- Qincheng Prison
Qincheng Prison (秦城监狱) is a maximum-security prison located in the
Changping Districtnorthwest of Beijing. The prison was built in 1958 with aid from the Soviet Unionand it is the only prison belonging to the Ministry of Public Security. The largest portion of inmates are political prisoners and among its inmates are members of the 1989 Democracy Movement. Famous inmates include Jiang Qing, Bao Tong, Dai Qing, as well as Tibetan figures such as the 10th Panchen Lama and Phuntsok Wangyal, other political inmates included many communist cadres who were struggled during Cultural Revolution, such as Bo Yibo, Peng Zhenand Sidney Rittenberg. The prison is located at the eastern foothill of Yanshan, facing the North China Plainin the east, north and south. The plain is where Qincheng Farm (秦城农场) is located, which is part of the prison.
The prison was originally built to house nationalist war criminals but due to its secrecy, the name was not publicized. Instead, it was simply referred as project #156, since it was number 156 out of 157 projects that China established with Soviet assistance. The head of
BeijingBureau of Public Security, Mr. Feng Jiping(冯基平) was in charge of construction of the prison. Ironically enough, during the Cultural Revolution, he was among the first to be jailed there. He was also one of the last to get out among those who were sent to the prison with him.
In 1958, high ranking former nationalists classified as war criminals by the communists were sent to Qincheng Farm (秦城农场) to work, and they had observed the prison in construction. Prisoners were curious because the 5-meter high thick wall and electric fence and asked the guards what building it would be, and the answer was: "Sport Academy". When prisoners questioned why an advanced educational institution such as a sport academy would have such heavy security measures, they were told that it was an advanced sport academy, and everything was learned from the former
The prison is built in accordance with the 1954 Reform Through Labor Regulations of the
People's Republic of China, so it is divided into three sections. The first section is for jail houses, and it includes both the jail houses for low ranking prisoners and that of high ranking prisoners, with the ranking often decided by the prisoner's social status, job position, and level of crime before entering the prisons. The second is called the Management and Work Section, the largest one among all three, with Qincheng Farm (秦城农场) for field labors. The last section is the residential section for employees such as wardens and their relatives.
The prison is sandwiched between orchards, with farm land and fish pound in front, an exact reflection of Mao Zedong's claim in October, 1960: "our prison is different than prison in the past, it is actually a school, but also a factory or a farm." Mao had further enhanced this ion
April 24, 1964in his reaction to a case by claiming that "People can be reformed, if the correct policy and methods are adopted". This characteristic also applies to most Chinese prisons, and Chinese have called this prison system as: "Special militarized organization, special enterprise, and special school".
The original jail houses include four three-story brick buildings with sloped roof, each is named after
celestial stems instead of numbers or alphabets: Jia (甲), Yi (乙), Bing (丙), Ding (丁). Area in front of each building is fenced with brick wall for prisoners to exercise, forming its own independent yard. Each exercise yard is divided into two sections evenly by a wall in the middle, on top of which guard patrolled, and would watch both sections. Each building is equipped with electrically powered laundry machines from the beginning, a luxury in China until mid-1980s, and toilets are flushed by stepping on a foot paddle. Each floor of the building is divided into many halls, on one side of the hall, there is a wall, opposite to the wall is were the cells are located, each individually locked with a padlock. There are at least 10 cells in each hall.
The padlock The area of each cell is around 20 square meters. The wooden door of each cell is sandwiched between two iron plates, and there are two peepholes: one at the level of the toilet, while the other is above it. Around a foot from the ground, there is a rectangular window for delivering meals. The only furniture inside each cell is a bed that was around a foot from the ground and when a prisoner needs to write a confession or other materials, a desk similar to those in elementary schools would be provided. However, there would never be any chairs and prisoners must sit on the bed to write. For safety and security reasons, every sharp edge inside the cell has been changed to smooth / round shape. There is also special cells for prisoners with suicide attempts: the walls are made of rubber so prisoners could not commit suicide by running into the walls.
