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‘I Have to Keep Going For my Son’: Jailed Activist’s Mother

Writer Gu Xiao says she thinks her son Guo Quan, who recently stood trial for 'subversion' is innocent, but expects him to be sent to prison.

An undated photo of Chinese writer Gu Xiao and her son, the veteran pro-democracy activist Guo Quan, who is on trial for "subversion" over writings that criticized the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan - credit - RFA
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 Gao Feng | Radio Free Asia

Chinese writer Gu Xiao fully expects her son, the veteran pro-democracy activist Guo Quan, who recently stood trial for “subversion,” to go to prison, but told RFA in a recent interview that she enjoyed watching him defend himself in court.

A former ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda official in the Jiangsu provincial government, Gu graduated from Nanjing Normal University, where Guo later lectured, in the 1960s.

As a writer, Gu has remained firmly a part of the CCP establishment. A member of the Jiangsu Provincial Writers’ Association, she once netted a “Golden Eagle” award for a television screenplay.

Her loyalty to the system she was raised in means she feels scant sympathy for Guo, a former judge, as he stood trial on Sept. 9, 2021 by video call at the Xuzhou Intermediate People’s Court, pleading not guilty and defending himself vigorously in terms of free speech protections enshrined in the Chinese constitution.

“Of course I don’t have much empathy … I think it would have been better if my son had never done these things, and had just been an ordinary person like me,” Gu said. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to get involved in politics.”

Nonetheless, Gu said she enjoyed watching her son’s defense by video link from Nanjing’s Jiangning District Detention Center, and was proud of his eloquence.

“I was happy seeing him there on the screen, talking and arguing in his own defense,” she said. “You could tell that he used to be a university professor.”

In a trial that lasted more than five hours, Guo, now 53, addressed the court for nearly two hours, engaging in a systematic legal defense of the articles he published online that were submitted in evidence by the state prosecutor’s office, his attorney said.

‘He has ruined my old age’

He told the court that he wasn’t guilty, but understood that the court could decide to convict him anyway. Gu said she agreed with him.

“I watched it for two hours, and actually I really got the impression that my son hadn’t committed any crime,” she said. “My friends were saying that my son would be home with me in no time, but I told them they’d got it wrong.”

“I have no hope of that. We all have our fate, and I think mine is to spend my old age alone,” she said.

Gu said she stopped short of feelings of pride for Guo.

“I’m not proud of him; he has brought me too much suffering,” she said. “He has ruined my old age; what is there to be proud of?”

Gu said she is lonely sometimes, but also relishes the peace that solitude brings.

“I watch TV or read the newspaper here on my own at home,” she said. “It’s nice and peaceful.”

“Solitude has its advantages. It’s nice not to be disturbed,” Gu said. “That way, I can forget everything, listen to my music, watch my shows, and it all suddenly fades into oblivion.”

“I live alone all year round. I have a domestic helper who comes in the mornings; the food I ate today [for Mid-Autumn Festival] was made by her the day before,” she said.

Critic of Wuhan response

“So I’m alone. I’ve gotten used to it,” she said. “I don’t feel lonely on my own at home, and I’m not scared of anything.”

“Sometimes I feel that solitude is something to enjoy, though it’s fashionable to talk about loneliness,” she said. “Wherever he is, in prison or wherever, my son will probably be thinking about his mom at home all by herself.”

“But I’ve also had enough of living on my own. I have to keep going for my son,” she said.

Guo was detained by Nanjing police on Jan. 31, 2020 and held at the Nanjing No. 2 Detention Center on charges that were unknown at the time.

He had been writing online about the COVID-19 outbreak in China and had criticized the government’s response, according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network.

His family were informed on Feb. 26, 2020 of his formal arrest for “incitement to subvert state power.”

Held incommunicado for much of his pretrial detention, Guo finally received a visit from defense attorney Si Weijiang in the Nanjing No. 2 Detention Center on Oct. 12, 2020, CHRD said.

A former associate professor at Nanjing Normal University, Guo had previously served a 10-year jail term from 2009 on the same charge after he set up the China New People’s Party in 2007.

Gu said it was a struggle to get through that decade.

“I made it through those 10 years — I had to be my own hero,” she said. “I just lived for his return, and then, after just over a year, he was detained again.

“Imagine what that felt like, as his mother, for him to be away for so long, and then be suddenly taken away again after such a short time,” Gu said.

“But most people don’t know how things are going for me. The lady who comes to take care of me can’t tell how I’m feeling; she just thinks about my physical health,” she said.

The trial ended with a verdict and sentencing to be announced “at a later date.”

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