一事 件中应该具备天时地利人和的优势,结果,陪伴徐武70多岁父母身边的是外地媒体;[…] 武汉步伐优秀的新闻专业人才,相信他们对这一事件不关注,不会没有自己 的想法,唯一的解释是,他们被下了“封口令”。

4、…事件至此,尚没有从利益相关方武钢和武汉警方获得任何有价值的说法与解释 […]

5、徐武会一直“被精神病”下去吗?会,可能性80%。如果警方出面解释,他们只有将徐武定性为“妨碍公共安全的精神病人”,也只有这条理 由,才能让他们的跨省追捕、媒体院内抢人、抢手机、殴打媒体记者等等不合理的行为站得住脚。[…]

1. […] Through our concern over Xu Wu, we condemn the authorities for treading upon human rights, and express our sympathy towards those who have been forcibly and wrongly diagnosed as psychiatric patients, and praise our media workers who defend social justice[…]

2. […] The interest group behind Xu Wu's incident is the “first son” of China's national steel industry, the Wuhan Iron and Steel Group (WISG). It is an old state-run corporation with a strong political background. Whenever there is a labour dispute, WISG doesn't allow people to have any say in the settlement. When people decide to take legal action or begin the process of petitioning, WISG uses its government connections and power to stop people's actions… Since WISG contributes a large portion of Wuhan's GDP, all a unit leader has to do is sneeze and the Wuhan government will act accordingly…

3. […] As people and media from throughout the entire country are paying attention to Xu Wu's case, media in Wuhan have chosen to remain silent. Wuhan media should have a social and geographical advantage in reporting the incident, but only media from outside the province are following Xu's 70-something year old parents. […] Wuhan has so many professional media workers. I believe that they are also concerned about the incident, thus the only explanation for their silence is a “shut up order”.

4. […] Up until now, there hasn't been any valid explanation about the incident from either WISG or police […]

5. Will Xu Wu be diagnosed as a “mental patient” again? The probability is 80%. The only valid reason Wuhan police could possibly give to justify such action beyond their jurisdiction and violence during the arrest would be to label Xu Wu as a “mental patient who endangers public security”. […]

Meanwhile Beijing lawyer Huang Xuetao has offered legal assistance to Xu Wu's parent and netizens continue to pressure the Wuhan authorities by means of online public outcries.

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