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Michael Manning’s Beijing jail diary

4 weeks ago
Kaiser Kuo
he Sinica Podcast interviewed Michael Manning about his time incarcerated in China. Here, we publish the diary he wrote in secret while doing time inside the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center. The diary ends abruptly because the author believed it would be found and confiscated, and so hid it in a false bottom he made in a book that he was allowed to keep when he was released.


by Kaiser Kuo

Michael Manning was, in many ways, just another young American living in China. His career there followed a trajectory familiar to many Americans who’d gone to China to teach: He started off in the provinces — in his case, not in a province but in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region — and wrote a blog about his experiences there. He moved to Beijing once he had a decent command of the language, and worked for the English channel of China Central Television.

But in Korla, the town in Xinjiang where he taught, Michael discovered the local hashish: not the hard, somewhat sticky dark brown hash familiar to most people who’ve smoked it, but a greenish, powdery cannabis product sometimes called kief. Discovering a market for it in Beijing, the former High Times contributor started sending it to himself a couple of kilos at a time in hollowed-out subwoofers of cheap home stereo systems. He was making great money, and making all sorts of friends. And then he got caught.

Now living in Oakland, California, where he works for a legal marijuana dispensary, Michael reached out to let us know he’d be willing to talk to us about his very unusual experience: his detention, arrest and incarceration in Beijing after he was caught in possession of about two kilograms of hashish.

He’d written about his experience online before, but anonymously. This time, he was willing not only to talk about his arrest and time in jail in Beijing in 2009, but also about his arrest and incarceration in New Jersey, less than three years after his deportation from China. (He served two years of a 10-year sentence, and is now on parole.) What’s more, he agreed to talk on the record, with no voice alteration, no fake names and nothing off-limits.

In the last few years, Chinese law enforcement has been cracking down on cannabis use. In August 2014, police raided Dos Kolegas, a popular bar and live house, barring the exits and forcing everyone present to produce identification and submit to on-the-spot urinalysis. It resulted in the detention and subsequent deportation of about a dozen foreigners — one of whom had arrived from Italy only hours before. Another similar raid in June of this year at bars in Beijing’s trendy Gulou area — Modernista and Mado — saw more detentions and deportations. And in the summer of 2015, three teenagers attending an international school in Beijing were busted for pot. The crackdown hasn’t been just on foreigners: A number of Chinese, including celebrities, such as Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee, have been jailed for weed-related wrongdoing.

It wasn’t always like this. Recreational drug use was rare indeed in the decades that followed the Communist Party’s victory on the mainland. Heroin did make its way back into parts of the country bordering the Golden Triangle and near Central Asian transshipment routes. But even after the late 1980s and early 1990s, when marijuana became quite commonplace among — cliché as it might be — various rock musicians and artists in Beijing, law enforcement officials tended to wink at its use, just as they had long tolerated it among minority nationalities, especially in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Back then, the occasional roundups of pot and hash smokers were aimed mainly at nabbing bigger fish selling harder substances. Visitors to Beijing and environs well into the aughts may recall how cannabis grew wild even in urban Beijing. Indeed, it can still be found growing in the city’s hutong alleyways, where ordinary folk grow it in planters alongside their azaleas, harvesting its seeds, which they feed to the birds they keep.

Today, relatively few Chinese use marijuana — methamphetamine, ketamine and heroin are more prevalent — though it remains fairly common among the foreign populations of major cities and is readily available from street dealers. Increasingly, it’s grown locally, though much still comes from Xinjiang or is imported from outside of China.

Listen to the Sinica Podcast conversation with Michael Manning here. Below, you can read the diary that Michael kept surreptitiously for a few weeks in April and May 2009, which he has generously shared with us and allowed us to publish.

PDF of the diary is available here, and we’ve transcribed it for you below. Some of the language may be offensive to readers.

Michael Manning’s Beijing jail diary

For keeping track of facts, dates, names, personalities, events, etc. while incarcerated at the Beijing City Number 1 Detention Center.
MM Wed April 8 2009

Date: 2009-4-8

Detained in this place for more than three weeks now, I think it’s a good idea to write down the important facts before they are forgotten or lost to the blur of time. I was arrested (or detained, actually) at about 11am on March 15, 2009, in my apartment in Sun City. I had worked an overnight shift at CCTV the night before so had only slept for about 2 hours. An hour or so before the fatal moment, I received a call from someone likely posing as an EMS delivery driver asking if I was home to receive a package.

