Zhang Yansheng

FOSHAN - As a professional criminal defense lawyer, I have been to detention centers everywhere. They are of course all different, but at a recent first-time meeting with a criminal suspect he was separated from me by frosted glass.

Because I had come all the way from Beijing, the pre-trial official of the Public Security Bureau at Foshan City, Guangdong Province was very straightforward and agreed to “accompany” me to the meeting the following day.

The center, which is situated in the Nanhai District of Foshan, greets visitors with a very tall gate. The road in front is wide with large, dense trees on either side.
The detention center looks quite impressive.

Like a lot of other family members and lawyers waiting for their planned encounter, I squatted at the roadside under the shade of the trees and waited for their opening hours after the lunch break. It didn’t take long before the pre-trial policeman arrived in his official car. I followed him into the reception room.

After some formalities I was led in to the innermost interview room at the end of a narrow corridor. The room was very old and no bigger than about six or seven square meters, separated into two parts. The larger part is for the lawyer and occupies two-thirds of the room, equipped with one broken desk and two chairs on which you can barely sit near the inner side of the room.

The lower part of the partition wall is made of brick while the upper part is completely sealed by a transparent frosted plastic board, turning yellow with age.

At one side of this partition is a wobbly door. On the other side is where the prisoner sits. It’s a long but very narrow inner room. There is no ventilation whatsoever.

We heard a noise, and suddenly all the criminal suspects appeared escorted by guards.

“Here they are!” roared the pre-trial policeman. A small and pale criminal suspect walked towards us with quick, short steps. “In you go! In you go!” The policeman's voice echoed in the tiny meeting room. Once the small pale man had gone through the wobbly door, he was shut into the small, unventilated space.

“Hello. Are you…?” I said, pronouncing his name quite loudly toward the plastic board while staring hard in an attempt to recognize the person inside. But I couldn’t see clearly at all through the frosted glass separating us.

The obscure shadow made some echoing noise. Like when the egg white and yolk have been beat together, everything was impossible to separate. Some sound emanated from the door crack. I couldn’t understand a thing.

“”Hey, I can’t hear you…get closer! I cried out loud to the blurred shadow. Out came another series of turbid cries of the voice, before I saw a vague face pressed up against it. I could hardly distinguish his nose, let alone other parts of his face.

It was extremely hard to have a conversation. Almost every sentence was to be repeated many times. The interview dragged on like this.
Our time was almost over. Our dialogue was still floating somewhere in the cloud. Finally, the policeman accompanying me saw it was all so unbearable that he suddenly yanked open the door. The noise from inside suddenly rushed out. I gasped a big sigh of relief. Even though there was still an echo I could at last hear the person clearly. I felt so exhausted after 30 minutes of desperately trying to see the person during the whole interview. Of course, I knew the person inside must have been far more anxious than I was. The lawyer he had long waited for had finally come, yet he couldn’t even see what I looked like.

It has been more than a month since I came back from Foshan City, but I just can’t wipe that blurred face and muddy voice from my memory. A colleague laughed at me by saying, “You were not there on a date. What does it matter that you didn’t see the person’s face?”

But yes, we are often forced reluctantly to work under such conditions and people much too often accept it as normal. But has anyone thought about how many wrong verdicts have come about because of such tough conditions? How many have lost their lives unjustly because of these restrictions?

In the detention center, ripping away those plastic boards and replacing them with steel bars would have transformed the way the lawyers meet their clients and would have made the meeting much more productive. Effective communication would be beneficial to the criminal proceedings themselves, but would also show criminal suspects that they are fairly treated. Would the detention center ever think to allow that?

Zhang Yansheng is a criminal defense lawyer who writes for Caixin
media.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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