Magazine

Prisons in Shanghai and Suzhou

EDITOR¨S NOTE: The article in based on a visit to the Tilanqiao, Qingpu and Women¨s prisons and a juvenile delinquent rehabilitation center in Shanghai and the Suzhou Prison of Jiangsu Province in February 2001 by the author, a graduate student of human rights. She made the trip with a group of experts from China Society of Human Rights Studies.

Century's Vicissitudes and Historical Witness
!!Tilanqiao Prison
         
Entrance to Tilanqiao Prison

For a person who never gets inside its high walls, the prison may always be associated with darkness, murkiness, cruelty and terror.

But when I saw a group of people in neat lines filing past by us inside the Tilanqiao Prison in downtown Hongkou District of Shanghai, I was impressed. Neatly dressed, they looked natural, normal in complexion and calm in the way they carried themselves. Some even smiled at us with curiosity. If not for their uniforms, I could not imagine they were inmates.

A professor in our company told me that to know about a prisoner's life, "The most direct and the most effective way is to see his or her mental state, paying particular attention to the eyes. If the eyes reveal traces of hatred, fear or timidity, it shows that the inmate is likely to have received or be receiving unjust and inhumane treatment. Such eyes can be seen very often when visiting foreign prisons."

When coming to the cells and washing rooms for women prisoners, I found that they were as clean and tidy as barracks. As a senior member of the study group talked with two women prisoners on duty, I noticed that their faces were pink in color and they looked at ease in their manners, sometimes revealing shyness, sometimes regret and sometimes smiles. When departing, I said "good-bye" to them just as to normal people, perhaps out of consideration of respect for their dignity and equality. The two women inmates habitually reciprocated, with-out any surprise or sense of inferiority. I said to myself: perhaps this is a revelation that they have been used to the respect for their dignity during their terms of service.

The Tilanqiao Prison was built by British colonialists in 1901, mainly to incarcerate Chinese offenders in the British concession of Shanghai. It was 100 years to a day. It happened that a film crew was shooting a film there. Arranged by the host, we were first shown around a museum inside the prison. The photos, writings and articles displayed told the history of the development of Chinese prisons during different periods of time from the slavery society and feudal society to the semi-colonial and semi-feudal rules. The bloodcurdling instruments of torture and the terrible scenes of executions formed a scroll of paintings on the bloody human tragedy. It is not too exaggerated to describe the prisons at the time as "hells on earth." During the dark ages, human rights could not be ensured even for the common people out-side the walls, let alone prison inmates. I can under-stand that prisons in the slavery and feudal societies were places to reveal in the most concentrated, the strongest and the least covered way the fact that the inmates "were not treated as human beings." That is there sult of the economic and social system and the limitations of social development and human civilization. At that time, most oppressed and enslaved people did not know what were human rights. They were merely subjects of willful oppression and outrages by the ruling class. What the ruling class needed were subjects that were enslaved serviles instead of people that were humanized and humane. That should be what is common in the development of human history. Prisons were equally dark in both old China and the medieval times of Europe.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Western bourgeoisie unfurled the "natural rights" banner to sweep the dirt in the long-distorted human nature and restored the dignity of man, giving birth to the concept of "human rights." But how the bourgeoisie, the same representative of advanced civilization at that time, treated the Chinese people when they crashed China's gates into the country by the sheer strength of gunboats? What they brandished at the Chinese people were swords and bloody bayonets instead of the banner of "human rights, liberty and equality." The Tilanqiao Prison is a witness to the crimes and evil-doings of the then British colonialists who treated the Chinese not as human beings, and who willfully trampled down upon their human rights. The joint case hearing system provided that cases involving foreigners could only be heard by to reign consulates. If the plaintiff was a Chinese and the defendant was a foreigner, the consulate from the foreigner's country must be the main judge while Chinese judges should act only as observers. For other cases, joint hearing was in name only. The final ruling had to be decided by foreign consulates. Chinese law was simply cast aside. In reality, foreign consulates manipulated the power of case hearing. Was there any justice or equality if a Chinese was brought to court in such circumstances? Were there human rights to speak about? Now let us look at the photos showing how Chinese ^prisoners ̄ were cruelly treated by Japanese invaders. Their beastly brutal acts quite outdid that in the prisons in the barbarous and ignorant slavery and feudal societies. In the society when Chinese were put on a par with dogs, the Chinese people were totally deprived of their due dignity and of their rights as humans. Let alone prisoners.
         
