Wang Wanxing Speaks Out About China's "Ankang" System

July 6, 2006

Former political prisoner Wang Wanxing has spoken out about his experiences in the Beijing Public Security Bureau's Ankang Hospital for the Custody and Treatment of Mentally Ill Offenders (Beijing Ankang Hospital), according to a November 2 news release from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and a November 3 article in the German weekly Die Zeit. Both reports note that on August 16, Wang became the most prominent political prisoner so far that Chinese authorities have released from psychiatric custody. The reports include new details about the Chinese government's system of custody and treatment hospitals for mentally ill criminal offenders, also known as the "ankang" system.

Both HRW and Die Zeit note that Wang left Beijing for Frankfurt on August 16, two weeks before Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, made an official visit to China. Wang's release came in the midst of a government crackdown on several other well-known activists. A German diplomat and Chinese public security officials accompanied Wang on his flight to Germany, where his wife and daughter have been granted political asylum on the basis of Wang's persecution by the Chinese government. According to an Associated Press article, available on the Taipei Times Web site, "It wasn't immediately clear why the news of Mr. Wang's release was delayed, but details on sensitive cases are often murky or withheld." The HRW news release notes that "the last thing one of the Beijing Ankang officials said to [Wang] before he boarded his flight to Germany was, 'If you ever speak out about your experiences at our hospital, we'll come and bring you back here again.'"

Chinese authorities have placed restrictions on Wang's freedom of expression in the past, according to HRW. They first held him at the Beijing Ankang Hospital in mid-1992 for staging a one-man demonstration in Tiananmen Square to mark the third anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Public security officials then released Wang for three months in 1999, but "after [Wang] announced his intention to hold a press conference with foreign journalists to discuss his experiences in psychiatric detention, he was again detained and sent to the Beijing Ankang." Section III(e) of the 2005 CECC Annual Report, covering "Freedom of Expression" in China, points out that from 2004 to 2005, Chinese authorities ordered numerous activists not to speak to the press about their experiences.

Despite restrictions on his speech, Wang has provided graphic eyewitness accounts of torture, or official tolerance of it, in the Beijing Ankang Hospital. These accounts are consistent with those of Qiu Jinyou, another political prisoner detained in an ankang hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, who told Die Zeit that "[in an ankang hospital], not even murderers are treated like those who rise up against the government." According to HRW, over 3,000 political prisoners may have been held in the ankang system since the early 1980s. In his November 2 interview with the Voice of America, Wang called on the Chinese government to cease psychiatric detention of those without any mental illness, to transfer administration of ankang hospitals from public security officials to psychiatric professionals, and to open ankang hospitals to outside parties for inspection. He has asked for an independent, objective evaluation of Chinese government claims that he is mentally ill and dangerous to society by the Global Initiative on Psychiatry, an international non-profit organization that works toward the eradication of political abuse of psychiatry.

The central government officially established the ankang system in April 1987, pursuant to an "Opinion of the Ministries of Health, Civil Affairs and Public Security on the Strengthening of Mental Health Work." The administration of the ankang system is a responsibility reserved to the Ministry of Public Security. HRW devotes one section of its 2002 report, entitled "Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and Its Origins in the Mao Era," to the ankang system, including the criteria for determining which categories of mentally ill criminal offenders must be compulsorily admitted to an ankang hospital. Chinese authorities reference these criteria in several published sources in China, including a 1990 official encyclopedia of public security work. One of the three main categories of people taken into police psychiatric custody under these criteria includes "political maniacs" (zhengzhi fengzi), according to the 2002 report. In its November 2 news release, HRW notes that Chinese authorities claimed that Wang suffered from either "paranoid psychosis" or "political monomania."

The ankang system has drawn attention and controversy because it circumvents judicial review and the minimal procedural protections that international law and China's Criminal Procedure Law provide to criminal defendants. China has signed, but has not yet ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR guarantees, among other things, freedom of expression; freedom from arbitrary detention; freedom from torture; the right to life, liberty, and security; the right to personal dignity; and the right to a fair and impartial trial. Nonetheless, Wang explained in his interview with Die Zeit that in the ankang system:

  • "There is nothing like a judicial process, nothing like access to a lawyer. There is no possibility of objecting to the determination of the police that one is mentally ill, a determination that has no term. That makes it so difficult for the inmates to hope for release—more difficult than in prison or in a labor camp, where the penalties are for a term."

In the case of Meng Xiaoxia, a local public security chief in Xi'an declared her mentally ill and detained her in an ankang hospital, even in the absence of any medical evaluation or court judgment, according to Die Zeit.

In a press release issued on September 19, Human Rights in China (HRIC) expressed its concern that Chinese authorities have increasingly resorted to psychiatric detention as a measure against political activists. Long-term petitioners such as Mao Hengfeng, who has a history of petitioning against government abuses, have been forced to undergo psychiatric treatment on three occasions, according to HRIC.