There is a window for each cell designed for lower ranking prisoners. The area of the window is around one square meter, located more than two meters above the ground. The windowsill is sloped upward with window opens upward toward outside, but of course, prisoners are unable to open the window themselves. There are three layers for every window: screen, iron fence, and glass painted white. In the cells for high ranking prisoners, there are two windows but the outermost layer is sanded glass instead of glass painted white. Prisoners could neither see the courtyard nor any other buildings, but some could see the mountain and sun from their cells. A 15-watt light bulb with sanded glass is on the 3.5 meter high ceiling, and it is covered by iron mesh, and the dim light is controlled by guards via a switch outside.
In 1967, six more buildings were added, also named after
celestial stem, continuing as Wu (戊), Ji (己), Geng (庚), Xin (辛), Ren (壬), Hui (癸). The new jail houses is built of concrete and contain much more cells because the new cells are much smaller in comparison to those in the jail houses built in 1958: the area of each cell is only 5 to 10 square meters. The toilet in these new cells could not be sit on, but instead, prisoners must squatting down when using the toilet and must carry water from wash sink to flush the toilet. The are two doors for each cells built in 1967: the outer one is an iron door and the inside one is a wooden door. Other features of the jail houses built in 1967 are similar to those built in 1958.
There are three gates at Qincheng Prison, the first gate has the heaviest guards presence. With the exception of prison staff and their relatives, all other people who are not prisoners entering the compound must have the permission slip from the 13th Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security of the
People's Republic of China.
For prisoners, they would be first led to a small one story building, where they would left behind most of their belongings deemed to be unsuitable to be carried into cells, including shoelaces. The prisoners would then be given black prison uniforms and issued utensils, and personal hygiene materials. With the exception of a large enamel mug for water, everything else is plastic.
Once a prisoner enters the prison, his or her original name is no longer used. Instead, the prisoners is referred by the number given. The number is consisted of two parts, with the first two digits indicate the year the prisoner is sent to Qincheng prison, while the remaining digits is the sequential number. For example, prisoner 6299 means that the prisoner is sent to the prison in 1962, while he or she is the 99th prisoner sent to Qincheng Prison that year.
Prison employees are also prohibited from referring each other by their name, instead, they are called according to their job title, such as manager, warden, and director. However, their last name are sometimes are allowed to be added before their job title when they were addressed.
Qincheng Prison is under the administration of the 13th Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security since its establishment. During the reform in the 1980s, the combined judicial and executive roles of the
Ministry of Public Securityis separated and the Ministry of Public Securityonly retained its executive role. In June, 1983, the administration of prisons was transferred to the Ministry of Justice, but due to the special need, the Ministry of Public Security still retained several prisons under its administration and Qincheng Prison was one of them, still under the administration of the 13th Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security.
Originally designed to house nationalist war criminals classified by the communists, this category of prisoners no longer existed when the last batch were released in 1975. The largest category of prisoners is in fact, coming from within communist own ranks, like former cadres. The largest increase of prisoners occurred during
Cultural Revolution, with extra buildings had to be built.
The prison employees are divided into two categories and are strictly separated. The first category is the interrogation / investigation team, which is only responsible for investigate the prisoners' cases, and they are strictly forbidden to venture into prisoners' cells or any other premises other than the interrogation room. The other category is responsible for guarding the prisoners and taking care of their daily lives. Unlike those belonged to the first category, those in the second category could not even known the names of prisoners who are only allowed to be called by their numbers.
Prison employees of both categories are strictly forbidden to make any personal connections to the prisoners, such as that they cannot reveal their names to the prisoners, cannot answer any of the prisoners' questions without authorization, and cannot ask any prisoners questions without authorization. Violation of any rules would resulted in solitary confinement and even termination.