When I heard the knock on my door I pulled myself out of bed and threw on some pajama pants. I was groggy, but was immediately set on edge by the presence of two rather burly deliverymen—there had only been one when I received packages in the past. Beyond just signing my name, they asked me to print it and also to write my passport number. For some weakly-relaized reason, I wrote the last number as 9 rather than 4—as if this could save me! Then as I glanced to the right to move the package inside my door, a veritable flood of security men, mostly in plain clothes, rushed through the door from the darkened hallway at great speed. I knew I’d been found out, and in any case my proximity to the door gave me not enough time to even think of fleeing… and where would I go? Among the invasion was a woman wielding a videocamera, and one of my first thoughts, and one of my first thoughts was that my arrest would appear on CCTV, where I’d been working just a few hours before!

Anyone who’s been arrested knows the sickening sensation that you’ve just been punched in the gut and I felt positively nauseous. My arms were grabbed and I was twisted around and made to sit on the floor. I was asked in Chinese if I knew why they’d come and felt no need to deceive them. Their presence meant they already knew too much. I noticed that instead of two straps around my parcel it was now only one… they’d already had a look inside.

I told them the box contained “duping”—drugs, two kilos of “dama.” Seeing that I could speak some Chinese, and that I was taking what they’d prob. call a “correct” attitude, the mood lightened somewhat as they began a search of my apartment. I was even helpful enough to point out where various small bits of hash were tucked away. To my surprise, I knew where every last gram was hidden—a bag in the drawer of the coffee table, some dregs in a baggie near the front door, a half-forgotten crust in the bottom of a breathmint container in my night table, another bag in the righthand pocket of my black winter coat along with a glass pipe and lighter. They asked me my name in Chinese [note: Michael’s Chinese name is “Jin Gubang,” the name of the legendary Monkey King’s magical staff], and as always, the answer brought smiles all around… We were almost friendly. They allowed me to change into a button-down shirt and a pair of pants, and off we went. (They also collected all of the expensive items in the flat—laptop, iPod, camera, binoculars, etc.—and brought them with us to prevent accusations of theft, I suppose.)

I was taken by unmarked car by to the offices of the Dongcheng Narcotics Control Police, I believe on Hepingmen Beidajie. I was asked to pee in a sample cup with an interesting twist-and-lock mechanism, and then handcuffed to a chair for the first of what would later become many rounds of interrogation.


The story of how I came to possess two kilos of half-powdery light brown Xinjiang hashish was recounted more or less faithfully to the actual facts. Of course I couldn’t help but not recall any of the names involved… It’s tragic how marijuana affects the memory! Of course I slipped up from time to time. It’s a great exercise of the intellect to spar with the law in any country, I think, much less one where you don’t know the laws, have a mediocre command of the language, and have no access to legal counsel. It takes time to realize the small twists of plot that could save you, and those that could send you screaming away to the dungeon for life. What a luxury it would have been to have a lawyer whispering in my ear, “You’d better not answer that one.”

DJ from Monrovia, Liberia, was transferred to our cell this morning, along with Arnold from Uganda. Kako the illiterate Nigerian “black money” scam artist was sent away after nearly fighting with #1 (Mr. Kong). The immediate reason was making too much noise while on duty, but tension had been building because Kako was never willing to admit a wrong or apologize… only denial. In the two hours I’ve known DJ I don’t think he’s shut his mouth for a total of more than five minutes. He’s a big guy, and seems to have taken my spot on the floor. Arnold is quiet.

The night before I got caught was the first time I ever went to Paddy O’Shea’s. The place was packed for the big Man U–Liverpool game and I ate Irish beef stew, which tasted just like American beef stew. I had ridden my bike and left it chained to a railing in the parking lot. [There are margin notes you can see in the .pdf]. Someone hit the car while I was inside, and bent the front wheel out of shape. When I left to ride back home for work (I was on at midnight), the wheel squealed against the mudguard the whole time—increasing in pitch and volume the faster I pedaled. It sounded sort of like an electric motor, and I can’t help but think of that sound now as a siren, a harbinger of impending doom.


