Exclusive Interview with the Arrested Activist’s family
《He is just “helping others to fight for justice”: the helplessness and anxiety of Deng Xiaoming’s mother》
In the morning of December 5, Li Hongying (not her real name), a part-time worker in the wholesale market of agricultural products in Zhongtang Town of Dongguan City, was unloading bags of Longkow bean vermicelli. She calculated that with 14 workers to unload this truck, she could earn 60 yuan. She pictured that if she would earn this much each day and live modestly, she might be able to save some money for her son.
A phone call interrupted her thoughts. A girl, who introduced herself as Xiaoming’s colleague, told her, “Xiaoming seems to be in trouble. He has disappeared for two days.”
Xiaoming is Li Hongying’s 22 years old son. What Li has not known is, two days ago, Xiaoming and some other workers from labour NGOs were taken away by the police and nobody has heard from him since then. Some of the fellow detainees have received notice of detention, being accused of “assembling crowds to disturb public order”; some have been released after giving testimonies and some remain out of reach, just like Xiaoming. Due to lack of information and fear that the news would worry Li too much, Xiaoming’s colleague only told her vaguely that “Xiaoming seems to be in trouble.”
Li was very nervous when she got the phone call. She could not figure out what trouble Xiaoming could get into, as he is always well-behaved . She then wondered if it was just a telephone scam and she asked her cousin to call back. This time, Xiaoming’s colleague said, “Xiaoming might have been detained by the police.”
Li still thought it was a telephone scam, as it happens in Dongguan all the time.
After a while, the same person called her, told her to bring along her household registration record and identity card and travel to Guangzhou City. Then, she started to believe that Xiaoming did get into trouble.
It started to rain. At 12 noon, a half of goods was still on the truck. Her colleagues planed to have lunch first but Li insisted that they would set up a canopy and keep working. Otherwise she would have to leave without getting paid.
After work, she rushed home, a room she rented, grabbed some food and took a shower. It was Saturday. Her 10-year-old younger son was watching TV at home. Reluctant to leave him alone, she asked if he would like to go with her, to the elder brother’s place. He said, “no, my brother has no TV at home.” Li was also worried that if she brought the younger son along, there would be no place for them to stay. Moreover, she was not sure what happened to Xiaoming. Her 10-year-old son knows how to take care of himself. She told him to wash clothes for her and he promised he would do it.
Before leaving for Guangzhou, she told him to stay home and behave. She also arranged relatives to give him meals.
It was 5 or 6pm when she got to Guangzhou. She had no idea where Xiaoming was and which police station she should go to and it was weekend. Xiaoming’s colleague said, the notice of detention would be sent to his hometown Hunan, which states which charges he is accused of and which detention centre he is in. However, they have no idea when that letter would arrive.
On Monday, Li and Xiaoming’s colleagues went early to the No.1 Detention Centre of Guangzhou, where they believed that Xiaoming would be likely to be kept there. For Li, it was hard for her to understand, how Xiaoming, her nice and obedient son, could possibly arrive here.
The temperature has dropped significantly in Guangdong those few days. one might wear short sleeves short trousers some days ago and now would need jackets. Li came in a hurry and Xiaoming’s flat was locked, so she could not even bring him some warm clothes.
She asked at the No.1 Detention Centre, if she could deposit some money into Deng Xiaoming’s account. The guard checked his documents and said “yes”. They all felt relived, apparently Xiaoming has been kept there.
After she deposited 500 yuan into Xiaoming’s account, Li started to worry if her son would be assaulted in the detention centre. She has often heard that newcomers at the detention centre would be beaten up. Xiaoming is so thin, he could not survive it. She recalled that when Xiaoming graduated from Junior Secondary School, he found a job at a furniture factory in Zhongshan City. His hand was injured half year later. Fearing it would upset his mother, Xiaoming did not tell her about the injury. He only told his aunt and later Li heard about it from her husband. She immediately traveled to see Xiaoming in Zhongshan. By then Xiaoming has been discharged from the hospital, but it broke her heart to see his fingers, which had been amputated and replanted.
Li winced as cold wind blew. Her tired face became dry and raw from the cold wind. Thinking of her son’s experience, tears welled in her eyes and she tried to hold them back.
Half year after his injury, Xiaoming told his mother that he got a job to fight for workers’ rights and he would get paid 800 yuan per month. The new employer is the organization which taught him what work injury meant, what compensation he was entitled to when Xiaoming was injured. At first, Li was against it, for the pay was low and she was worried that Xiaoming would get cheated. Yet, Xiaoming told her mother, “Can’t you trust your son? Don’t worry, I will stay in the right path.”
Feeling his determination, Li thought, as long as he did not take drugs, gamble, steal or rob, just let him do what he wants. Xiaoming did not get much education, so it may be a chance for him to learn something. Thus, she did not say much afterwards. She did not know what he exactly did, but she knew that his work was “to help others to fight for justice”. She even found it nice, that Xiaoming received help before and now he could help others.
Last year, Xiaoming was relocated from Zhongshan to Guangzhou, in a NGO which helps workers to safeguard their rights. Every one to two months, he would visit his parents in their rented room in Dongguan. Xiaoming’s father enjoys playing Mah-jong and Xiaoming used to tell him, “daddy, please don’t play Mah-jong. It is difficult to earn money and our family is not well off.” His younger brother often asked Xiaoming to buy him toys and each time when he came home, he would bring his younger brothers the toys he wanted. Now Li finally finds out where Xiaoming is, but it is unclear when she could see him again and what kind of offence he committed when he was simply “helping others to fight for justice”.
The cold wind keeps blowing, it feels even colder outside the detention centre. Li feels lost, as she neither knows what else she could do for Xiaoming, nor how long the wind would keep blasting.
On December 3, numerous labour NGOs in Guangdong have been stormed and many labour activists were detained. By December 8, seven of them cannot be reached. Two of them, Zeng Feiyang and Zhu Xiaomei of Panyu Migrant Workers Service Centre, are confirmed to be detained in Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Centre and are being accused of “assembling crowds to disturb public order”. Foshan-based Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Centre’s He Xiaobo is detained at Foshan City’s Nanhai Detention Centre, facing a charge of “embezzlement”. It is confirmed that Deng Xiaoming from Haige Workers’ Service Centre and Pang Jiayong of Laborer Mutual Aid Group in Panyu are also kept in Guangzhou No.1 Detention Centre, but their charges remain unclear (the families have not received the notice of detention). Meng Han and Tang Jian (known as Beiguo online), an ex-staff member and previous intern from Panyu Migrant Workers Service Centre, continue to be unreachable.