Prisoners are notified by a
wardenbefore the interrogation, and the warden would let the prisoner out of his or her cell, and lead the prisoner to the interrogation room. After the prisoner is seated in the interrogation room, the warden would withdraw and wait outside. Based on the experience of former prisoners, there are two type of interrogation rooms. Most prisoners are interrogated in the interrogation room with a stool inside where the prisoner sits, and facing the prisoner, there was a semicircle shaped platform. On top of the platform, there are several tables next to each other covered with white table cloth. Interrogators and recorders sit behind the tables at the opposite ends. Dai Qing, a famous Chinese human rights activist jailed at Qincheng Prison recalls that there is another type of interrogation room in which the stool is replaced by a chair and there is carpet on the floor. Additionally, there is air conditioning in the room. During the Cultural Revolution, before the interrogation had begun, everyone in the room had to read some quotes from Mao's Little Red Book loudly, and these quotes are also posted on the wall.
Prisoners receive different meals based on their ages, crimes committed, social status and job positions prior entering the prison. The monthly food budget for each high ranking prisoner had always been nearly twice of the monthly salary of most ordinary factory workers in
Chinauntil the 1970s, which was 60 RMBY. This was increased to more than 120 Yuan in the 1990s. However, the monthly food budget for each low ranking prisoner was only above 30 Yuan in the 1990s. Three meals were provided on each day, Monday through Saturday. On Sundays and holidays, only two meals are provided. Each prisoner would receive boiled water for three times daily, one full cup each time, and a large cup given to each prisoner for this purpose.
Low ranking prisoners keep utensils themselves, and meals are delivered through the rectangular opening on the door about a foot above the ground. Breakfast is consisted of steamed corn flour bread and a piece of salted vegetable, while lunch and dinner is consisted of rice, noodle, and other grains. A vegetarian dish cooked with the cheapest vegetable on the market and a bowl of thin soup is also served with lunch and dinner.
High ranking prisoners need not to keep utensils themselves and meals are served by opening the doors. Two vegetarian dishes and a dish with meat or fish, and bowl of thick soup are standard. Limited amount of milk and fruits are provided once weekly, and with special permission, some high ranking prisoner can have better meal that is often given to prisoners that are about to be released.
Depending on the ranking of the prisoner, every prisoner is allowed to take a half an hour long shower once either weekly or monthly, under the surveillance of the same gender
wardenoutside the door. According to the 1954 Reform Through Labor Regulations of the People's Republic of China, female prisoners are supposed to be watched by female wardens but for most of the time, there was never any female wardens at Qingcheng prison, but during the same era, there were not any female prisoners in the prison anyway.
The first significant presence of female prisoners appeared during
Cultural Revolution, but by that era, the shower privilege granted to the prisoners were abolished like most other rights, and there were prisoners arrest at the beginning of Cultural Revolutionwho had not taken a shower for around a decade after they were jailed.
Prisoners are allowed to walk and exercise in the courtyards for a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of an hour. Because of the special status of prisoners in Qincheng prison, each prisoner is only allowed to exercise alone. Prisoners cannot earn the right to exercise immediately after entering the prison, and are only given to that right later on. Due to the prolonged solitary confinement during the
Cultural Revolution, lack of calcium resulted from the lack of exposure to sunlight caused many prisoner to lose their hair and teeth, and developed many other health problems. As a result prisoners jailed during Cultural Revolutionoften had permanent disability after their release.
Once exercise is allowed, it numbers from once a week to once a day. Though the theoretical time is given, the actual times varies depending on the conditions at the time, such as weather, number of prisoners, and other factors. Prisoners cannot see any other prisoners due to the high wall, and they were not allowed to see any other prisoners while they were in the jail house. If two prisoners were released from their cells to exercise and they would meet each other, one would be ordered to back to his or her cell and wait, until the other prisoner is gone.