The first few days of detention were the worst, followed by two weeks of undulating depression. The 12 hours I spent with the drug squad were at least filled with the terrifying freshness of a new life begun without warning, and the minor concerns of the other life cut short. Who was going to cover my last overnight shift? What was going to happen to all my stuff? Was my bitch of a landlord going to take it all?

Another strange feeling on that first day… the irrational desire to be HIV positive just for a moment. The drug squad took me up to the hospital next to the Badaling Expressway tollbooths for some medical tests (blood, EKG). With AIDS, I would have been on the next plane home. Of course I was relieved when I tested negative for a long list of STDs, but still, I would have liked to be on the next flight to Newark.

The cops who arrested me had a very difficult time finding the detention center, located somewhere south of Tongzhou off the southeast 5th Ring Road. A carload of officers had gone on ahead to start my paperwork, I assume, but it took 3 or 4 phone calls for us to find them. When we finally made it we spent about an hour sitting in a darkened parking lot in front of a deserted administration building. I had to pee terribly—I had been going all day, nervousness maybe?—but they wouldn’t let me go in the parking lot. Finally, I was led inside for the first interrogation by the Beijing City Police—I was moving up the chain. It was also the first time I met the officer in charge of my investigation, the young prick.

By the time he’d finished writing out a transcript of the interrogation—along with two junior officers who looked fresh out of high school—it was already after midnight. I was yawning constantly, having slept little over the preceding 2 days. It occurs to me now that I’d spent Saturday morning and afternoon (or was it Friday?) becoming the legal guardian of the 15-year-old son of a Melbourne cocaine kingpin. I’d befriended his older sister just two weeks before in Thailand, over talk of drug-filled youth and a joint on the beach after I broke my fast. Like the whining tire and my “luck” finding cheap hash in Korla, it’s taken on added significance after the fact. The last few mile-markers on the road to jail.


Blech, another 4am shift. It was actually my choice to do this shift exclusively, in order to preserve six unbroken hours of sleep. It should add some regularity to my schedule here, but it’s still tough on nights when I toss and turn. We have off every third day with the extra man now and I’ve moved up onto the bed, or “board” from the floor next to the bathroom. Today marks 4 weeks for me, and Easter for the religious folks. DJ and Mr. Zhou are snoring away next to each other, so I have to pause after just about each sentence to shake their pillows.

I should receive another visit from the embassy in the next few days—they said they’d come every 30 days or so. As I approach the one-month point, I seem to forget from time to time why I’m exactly here. It’s become my complete existence. And only the occasional fond memory makes me think what I’d be doing on the outside. I half-expect to leave any day, and like Camp Lakota tell my mother that I don’t think I’d like to come back.

I sleep between Mr. Kong and Ken now… Mr. Kong keeps a pillow to mark the border of our bed rolls, and he told me the other night that it’s also a barrier against mistaken kisses in the middle of the night. (Safe from the threat of buggery it’s okay to make gay jokes in this prison, at least). So yesterday as he was getting ready to sleep in the afternoon, I leaned in close over the pillow, and when he turned toward me I kissed the air loudly with three smacks. It startled the shit out of him—he jumped and said, “Xia si wo!”—the first really good laugh I’ve had in this place.


The prosecutor (or “procurator”) came for me today, which at least means I’m moving through the system after 30 days of incarceration. My official arrest should come in the next few days, along with a second visit from the embassy. It was at least a chance for me to officially register a complaint over my treatment during my interrogation on April 3rd and to say once and for all that I never received any money for hash.

I’m hopeful that mistakes made by the police investigator will have a positive effect on my case and sentencing. During my last interrogation, he produced the Leatherman multi-tool that my mother gave me for my 26th or 27th birthday. There was a thin film of hash over the knife, produced when I would scrape the crust out of the bottom of a breathmint container I used for a while.

Failing to cross over to the investigator’s side of the interrogation room, he showed me the knife and asked if I knew what was on the tip. I told him it was “dama.” He then held a lighter under the knife to heat it up, and when it started smoking, he waved it back and forth under my nose with the blade dangerously close to my face. I took this to be a threat! The officer then insinuated that the knife was proof that I was a drug dealer… obviously the tool I had used to cut up my stash.