An inmate with his wife and child during a visit.

Standing in front of the century-old prison cells to look at the magic and solidly-built lock - it is said that it cannot be imitated till today - and examine the iron bars that are two or three times thicket- than what they are today and the cells each measuring 3.3 square meters, I seemed to smell blood and hear the groans of wronged souls. I could not help but ask: Why the Western powers that hold aloft the banner of human rights and advocate for liberty, equality and fraternity did not think of "human rights" when they saw Chinese prisoners but resorted to bullying and treated them as if they were not worth a straw at the time when they were running wild in China? Does the term "human rights" in the mouths of Western powers are really like what they sang about as "having no boundaries," "being higher than anything else" and "transcending time and space"? A century's humiliation, a century's changes and a century-old prison - these are iron-clad facts that tell the truth of history.

But the scenes I saw inside the high walls of Tilanqiao today tell a different story:

The equipment of this century-old prison is outdated and the space is narrow. Yet, there is still a green belt of about 1,500 square meters, where flowers and ornamental plants are grown to help the inmates get relaxed.

The prisoners have said farewell to night stools that were used for 95 years and begun to use sanitary milers.

The prison was the first in China to introduce "scientific catering service" to ensure balanced nutrition intake.

The inmates do not only work but also study. Inmates who serve a prison term of over three years are required to attain a certain standards in technical training so that they can support themselves once they are released.

There are many more moving stories on how the prison has safeguarded the legitimate rights and interests of the inmates. What impressed me the most should be the calligraphy and painting exhibition and the performance given by the New Bank Performing Art Troupe. They represent a new way of educating prisoners, that is, using arts to cleanse the soul and beauty to cultivate feelings or using the force of beauty of arts to correct the distorted soul and inspiring the desire to cherish their precious life in the inmates. The powerful strokes of calligraphy, the oil paintings and Chinese brush and ink drawings, the Chinese chess shaped out of the hands of prison inmates and the song and dance performance of professional standards C all these won our admiration. What is more incredible is that all the authors and performers learned to paint or write after they began their service inside the high walls. Art works are media to convey the mental out-look and inner feelings of the authors. The art works reflect their spirit, personality and soul. This shows, at least from one angle, the consciousness of human rights

Model of Innovation
--Glimpse of Qingpu Prison

Having visited Tilanqiao Prison, 1 began to feel much better, with all the uneasiness and fears with "inmates" and "prisons" gone. On the way to Qmgpu Prison I had learned that it is of a new model, quite civilized. The prison is a complex of white buildings surrounded by a wide stretch of garden. If not for the four Chinese characters "Qing Pu Jian Yu" on the gates, no one could guess that it is a prison. It is more like a university. From the production area to then living area, from the teaching building to the medical service building, the library, the canteen and the cell building, and then the standard sports field - every part shocked me and provoked my thought. These people had been convicted and should receive due punishments and that is bad for them. But these criminals happen to live at a time of rapid economic development and social progress and, under the management of prisons of the new era, they do not only receive decent clothing, food, and lodging and medical service, but have also reccived concern in education and in preparing for future living. This is a stroke of good luck in a stretch of bad for them.
         