Following the strict former-
Soviet Unionpractice, prisoners also had strict rules until early 1980s when they sleep: they must keep their hands above their sheets and they must face the peephole. Light will never be out when prisoners are asleep, because guards needs to check on prisoners. Prisoners are awoken by whistles at 7:00 AM sharp, and they go to bed at 9:00 PM sharp upon hearing whistles.
Originally, high ranking prisoners have military style bed sheets, but low ranking prisoners have to sleep on top of straws on their beds. If the prisoner have vanished from the guards' view, the
wardens would immediately notified to go into the cell to check what is going on.
The regular reading material in the jail is
People's Daily. Other reading materials includes publications in China provided to prisoners by the visiting relatives of prisoners. There is a prison library that only high ranking prisoners were allowed to use. Most reading materials was originally donated by the former nationalists classified as war criminals by the communists, and most of them are works of Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Joseph Stalin. The other source of donation is from the prisoners' relatives and reading materials donated by prisoners themselves after the prisoners are released.
All reading materials are screened and those deemed improper for the prisoners are rejected. However, the censorship various according to political situation in China. For example, after the death of
Lin Biao, the little red book of Mao were confiscated to have the pages with Lin Biao's words removed. Even during the era without any political turmoil, it is worth noting that many publications legally publicized in China and available to the general public would not be permitted for prisoners.
Visitation is conducted in a special visitation room, which is a room separated into two sections by a wall. A small window is on the wall for the communication between the prisoners and their relatives.
Wardens can be either watch the visitation from another room immediately adjacent to the visitation room, or can be directly behind the prisoner.
Anything brought into the prison by the prisoners' relatives must be screened and registered on a check sheet and those deemed unsuitable must be brought back immediately after the visitation is over. After visitation, there must be the signature of prison warden on the visitation permission slip for the relatives to leave the prison.
Prisoners at Qincheng Prison are tasked to perform manual labors instead of being executed in accordance with
Mao Zedong's order given in 1957 in one of his speeches in which Mao explained why political prisoners must not be executed:
*1st: If one was executed, the more would have to be executed for the same crime later on for equality, and it would difficult to spare the lives of future prisoners who committed the same crime, because justice system would be criticized as unequal, giving preferential treatments
*2nd: Wrong people and even innocent people might be executed by mistakes
*3rd: Executing prisoners could mean the vanishing of evidence
*4th: When prisoners were executed, it could not increase production output, could not improve scientific research, could not strengthen national defense, and could not liberate
*5th: You (the communist regime) would be accused of excessive killingsReactionaries are evil but once captured, they could be turned to something useful for the people.
As result of this speech of Mao, prisoners at Qincheng Prison are put to work instead of being executed, and they are subjected to be assigned to tasks other than that of the Qincheng Prison to help out outside the prison. Heavy manual labor was performed only by the nationalist war criminals classified by the communists, but since the release of the last group of this kind of prisoners in 1975, there are no longer any such duties. However, light manual labors continues such as making straw hats and making boxes for matches.
Jiang Qingrequested and was permitted to make dolls. These light manual labor is often conducted in their own cells.
Though physical and verbal abusing prisoners are strictly forbidden, such regulations were completely ignored during
Cultural Revolution, during which many prisoners had died as result of abuse and torture. The problem was so severe that in early 1972, Mao Zedongpersonally issued an order to all jails in China to improve the condition for prisoners by ordering jail staffs to provide enough food for prisoners, to allow prisoner to have enough sleep, and to interrogate prisoners only when they are not ill. Mao not only ordered these instructions to be carried out, but also ordered the prisoners to be told about these instructions, and requested feedbacks from prisoners. The feedbacks resulted in the further strengthening the rules of prohibiting physical and verbal abuses, but it was already too late, many prisoners had already died or committed suicide.