Now perhaps I haven’t always been 100% honest during the investigation, but here at least was one bit of evidence against me that was patently false. One only need look at the powdery Xinjiang hash to know that a knife would not be a suitable tool. Do you measure brown sugar with a knife? A spoon is more like it.

Anyway, the officer then tried some line about being my only friend and how we needed to help each other out. He told me he could make the knife disappear from evidence if I would only give him the name of some people who had bought hash from me. I wasn’t buying this line of inquiry—I’m smart enough not to incriminate myself that easily—but I’ll admit I was thrown off balance by his next tactic.

Looking back I’m pretty sure he was full of shit. He said, “Alright, you say you gave hash to people for free. But if you can’t tell us the name of anyone who will corroborate your statement, we’ll have to charge you with selling.” I was already nervous, but then he added, “and for selling marijuana, the penalty is 15 years to LIFE!”

It was an effective tactic and put me in a frame of mind where I felt I had to give them something. There was only one person I could think of to back up my story, my best Chinese friend in Beijing, H.W.


They’ve been showing us videos in the morning where detainees talk about the rules they’ve violated, the punishment involved, and their feelings of remorse. An old man with glasses, maybe 60 years old, hosts the show—the sole star of the BJC #1 DC TV station, and a fellow detainee. Yesterday they showed us several detainees being removed from their cells for fighting. One got the handcuffs with no space for movement, the other got “the chains”—leg shackles attached to handcuffs by a short chain that forces the wearer into a crouched position. Today the interviewee is a man who was given a death sentence with two-year reprieve, meaning it would usually be commuted to a life sentence. But while he was in jail, he fought and broke another man’s nose. So his reprieve was revoked, he was moved back here (where people with death sentences are held), and faces execution. Terrible stuff, the guy looked so terrified. The last shot of him was him walking away in leg shackles in slow motion, to the sound of jangling chains, an officer holding each shoulder at arm’s length.


A good day at last! I was expecting a visit from the embassy all day, but they never came. Today is day 33, and they said they would come every 30 days… They first came on day 3, I think. I thought they had come from me when I was pulled out of our afternoon walk on the “porch,” but it turned out to be another interrogation. Rather, I was being officially arrested, and they needed to ask me a few more questions.

The officer was notably more pleasant, after I complained about the incident with the knife to the prosecutor a few days ago. I’m not sure there’s a direct connection, but it at least seems to indicate that he’s through busting my balls on suspicion that I was dealing.

Anyway, the good news: he showed me the report on the lab analysis of my hash and I just squeaked in under the 2000g mark—which my lawyer told me before is important. Even though the guy in Xinjiang told me he was selling me 2100g—each kilo was supposed to be 1050g—the official weight was only 1970g. With the other bits of hash I had lying around, the total came to 1991g, or 1992g. Phew! It’s put me in a much better mood, along with the fact that I was able to buy Nestle chocolate wafers and tahini paste yesterday. Also, DJ went a bit bonkers at lunchtime, because he wanted extra rice, and when Zhao Yi wouldn’t give it to him he started screaming for the guard. We had beef today with luobuo [turnips], the first meat since I arrived.


Just a few random thoughts… If the weight was indeed 1992g, it’s another reason to love my sister, Lauren, a fellow cancer-monkey. A lesson to be drawn: don’t worry too much about getting cheated. It may be the best thing that ever happened to you. If the supplier in XJ hadn’t cheated me a bit, I’d be possibly looking at a much heavier sentence. Also air travel does really represent freedom. Almost all of my dreams in this place have involved planes, airports, buying tickets, or something along those lines. Last night I dreamed that I only received a two-month sentence. Not likely.


Well, a citizens services officer from the embassy, Ken Chavez, finally showed up today and only six days after I expected him. He brought with him messages from family and friends, and I was able to smuggle a photo of me with my mother when I was about 4 back to the room in the waistband of my trousers. It’s a nice photo, when both of us were much better looking. Ken didn’t have much news, but it was good to be able to complain to someone about my April 3rd interrogation and the conditions here. I complain of even the smallest inconveniences—no sports or English TV, no meat, no sunshine—he is, after all, my only connection to the outside world.

I was proud to hear that Lauren scored 2260 on her SATs, including a perfect score on the writing section. Aaron is about to graduate from Tufts and has given up on looking for a job. It’s a bad time to be finishing school. When I think back on all the hopes and expectations I had as a fresh graduate, I feel a bit sorry for him. It’s the moment when a man must at last face the harsh winds of reality without the shelter of family or hypothesis. He’ll be fine in the end—I don’t think he suffers from indecision or my other weaknesses—but disillusion is a bitter pill.