The auditorium of Qingpu Prison
Just like the Tilanqiao Prison, proverbs and epigrams arc seen on the walls of prison cells and class-rooms and the way they are written is superb. ^Do you still have the slogan: 'Leniency for those who confess their crimes and severity to those who refuse to'?" I asked. "No, that is a thing of the past," prison officer Zhang told me. "No prison puts up such slogan in Shanghai any more." Then two lines of words in the management of prison. I can never forget the last item of the performance. A tenor sang "Hold up your cups, friends" to the accompaniment of eight pairs of international standard ball dance performers. The scene was indeed touching. The emotional performances; the round after round of enthusiastic applause. We seemed to have forgotten that they were the convicted. Perhaps it was just because that they were prisoners that the performance was so touching. Beauty has no boundaries, national or racial or among different groups of people. Crimes are of necessity associated with what is false, evil and ugly while arts have cleansed their soul and excited their pursuit and longing for what is true, kind and beautiful. If we say that the century-old prison has witnessed history and the present-prisoners' changing mental outlook and recalled human nature and con-science, this century-old prison is sure to witness the future. It is doubtless that it will continue to display its due and irreplaceable role in educating, rescuing and reforming criminals. engraved on the gates of the production area caught my attention. "Based on human nature, persist in ruling the prison according to law; Sourced in materials, raise the scientific management level." "Based on human nature, it means to treat the prisoners as human beings," prison warden Zhang explained. Prisoners are punished for the crimes they commit, but they are still humans and their rights as humans should be ensured. Prisoners are still Chinese citizens and we should ensure that they enjoy the part of the rights provided by the Constitution and not deprived of by law. That is the starting point for our prisons to ensure human rights. A person should be punished duly for violating the law. But the way of punishment should be lawful, humane and civilized. The purpose is to enable prisoners to feel the dignity of the law, preciousness of freedom and meaning of abiding by law. Sourced in materials means to realize effective management of all kinds of materials, facilities and tools out of the consideration of safety and eliminate the possibility of material-sourced crimes."

What the warden said struck a profound feeling of respect in me. To study human rights problems of prisoners, it is necessary not only to look at their clothing, food, lodging, medical service and education and labor but also, and the most important at that, at the subjects and objects that ensure human rights. Subjects are the enforcement personnel and objects are the prisoners. The quality and level of law enforcement of the subjects are key to how the human rights are ensured. With such complete set of legal texts and supervision mechanism for strict enforcement of the law, with such a contingent of law-enforcement personnel who have law in the mind, love in their hearts, human in their eyes and ways in their mouth and instruments for enforcing the law in hand, no wonder the inmates here call the place for "serving anthentic jail terms;" no wonder there have been no runaways for four successive years and no major incidences for eight years running and occurrence of any kinds of accidents has dropped to historical lows in all the 10 prisons and one juvenile correction center under the jurisdiction of Shanghai.

I remember that the 18th century Italian criminologist Cesare Beccaria risked his life to correct the theories of criminal punishment. He appealed that the environment of prisons must be humane, it is not only necessary to protect the health of prisoners but also necessary to provide a place best suited to their self-reform. He also stressed that ethical education was the motive force for prisoners to change themselves. It is here in Shanghai that 1 have seen with my own eyes that the flash of humanitarianism advocated by the enlightenment thinker, which is hard to realize in the West, has become a reality in China, thus lighting the prisons, which used to be the darkest place on earth.
         
Nourishment is guaranteed for prisoner.

To end our visit to Qingpn Prison, we came to see a "Love Life Supermarket" of the prison. There prisoners were choosing articles they need. The cashiers and packers were all prison inmates. Looking into a shop-ping basket, I found letter writing pads, notebooks, toothpaste, toilet soap, milk powder, instant noodles, cookies, fruit jelly and candies, worth about 100 yuan. A prison officer told me that the prices of the commodities are cheaper than in other places and the quality is guaranteed. The prisoners buy goods according to the grades of treatment they are granted. They are graded according to the merits/hey win in labor, study and living. The A-graders can do shopping worth about 150yuan twice a month. All things in this prison have been quantified and awards and punishments are strict. It is a great novelty to open a supermarket in a prison. As a measure for inspiring the inmates to do correction by themselves, it has not only made the life of the inmates convenient but also enabled them to keep pace with the developments outside the walls so that they would better adapt to their future life when they are released. If not for the human-based idea, it would have been impossible to do so.

