We Await News of Her Death
At noon on November 14th, 2021, the human rights worker Wang Jianhong emailed the “Written application for medical parole release for Zhang Zhan” submitted to the Shanghai Prison Administration by Zhang Zhan’s family.
I am Zhang Zhan's elder brother, Zhang Ju. Zhang Zhan is currently being held in the Fifth Prison District of the Shanghai Women's Prison; her prison number is 27997. In August 2021, in the reception room of the women's prison we talked by phone with a doctor and Zhang Zhan, who had been sent to a hospital. From this we learned that Zhang Zhan's body was extremely weak and that she weighed less than 40 kilograms [88 pounds]. Zhang Zhan is 177 cm tall [5 foot 8] and her normal weight had been 60-65 kg [132-143 pounds]. From when Zhang Zhan was detained in the Pudong Detention Center to when she was transferred to the Women's Prison, her body had deteriorated due to various reasons. I asked the doctor if Zhang Zhan might die? The doctor plainly stated it was very likely.
On October 29th, 2021, my mother was notified by the prison to go to the prison for a video meeting with Zhang Zhan. The Zhang Zhan my mother saw was weaker than what we had heard on the phone in August. Zhang Zhan’s weight now is probably less than 40 kilograms. She needed support from others to walk, and her neck was unable to support her head. Her face and forehead were all skin and bone, appearing bloodless, as if her life was hanging by a thread. In Zhang Zhan's current physical condition, she cannot walk on her own. With the support of others or crutches, she can barely walk a distance of 20-30 meters [65-100 feet]. When my mother heard this terrible news, she was so heartbroken she fell to her knees before the prison staff, pleading with them to give Zhang Zhan humane care.
Prolonged detention and starvation have caused irreversible damage to Zhang Zhan's internal organs and secretory system. According to the relevant provisions of the "Notice of the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission on Issuing the ‘Provisions for Temporary Serving of a Sentence Outside Prison’", Zhang Zhan's current physical condition and illness have already met relevant conditions for "treatment on medical parole". Regardless of the relevant laws and regulations or humanitarian principles, we hereby apply for permission to allow Zhang Zhan to seek medical parole. We are well aware that the Zhang Zhan case has a certain degree of sensitivity. From the perspective of our family, we are willing to cooperate with the relevant requirements of the police, prisons and other relevant departments.
November 6, 2021
Over two months ago, I sent the closing paragraphs of my book God Is Dead to several Westerners, including the former chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman. Carl was deeply moved and forwarded an article from the Washington Post to me. Five days previously on November 7, the Post’s editorial board had published, “Opinion: She told the truth about Wuhan. Now she is near death in a Chinese prison,” which concluded: “Ms. Zhang should be saluted for her intrepid attempts to record the chaos and cataclysm of Wuhan in those early weeks. She was a sentinel of a looming disaster. Her journalism was not a crime. She must not spend another moment behind bars. She must not be allowed to die.”
But my thoughts linger on the words of Zhang Zhan’s brother on Twitter: “My sister may not live much longer. In the coming cold winter, if she’s unable to persevere, I hope the world will remember her as she was."
Apart from a very few appeals and notations, what else can I do? Beckett’s immortal play "Waiting for Godot" has evolved into "Waiting for the God of Death" in this case. There are millions of Chinese netizens following Zhang Zhan. Every one of them knows that Godot or the God of Death will eventually appear, they just don’t know where and when: it might be in a prison cell, or it might be like Liu Xiaobo, who, in name only, was "paroled for medical treatment" in accordance with the law, but still died in captivity.
We are awaiting news of her death. We are helpless. In the Bible, the record of the miracle of "resurrection," fictitious or not, like Godot, causes human beings dominated by the World Wide Web to lose patience each passing day. I have been in exile for ten years, far enough away from the time and space of the Communist Party of China, yet I am still wrapped up in the shadow of the Wuhan virus, which is even more limitless than the Chernobyl nuclear leak. In a letter to Hans Balmes, the German language editor of this book, I wrote: "The fictional and non-fictional characters in this book all disappear one by one. Zhang Zhan, the last, is not missing, but waiting to die... …"
As regards Wuhan, Zhang Zhan produced 122 self-media videos and Kcriss only 4. The common denominator with this "intruder" was trying to understand more about the P4 lab. The longest video recorded by Zhang Zhan, 21 minutes and 46 seconds, was made on April 27, 2020. She personally uploaded to YouTube "A Visit to the Mysterious Wuhan Virus Research Institute: Is the Source of the Virus Related to It". Seventeen days later, the Shanghai police crossed provincial boundaries to arrest her on charges of "picking quarrels and inciting trouble."
I’ve recorded and compiled Zhang Zhan's intermittent, breathless commentary in the film:
I finally got to sleep sometime after three o'clock last night but was woken up by an alarm clock at eight o'clock.
This P4, I have been here three times this year. The path before me is newly made. Over the wall beside it is the P4. There’s a high-voltage electric wire fence atop the wall. Troops have assumed control, and no one can enter. I'll still walk around it and give it a try. As is know the world over, the most dangerous virus research is undertaken within these two circular and square buildings...
The surroundings here are very nice, as the P4’s backed by green hills with a small, lush stream in front of it and black birds fly overhead. I don’t know what kind of bird that is. If there weren’t this high-voltage fence and the workplace behind the wall... Last time here I climbed the hills but came across a gorge I couldn’t get past. The dense woods also blocked my view. There is a cemetery in the hills that evokes our sad memories of the dead.
Every time I come, I come upon different sights and things, and each time I get a little deeper than previous time. We will only be able to trace the truth about the source of the virus through perseverance and patience. Here is the closest we can get to the rear entrance. Before there was any evidence, there was speculation over how the virus moved from bats to humans, over how it passed across the tables of voracious diners, folk rumors, conspiracy theories, and so on, the root causes of which were fear of the regime and the system. Nobody has the power to stop this. Just like today, as we look for the truth from the outside, we can only trust our instincts to find our way.
Okay, I’ll go down this pile of rubble. The weeds are thick but there should be no snakes. The oncoming shot is of a big red building under construction. There are four tall chimneys in the distance. The building behind the chimneys is the P4. Every time I come, I can hear the roar of boilers and machines.
The P4 before me is surrounded by iron fences and iron and steel panels. I hope to show the audience more perspectives and more details. But no matter from where you look at it, there are surveillance cameras, even other places inside the walls are separate from the P4...
A restricted area within a restricted area...
Supplemented and revised again on November 14, 2021
translated by Michael Martin Day