I sat next to a Kazakh boy of 18 while I was waiting to return to the cell. He’s here studying Chinese, and stole a scooter with a friend. He was arrested only two weeks ago and hasn’t yet accepted that he’s in for the long haul.

[Margin note: A curious feature of my perch in front of the door to the porch is that I end up actually seeing shit fall out of people’s asses on a regular basis, every day.]

We commiserated in English—his Russian-accented—over the lack of bail in this country. I tried to get him to relax, but he couldn’t hold back the tears. I understood… I was in the same place a few weeks ago.


DJ was transferred out of 402 yesterday to a cell with a much harsher officer in charge, about a week after 2 incidents over 3 days fairly proved that he is truly one crazy motherfucker! First, he demanded extra rice at lunch on one of our rice days, because he “don’t like mantou.” Who does? The Chinese made fun of him to that effect, and he started yelling at the top of his lungs for our officer Mr. Zhang. “Guan jiao! Guan jiao!” Nobody, including the young officer who came to the door, was much interested in his senseless argument. Everyone loves rice. It’s the best thing we get.

Two days later, he again proved to be his own worst enemy. I should mention if I haven’t already that he speaks at only one volume—somewhere just below shouting—and without cease. Vast periods of each day during his brief stay here were interrupted about every five minutes by questions that only serve to prove his absence of knowledge on almost any topic. DJ always called me, “America! Hey America!” Anyway, on this particular day, one of the Chinese, Sun Jie, I think, told him to quiet down—“Shengyi shao yi dianr [sic]”—which DJ somehow interpreted as “mabi,” literally “mother’s cunt,” but closer to “fuck” in meaning.

He immediately became enraged, standing up and beating his chest and yelling at the three Chinese seated in front of him. In DJ’s twisted mind, Sun Jie, Sun Bin, and Zhao Yi had all cursed his mother’s cunt, intentionally provoking the outburst. He started screaming about how he had learned to kill fighting for Charles Taylor, and when Off. Zhang arrived, he dropped to his knees and started his “swear to God” routine (left to right cross, kiss fingers and touch the ground, point to the sky while looking up, and swear to something.) The officer made a stern but honest effort to calm DJ down, but he kept exploding. Eventually, Zhang decided to put the punishment cuffs on him, but DJ refused to put his hands through the door. I thought the leg cuffs would be next, but to my surprise, after three tries the guard gave up. The eventually punishment meted out was only three nights of double duty… and in the end the transfer. He was replaced with Kisange from the DR Congo.

I wanted to write about my meeting with the lawyers today, but that’ll have to wait for tomorrow.


Idea for the overarching plot of my novel while reading an article on Ian McEwan in The New Yorker: My own experiences without any trace of sex, father expelled from commune leads me to abandon US life for China, sex, and drug dealing. Must ponder more.

[Margin note: Yesterday was May 1st. They served us meat again and extra rice. My Congolese friend asked me if I’d “ever taken a human life” in a way that unsettled me deeply. His birthright scars, supposedly a sign of firstborn royal blood, make me think of a psychotic clown.]

Before I forget, I need to preserve my meeting with the lawyers on Wednesday (today is Sat.). The good news—that I could be set free sooner rather than later because I weighed in under 2000g—is somewhat offset by the news that the police are trying to stick me with “transportation,” a much more serious charge than mere “possession.” It’s nice to think that I might be eating cheese before the cold weather returns, but “transportation” puts me more or less back where I started. Worse, I forgot to ask about the sentencing guidelines and I’ve always been afraid of the dark.

It seems the cops will have to prove that the hash was sent with the intention of redistribution or passing it on to a third party. I’ll just have to hold onto the hope that they won’t come up with anything strong enough to admit in court, at least not against a foreigner of my otherwise upstanding character. To that end, I’ve asked the lawyers to get in touch with Tianjin TV for evidence of my magnanimity. The video shall set me free!