It is a gratifying attempt for Shanghai prisons to carefully implement the provisions of the Prison Law and honor all rights due to them. They have also racked their brains to make innovations in exploring for ways to more effectively reform prison inmates so as to enable them to embark on a road of doing good and becoming independent new people. Just as the veteran prison warden said: "So long as it is good to reform prisoners, we can open everything but the prison gate. "Looking at the brown face of this veteran warden who has experienced the hardest of life, I feel that his wrinkles and grey hair tell about his hard work and what he has devoted to the cause of educating prisoners.

Call of True Passion and Conscience
!!A visit to a women's prison

The Shanghai Women's Prison was built in October 1996. Walking into the confinement, we felt that it is a special kingdom of women. The prison warden is a middle-aged woman, looking very agile and capable. Guards coming with her were all young girls, elegant and beautiful. If not for their police uniforms, they should have been taken as college students.

As soon as we sat down, we were shown a film strip that recorded the moving scenes of women inmates and guards spending the 2001 Spring Festival together. One scene presented representatives of women's federation of the Putuo District of Shanghai, who visited the inmates, taking with them festival delicacies. When a representative shouted: "People from your home have come to see you.... Happy New Year," the inmates were all moved to tears.

Recalling the changes in the status of women after the founding of New China, it is not exaggerated to describe it as "earth-shaking." Women's rights are protected by law and in their daily life. All Chinese women have come to realize: if anything happens, go to the women's federation and people there would give them a firm backing. Now, in this prison, the women who have violated the law are receiving their due punishments. But their due rights are also protected by the well-trained warden and guards and the women's federation also sends representatives to see them. More warmth, more assistance and more loving care have boosted their confidence in reforming themselves and helped them turn a new leaf of life.

Since it was put into function, the prison has done everything to protect all the legitimate rights and interests of the inmates, said Prison Warden Fan Tianmin. There have been no escapes, no suicides and no major cases committed by inmates. She said that the prison has released 880 inmates and only seven of them committed crimes again, accounting for only 0.8%.
         
Women inmates doing exercises.

Upon departure, we passed by the reception hall, where was crowded with prisoners' relatives. Each inmate had 2-3 visitors to see her, including many children. I caught the sight of an inmate clasping the hands of a teenage girl. The woman inmate looked happy and excited, but the excitement could not conceal her regretful tears. I noticed that the lower part of the board separating the inmates and their relatives were open. This is to facilitate smooth communication and exchange, said the Prison Warden. "Motherly love is tremendous and when mother inmates hug their children, they could get unparalleled strength for accelerating the pace of reforming themselves. In fact, many women were passive or were forced to commit crimes. When they found themselves in confinement, they began to realize the preciousness of freedom. The high walls cannot prevent them from missing their families and relatives, even less their love for their children. What we do is not only to awake the inmates as mothers to their duty but also to protect their rights as mothers. We have also paid close attention to the family stability of inmates and education of their children," said Warden Fan.

Fan told us that many relatives of inmates said that it was their relatives who were really serving jail terms rather than the inmates inside the high walls. Why, because after they are sent to the prison, the government would undertake to provide everything for them while their families are facing the danger of collapse. A family can go on if the husband is gone; but it would not be like a family if without woman. "It is exactly such demand of the society and family that we realize the urgency of educating and correcting these inmates," she said. Starting from September 27, 2000, the prison introduced the practice of serving prison terms part-time, that is, three well-performing inmates, namely, Cai Huifang, Sha Yufang and Guo Peifang, were allowed to stay at home for five days of the week and return to serve their terms during weekends. This practice has won extensive approval in the society. This is really a model of the most humane enforcement of the law. No wonder the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women praised the prison as "unique model prison in the world."

Wouldn't it be better to remain inside the high walls since they are so well treated? I asked Warden Fan. Fan told the truth when she said the inmates inside the high walls are like caged tigers that have to be fed while people outside the walls are like birds that are flying freely in the sky and looking for their own food. Her words silenced us all. We feel bow precious freedom is.

To Touch Soul of Rakes
!!Reform school of juvenile offenders

Separated from the women's prison by only a wall is a big courtyard. It is a world of green. We were told that growing in the three hectare courtyard are more than 3,000 of tall trees and bushes in more than100 species, 3,000 pots of plants, 4,000 square meters of vegetative cover and nearly 10,000 square meters off lower beds, and lawns. There is also a rockery and a fall and more than 700 square meters of roof garden. No one could associate the place with the word "prison." But it is a prison - a prison or reform school for educating and correcting juvenile delinquents.
         