However, for important prisoners, the abuse did not stop, but only changed into different forms. For example, many political prisoners during the
Cultural Revolutionafter Mao's order in 1972 suffered the deliberate poor medical treatments and unnecessary medical treatment for a nonexistent illness and it was not until 1979 after the era of Chinese reform had begun, did the thing finally changed for the better. Abuses disguised as punishment commonly occurred during Cultural Revolutionincluded forcing prisoners to stand for a prolonged period of time and not providing prisoners with enough water. Wei Jingshenghad published under his name in march 1979 an essay denouncing the inhuman conditions of the Chinese Qincheng Prisonwhere was imprisoned the 10th Panchen Lamaand that drove the latter to a suicide attempt. [ [http://www.weijingsheng.org/doc/en/Excerpts%20from%20Qincheng.htm Excerpts from Qincheng: A Twentieth Century Bastille, published in Exploration, March 1979] ] It is clear that a major part of the essay of Wei was written by other anonymous authors with real information about Qincheng. Mary Holzmandeclared that Wei completed his research and wrote his essay of journalism of investigation within a week, [ [http://www.echonyc.com/~wei/Voice.html DARING TO VOICE THE UNSPOKEN] ] which makes it highly doubtful for him to have written the entire essay, as Wei simply did not have the factual knowledge present in his texts.
There is a medical clinic at the Qincheng Prison with doctors and nurses assigned, and there is also a dental clinic built of brick and stone, located further away from the main buildings. In addition to treating prisoners for ordinary illness, semi-annual physical checks are also performed. High ranking prisoners could receive more frequent checks depending on their health conditions. Both the high ranking and low ranking prisoners receive better health care than ordinary citizens outside, and this situation has not changed since the first day when the prison was established.
It is important to note that for important high ranking prisoners, the doctors at Qincheng Prison do not have the final decision making authority on how to treat the prisoners for their illness because it is a political decision determined by the top brass of the communist regime. For example, in the autumn of 1969, under
Kang Sheng's order, an important high ranking prisoner, Shi Zhe (师哲), the former personal secretary and personal Russian translator of Mao Zedongjailed in Qincheng prison during Cultural Revolution, was to have an operation to remove the so-called cancer. However, doctors determined that there was no cancers at all, but Kang Shenginsisted on giving Shi Zhe (师哲) an operation, and the complete unnecessary operation was carried out to fulfill the political task.
When prisoners are serious ill and thus cannot be treated at the prison clinic, there would be transferred to Fuxing (复兴, Revival) Hospital on the
Fuxingmen Outer Street, and Fuxing Hospital is one of the hospitals for Ministry of Public Securityemployees and their relatives. All hospitals for Ministry of Public Securityemployees and their relatives also shoulder the responsibility of treating prisoners, but Fuxing Hospital is specially designated to treat prisoners from Qincheng Prison. The prisoners' quarter in located on the 2nd Floor of one of the buildings of Fuxing Hospital, and it is completely segregated from the rest of the facility. Every room is about 10 square meters, with one or two hospital beds, a wash sink, and a toilet inside. The window is equipped with sanded glass so that nothing outside can be seen and there is another layer of iron fence outside the window glass. Guards watches the prisoners behind the door that is locked from outside. Prisoners treated at the hospital also exercise by walking on the roof of the building where their are locked up.
Like the doctors in the prison clinic, doctors at Fuxing Hospital also lacked the final decision making authority on how to treat the important prisoners for the identical reason. For example, during
Cultural Revolution, former Minister of Public Security and head of Mao Zedong's personal bodyguards, Senior General Luo Ruiqing (罗瑞卿) jailed at Qincheng Prison during Cultural Revolutionsuffered a broken bone in his right foot, but both of his leg were cut off and cremated, as a punishment of his stubborn refusal to admit the so-called reactionary crimes he was accused of.
* Schoenhals, Michael. "The Central Case Examination Group, 1966-79." "China Quarterly", no. 145 (1996): 87-111.
* [http://www.laogai.org/hdbook/beijing.htm Laogai handbook]
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