[Margin note: Every morning Sun Bin shakes the dishes to dry them, something like a violent boxing exercise… his face is filled with rage]


Some don’ts from the detention center video, played from one to three times in the morning each week:

  • Don’t peel stuff off the walls, damage room
  • Don’t hide dangerous objects
  • Don’t bang your spoon on your bowl
  • Don’t eat others’ food
  • Don’t share food
  • Don’t give others food
  • Don’t throw food in toilet (waste)
  • Don’t strip down inside the room
  • Don’t spit, throw garbage on floor
  • Don’t throw clothing on ground
  • Don’t write on walls
  • Don’t pass notes thru bars
  • Don’t yell to other rooms
  • Don’t throw garbage thru bars
  • Don’t share or sell property without official permission
  • Report all fighting immediately!


DETENTION CENTER (all in flowery script)

Rules and Regulations

1. All activities must be obeyed according to the government officers direction, administration and supervision. All matters concerning detainees must either be presented to gov’t offices orally or in writing

2. Strictly follow the detention center’s educational program and master it perfectly. Try your best to correct your thinking, rectify your attitude, confess thoroughly your wrong activities, uproot your criminal lies, and impeach somebody else. By all these means you may reduce your sentence and become a new person.

3. Detainees must strictly follow the detention center’s work and rest timetable, whilst keeping his cell in order. Singing, playing, laughing and chanting together are not allowed. Beating, scolding, using insults, imposing physical punishments and maltreatment of any nature are fiercely prohibited. Deducting and confiscating cellmates’ food and clothes are disallowed. Likewise, peeping out of the window, yelling, littering, and spitting are also prohibited.

4. Voluntarily report your actual thinking to gov’t officers and report all cell activity. Falsifying documents, ganging up and deceiving officers is disallowed. Revenge on those passing information to officers is also unacceptable and prohibited.

5. Discussing of cases, smuggling letters and notes, and transferring verbal messages, be it in a foreign language or putonghua, is forbidden. Other secret communication is also disallowed. Disclosing national secrets to individuals, even if they know fuck-all and like idiots, is forbidden. Report immediately when encountering accomplices of such nature. Strictly prohibited is anyone from a abetting cellmates to oppose gov’t interrogations and supervisions to commit crimes.

6. Dissemination of opinions not conducive to correction is prohibited. Dissemination of obscene, off-color wording and behavior, is also not allowed. It is also disallowed to scribble and draw inside the cell.

7. The destroying of public properties and facilities of Det. Cent. is not permitted. Privately exchanging public uniforms and linen is not allowed, especially with the intent of tearing them and spoiling them for other purposes. Should any one inmate break the above mentioned rule, he must compensate to the loss of his destruction, according to how much the communist bastards want to charge you.

8. Sanitation of the cell must be managed well. Lying down and sprawling is not allowed. Hanging clothes on the window bars is not allowed. The cell must be kept clean and orderly at all times.

9. The above-mentioned regulations of Detention Center must be strictly followed and cellmates must supervise each other in order to keep these rules and regulations implemented. Should you find someone breaking these regulations you must impeach him immediately for it is forbidden to protect or harbor inmates. For inmates who break rules, punishment will be administered according to the severity of the D.C. crime committed. Further still, if anyone be beyond correction, acting unrepentant, or blazé [sic] then he shall be punished most severely under the law.

2009 5-9

Our cell added another inmate yesterday, a big Nigerian named Michael, who got caught with a measly 6g of hash. But he seems to be on the hook for selling, so could get up to one year. He’s still the only person who’s been here a shorter time than me (today is my 55th day!) He brings the total up to 14 in our room, with 5 sleeping on the floor.

My behavior is becoming somewhat more erratic, or perhaps more normal. The class clown is coming out again. This morning I told Zhao Yi to fuck his mother (cao ni ma!) rather forcefully when he was pushing the porch door closed. I wanted the draft. I surprised myself and immediately turned deep red, offering my apologies and saying it was just a joke. The old man kept repeating my name, Mai Ke, slowly in a scolding tone.

Then, this afternoon, I told the officer I wanted to volunteer as a body inspector for W. 2nd (区 [block]) where the closest women are held. He yelled at me and told me not to joke, threatening me with handcuffs.

[Margin note: ¥130/month—the amount rumored to be spent on feeding foreign detainees
¥100—the amount rumored to be spent on Chinese]

This must be the only detention facility in the world, by the way, where the men can regularly spot naked female inmates after their Friday night showers. We’re not supposed to look out of the little slot in the cell door, but that doesn’t stop me and a few others. Definitely an oversight on the part of the architects.

