Buried Alive

On January 11 this year, dissident Chinese writer Yu Jie (余杰) arrived in the United States with his wife and family for a self-imposed exile. At a press conference in Washington DC on January 18, Yu said he had been seriously beaten in 2010, the year he released his book China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiabao (《中国影帝温家宝》), which was highly critical of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) and China’s government. At the press conference, Yu described how plainclothes security police had stripped him naked and subjected him to abuse. Yu said the men threatened him by saying: “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour, and no one on earth would know.”
In the weeks that followed Yu Jie’s press conference in the United States, his words were shared inside China through social media platforms such as Sina Weibo, and a new online catchphrase was born: “buried alive.”
For many social media users, the term has now become synonymous with courage of conviction — and with the unfortunate consequences such conviction can bring in a society that does not tolerate dissent. The term can also refer to acts of courage and dissent in speech.
Chinese novelist Ah Ding (阿丁), who resides overseas, wrote on Sina Weibo on January 19, the day after Yu’s Washington press conference”Happy New Year! May you make the bury alive list!”

On February 1, the official Weibo of Caijing magazine reported a Xinhua News Agency story about Premier Wen Jiabao encouraging the people to criticize the government. One user responded: “Of course after everyone’s voiced their criticism they will all be buried alive.”

David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).

Comments (4)

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    In China, there are a lot of taboo subjects. People will use euphemism. Those who live beyond the age 60 remember the 1950s and 60s, when the Hundred Flowers Blossomed, Mao encouraged the intellectuals to criticize the party and the government. Then came the purge, those who spoken out were punished harshly. This is within a lot of Chinese’s living memory. So when the government say you can criticize the party and the government, are you kidding me? Do you trust the government? Will they not come back to haunt you? Think twice, my fellow intellectuals.

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    With the growing importance of the Internet and the social media, there is an explosive population of bloggers and readers of blogs and other forms of alternative media. The print and official media has become marginalized. Access to information is no longer restricted. This is a new phenomenon the Chinese authority has to learn how to cope with. In Beijing, among the educated class, I was surprised that more people knew about what happened to Liu Xiao Bo than I. Some of them may toll the party line to utter some irrelevant statements. The gist of the matter is that Liu Xiao Bo is not unknown.

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    Yu Jie’s books could only be sold in Hong Kong and outside China. The longer he stays away from China, the less marketable he will become. His knowledge about china will correspondingly reduce and hence his writing will lose readers. That’s the plight of dissidents from China encounter. In fact, the Chinese government is very keen to see them leave China, the more and the sooner the better.

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    Can somebody at the China Media project translate into English the essays written by Dr. Joesph Lian on Chinese mainland scholars in Hong Kong published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal and have them circulated. They are excellent and should be read by every scholar or journalism student in Hong Kong, no matter they come from Mainland China, foreign countries or locally bred. I learned a lot from Dr. Lian.

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