Excerpts from New book on Asia’s Dissidents – Part I

April 10, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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Chia Thye Poh speaks very softly, almost in a whisper. Like Wei Jinsheng, Chia has spent most of his adult life in prison, with no one to talk to but interrogators trained to break his spirit. Until a few years ago he was one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world. What makes Chia’s story so remarkable is that he was a prisoner in the richest, technically most advanced, and socially most efficient part of the Chinese-speaking world…

…Chia was locked up in a narrow cell, about the size of a toilet cubicle … without light and with a very high ceiling, it was like being buried a tomb. The only sound that penetrated Chia’s chamber was the stamping of military boots and the muffled screaming of a prisoner in another cell. Chia was told that after a few days in this dark dungeon most men went mad…

…Chia was lucky in a way. Unlike some political prisoners, he was not badly beaten or half drowned in a toilet bowl or tortured be electrodes clipped onto his genitals. To have a chance to get out, all he had to do was sign a confession that he was a Communist infiltrator…

…Pressure was put on Chia’s parents to convince their son to sign. His mother, frantic with fear, had several strokes. Chia was interrogated day and night, while being forced to stand naked in a freezing room with the air-conditioning going full blast – a peculiar Singaporean method of torture: a modern luxury turned into a torment.

…I asked him why he had persist. What had given him the strength to resist for so long? He gazed at me through his glasses with an expression of surprise. He was much too polite to say so, but it was clear my question had baffled him. I wish I hadn’t asked. “How could I have signed?” he said, very softly. “It wasn’t true.”

…I was struck by the way he referred to Lee Kuan Yew by his first name, Kuan Yew, as though they were close friends … perhaps a sense of intimacy builds up between a prisoner and chief jailer, especially when the prisoner refuses to give in. Wei Jinsheng, too, spoke about Deng Xiaoping as though they were inmates, two stubborn adversaries worthy of each other. But perhaps Chia used Lee’s name only to show that unlike most Singaporeans, he did not fear him.

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– an excerpt from Bad Elements : Chinese Rebels From Los Angeles to Beijing by Ian Buruma. The book is available at Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City and Select Books, Tanglin Shopping Centre.