Shanghai-based journalist Lara Farrar lives next to the dissident Feng Zhenghu (冯正虎), now under house arrest in Wujiaochang, Yangpu district, a stone’s throw away from Fudan University. She tells us about life in the neighbourhood:
In the beginning, when I moved into my apartment back in 2010, the security apparatus was barely noticeable. There were always some random men who looked like the type of men who might be found late at night in a stale diner in a casino in Atlantic City. Thuggish. Gold chains. Greasy hair. One had a broken arm.
They would sit at the gate and smoke. After a while, they started talking to me. Offering me cigarettes. I would stand around and chat about America. It was a good way to practice Chinese. I thought they were part of the complex’s management team. Once I asked what they did, and they replied that just had some sort of random business to do in the neighborhood. I thought nothing of it. Nor, it seemed, did anyone else who lived around me.
I discovered who the men were and why they were there only a few months ago when a Chinese friend of mine who worked for a foreign news agency came to interview Feng. The police arrived to stop him and the foreign reporter from entering Feng’s building so they came to my apartment for tea. Since then, I have been in touch with Feng via phone to ask him some questions surrounding some stories I have been working on about black jails in China and to ask him about what it is like to be in prison in his home.
“If I escape, those guards, the local public security bureau chief, the district governor, all of them will lose their jobs,” he said. “I have been with them for two years, and I understand them. It is also hard for them, so I don’t want to try to run away. Summer is coming, and I worry for them. The sun and mosquitoes are coming, and they have to stay outside. It is a pretty hard life for them as it is for me.”
Since the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng dramatically escaped from house arrest in a rural village in northern Shandong Province at the end of April, the layers of security surrounding my apartment complex have multiplied. The guards are still at the gate. But now there are more who hang around all day near the entryway to Feng’s building. There are new security cameras by the entrance. This week, new ultra bright lights were installed on the grounds.
Feng Zhenghu was under the media spotlight in 2009 when he stuck it out in Tokyo’s Narita Airport for months after the government refused to let him return to China. The 57-year-old activist is noted for helping petitioners in Shanghai whose homes have been illegally demolished.
Also read this report by Tania Branigan of The Guardian on Feng Zhenghu’s house arrest.
Watch: Supporters of Feng Zhenghu send him daily necessities in March 2012