In other news, I’ve figured out how to stop the neck and headache problem that had been stopping me from exercising. I simply skip dinner. I guess that digestion directs too much blood from my brain, resulting in painful throbbing during exertion. It should also help with weight loss.

The weather is heating up, and they turned the fan on a couple of days ago. There is a power outage somewhere today, and we didn’t get rice, which pisses me off.

Four good biz ideas:

Chinese copy of
Salad chain like Tossed
Hutong comm. center/handmade souvenir shop
AIDS-infected smuggling/criminal gang


Today will be my first confessional day here at the Detention Center. Supposedly, we don’t get to sleep in the afternoon and we will watch others confess on TV the whole day. Or maybe I’ll be asked to confess myself? I’m not saying anything. Yesterday I argued with Zhang Guan, after he scolded me for asking about getting the newspaper. We hadn’t received one in almost a week. I was feeling prickly, and put on my old “ting bu dong” [I don’t understand] routine, much to the amusement of the other foreigners. The officer shortly became enraged, and ordered me to the door. “Guo lai!” [Come here!]. I responded, “Guo lai you shenme yisi?” [What does it mean “come here”?] Anyway he brought us a full copy of China Daily in the end.

The show started at about 10am. As is usually the case in China, the first few speeches were given by the various appropriate leaders, namedropping the 60th anniversary of China, 30 years of reform + opening up, etc! Then a great show was made of reading out the names of those who had chosen to make confessions, each of whom was presented by the highest leader with a great steaming plate of roasted meat… a pork elbow (zhu zhouzi) for each man.

The first confessor, whom I was aided in understanding by the bilingual talents of Mr. Kong, was meant to be an inspiration to the others. About 30 years old, Chinese, with large years and a criminal face. His new confession, of knowledge of the particulars of someone else’s robbery, was beside the point. Rather, his story of a confession that saved his life was a lesson to us all. Confess now, and be saved! Apparently, he and a partner had committed a murder-robbery, and he was to be charged as the leader of the crime… punishable by death! But he managed to confess first, and his partner was executed instead. A real standup guy.

Then lunch came and they turned off the TV.

We’re watching it in the evening now, on DVD, and already having been through some post-production, in black and white, of course.

[Margin note: Both detainees and prisoners from this compound are attending.]

During the “distribution of meat,” I noticed now that one particularly oafish looking prisoner was wearing striped shorts and an open vest, no t-shirt, and leg chains. They’ve added music over the scene, sounding sth. like a self-guidance weight loss tape. Cheesy midi piano… relax.


Yesterday: No afternoon nap, no news, and they played the 30 minute DVD twice. Today: Same thing.


Measured my waist today, and found I’ve lost about 2 inches compared with a month ago. Tonight, the deaf old officer asked for me over the intercom. Could that mean I’m going home? Today is the two-month anniv. of my detention… and I remember what my dream told me.

A list of people in my cell: Ken (Zimb.), Paulo (Uganda), Arnold (Uganda), Mahdi (Iran), Philip (Ghana), Kisanga (D.R. Chongo, Kong Qing Wen (#1), Sun Jie (#2), Mr. Zhou (4#3, GOME CO, Mr. He (the old man), Zhou Yi (Ice man), Sun Bin (stinky).

By Kaiser Kuo
Kaiser Kuo is co-founder of the Sinica Podcast. Until April 2016, he served as director of international communications for Baidu, China's leading search engine. He recently wrapped up a 20-year stint in Beijing, where his career spanned the gamut from music to journalism to technology. He co-founded the heavy metal band Tang Dynasty, which sold an estimated 30 million records during the 1990s. He served as editor-in-chief at, one of China’s first bilingual online magazines. As a bicultural individual who identifies strongly with both his native U.S. and with China, Kaiser is driven by a strong personal mission to bridge the chasm that separates the two countries. He has spoken at three TEDx events, at Oxford University's China Center and at other venues in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North America, Australia and South America. He has been named to Quora's Top Writer's program each year since the program began in 2013. In May 2016, he was honored by the Asia Society with a leadership award for "revolutionizing the way people live, consume, socially interact, and civically engage."

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