Juvenile delinquents make a vow to Madame Soong Ching-ling, the late honorary president of China.

The warden, Zhang Gulei, took us direct to the teaching building, saying that some of the in mates are at class. The Prison law promulgated in 1994 clearly defined the legal status of prison guards and stressed the protection of the rights of the inmates, giving particular stress on the idea that juvenile offenders should mainly receive education when serving jail terms. So the inmates here spend most of their time learning how to read and write, including production skills. Then we came near a classroom, where more than 20 inmates are writing or thinking. I learned from the teacher that these inmates were new and they were receiving psychological testing. The teacher was a professor of psychology from Shanghai University. When I came to an inmate with a question: "Can you answer all the questions?" The boy stood up straight, saying: "Yes, I can." Then we visited the arts and painting class, computer class and other classes. Out of the teaching building and in the sports ground, we saw a group of inmates at a physical culture class. I recalled some reports in the past, which said that the Shanghai Juvenile Delinquent Rehabilitation Center was like a garden and a school rather than a prison and I felt that the reports were really true.
         
Juvenile delinquents are taken to an exhibition of achievements of the reform and opening.

At the end of the visit we came to the skill training workshop. A group of boys were learning cookery. We happened to see cakes .just hot out of the bakery. We had a taste of the cakes and they were good. The teachers turned out to be famous chefs invited 17-ore a famous restaurant. A prison guard told us that "these boys could really learn something here. With cultural knowledge and skills, there would be no problem for them to earn a living in the future." Isn't it humanitarian that the boys and girls who have gone astray are provided with a place to learn, to reform and to feel the love given to them by the society?

Party Secretary Xia of the Shanghai Prison Management Bureau told us that a few years ago, a high school graduate received a university admission notice and an order of arrest all on the same day. It was really an irony and a heavy blow dealt on a teenager. After he came to the reform school, he realized his criminal liability and was determined to correct and make up for the losses. The reform school provided him with the opportunity of studying at evening university. A few years later, dramatically, he received a university diploma and the order of release all on the same day. The prison guards often recite what is called "three like's", namely, like teacher treating students, like doctor treating patients and like parents treating their children. There were many such instances, Mr. Xia said. There form school is, he said, more accurately speaking, a special school, special because it uses passion, reason and love to touch the distorted souls and encourage them to lace the future. I was told that a woman from the Songjiang District Women's Federation was very moved after visiting the reform school and said that she would like to send her son to the school because he was a headache for both his teacher and parents. Perhaps what she said was a bit naive, but it shows how the law is enforced and how the rights of the inmates are so well protected in this reform school.

It is gratifying to learn that there are now fewer juvenile cases in Shanghai. As we walked out of this garden, Mr. Xia said meaningfully: "If someday when there are no more juvenile offenders, we shall turn this school into a sanatorium." "How could it be?" someone retorted. "Why not'?" Mr. Xia threw the question back. "Where there is a will, there is a way." While turning the dialogue in my mind, I looked up at Mr.

Model Prison Then and Now
!!A Visit to Suzhou Prison

Following the visit to a few prisons in Shanghai,we got the initial knowledge about how the prisons are managed by law and how the rights and interests of inmates are safeguarded and all the gratifying achievements the prisons have made in educating and correcting the inmates. In Shanghai, China's economic powerhouse, all the prisons, old and new, should be most advanced in the country, in terms of both software and hardware. Doubtlessly, the material base has demonstrated its decisive role. But what about the Suzhou Prison in Jiangsu Province?
         
Zhou Jue(3rd from left), prsident of CSHRS, heads the study group from the society to Suzhou Prison.
         
Zhou Jue in talk with the prison warden.

At the mention of Suzhou, people would think of beautiful gardens, for which the city is most famous in the world. Perhaps no one would associate prisons with the beautiful landscape in southern China until wear rived at the complex of garden- like structures and were greeted by the warden and elegant guards. That is Suzhou Prison. The walls surrounding the building complex are pink in color with dark green tiles and flying eves. Inside the walls are exquisitely designed buildings, simple but elegant. Passing through the administrative zone, we came to the activity zone. There is a large stretch of green lawn, with flowers on the rims. What is interesting is that at one end of the lawn, there is a beautiful platform, with red columns, green verandas and engraved floral patterns. What is it for? 1 wondered. Is it for seeing films? But it turned out that I was only half right. The platform and the lawn are for announcing the performances of inmates, particularly for citing, criticism, prison term reduction and on parole. Looking beyond the lawn at the sentry towers, I found that they are designed like a pagoda, with flying eves and cocking-up comers. The electric wire mesh common for prisons are not like the ordinary ones. They are fixed inside the wall instead on top of the walls. No wonder we could not find any traces of a prison outside.

The dignified but kind prison warden told us that the prison was 90 years old and there have no escapes for 20 successive years and no major cases occurring inside the walls for 12 years running. In 1999, the prison was named by the Ministry of Justice a modern and civilized prison. With the economic development, the Suzhou Prison has over the past few years increased investment to improve the environment. It requisitioned12,500 square meters of land to build three buildings Xia. Behind the near-sight glasses, he was gazing at the gates of the reform school, his eyes filled with hope sand confidence, but also a trace of heaviness and imposition. and a teaching building, a hospital, a reception hall, a kitchen and a bath room. What was most attractive was the big entrance of the teaching building. There was hung a big plate on which it was written the motto of the "Xinhua Cultural and Technical School of Suzhou Prison." The warden told us that the school was built aspart o1 the efforts by the prison to implement "Project Hope" inside the walls and the implementation of the purpose of "turning prison terms into school terms and turning prison cells into classrooms. "

There was billboard on the wall of the entrance. There were the related laws, regulations and disciplines and the daily performance of the inmates in study, observing discipline and labor. They were like the roll of merits and performance billboards of general schools in the country. It reminded me of my teaching experience at a middle school ten years ago. At that time, 1 often resorted to the incentive measures as scoring to excite the enthusiasm for students to learn. Looking at the billboards marked with red, yellow, blue and black, I seemed to have seen the scenes of how the inmates were vying with one another to reform and catch tip, striving to learn cultural knowledge and work skills so that they will become useful to society instead of doing harm to others and society. Such sell" contrasting, sell assessment and self restriction used in prison management have been widely accepted in society as they conform to the good side of human nature.

At the meeting hall, I discovered something unusual, that is, a touch-screen consulting system tot use by people who come to the prison for a visit or see the inmates. Touching the screen, quite a number of things, including legal information and information about the enforcement of the law would pop up. Seeing this, a curious idea came into my mind: If the daily life of the inmates, such as eating, living, studying, laboring and resting can bc seen through a video consulting system online, wouldn't it be much better for the supervisor sand relatives to know how the inmates fare in the prison'? Everybody laughed, but said that it would not be impossible if the economy develops to a certain stage.

Another thing that 1 found special was a special meeting room for relaxed gathering with families. But only those who enjoy the special grade ill their performance could have the chance to meet their relatives in such a room. The room is very much like McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurant. An inmate may enjoy the happiness of family with his relatives and chat over delicious Food served.

During the rules of the Kuomingtang, it used to be a "model prison." Incarcerated here were such famous figures as Chen Gongbo and Chen Bijun as well as many revolutionaries. Now, under the People's Government, the mucky, barbarous and cruel image of the prison has gone. It is full of civilization and humanism. The poetic natural environment is certainly a good external condition for reforming prisoners, but the unique internal humanistic environment has given this old prison renewed vigor, becoming the best place for prisoners to re-forge soul to become new persons. "We Suzhou people are sol1 by nature," said the Warden, adding that "perhaps, we are also too soft toward the prisoners," "No," a colleague from our group chimed in. "It is not too soft. It is really true and civilized way of enforcing the law and that is the human based Suzhou of new socialist China and the human-based Suzhou Prison."



By: Qiao Lijing


China Society For Human Rights Studies
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