NYTimes - A Rare Look Into One’s Life on File in China

A Rare Look Into One’s Life on File in China

Whether it is national identification cards embedded with biometric chips or “birth permits” for expectant mothers, the Chinese are accustomed to authoritarian intrusions into their private lives.
The Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser is among the few Chinese citizens who has peered inside her dang'an, or personal file.Credit Andrew Jacobs/The New York Times
But there is another, largely invisible mechanism of social control that governs hundreds of millions of urban residents: the dang’an, or personal file, that documents matters mundane and profane. The dossiers start with a citizen’s middle-school grades, whether they play well with others and, as they become adults, list their religious affiliations, psychological problems and perceived political liabilities.
Sealed inside tawny envelopes stamped with the word dang’an in red, the Mao-era system for recording the most intimate details of life is updated by teachers, Communist Party officials and employers. Copies are kept by local archive bureaus, the police or a person’s employer.
China’s embrace of market economics — and the employment opportunities created by foreign firms and private employers — has diminished the dang’an’s power to derail careers. But for those seeking government work, including positions with state-owned enterprises and banks, an unfavorable dang’an entry can mar one’s job prospects.
In recent years, corrupt school officials have been caught selling off the files of top students. The buyers: parents of middling students, who assume their identities to apply to college.
Those whose dang’ans disappear can be thrown into a bureaucratic limbo, disrupting their educational plans and sometimes depriving them of pensions.
Peering into one’s dang’an, needless to say, is not allowed.
Four years ago, the Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser, 48, got a chance to look at her file. After she was fired from her job at the state-run Tibetan Literature Association in Lhasa — punishment for writing favorably about the Dalai Lama — Ms. Woeser asked a former colleague to help her get the file released so she could apply for medical insurance and other welfare benefits.
In a bureaucratic stroke of luck, an official at the association gave the file to Ms. Woeser’s mother.
“The file was only in my mother’s hands a few days before my work unit began calling in a panic, demanding it back,” she said in an interview in Beijing, where she lives. “My mother was so scared — people of her age usually are afraid of such things — she was almost in tears. I told her to hold on to it.”
A friend of Ms. Woeser’s, the filmmaker Zhu Rikun, was so intrigued that he hopped on a train for the 45-hour trip to Lhasa. File in hand, he returned to Beijing a few days later and proposed filming Ms. Woeser as she read her file aloud for the first time. The result, a documentary called “The Dossier,” was shown last year at several film festivals outside China.
Following are excerpts from a conversation with Ms. Woeser:
Q: It’s hard for foreigners to imagine what it’s like to have a personal file that you can never see. What’s it like for ordinary Chinese?
A.: Many of us have no idea what’s inside our dang’an, but our lives can be changed by it. It’s a terrible thing, like an invisible monster stalking you. It’s a special feature of a totalitarian regime. My file was born when I was in high school, at 15, but at the time, I don’t think any of us thought of it as scary.
What was it like for you to see yours?
I was excited since I had no idea what would be in there. It wasn’t that thick. But as I read it, I felt a sense of absurdity. I discovered myself as a 15-year-old writing things like “I love the Communist Party, I love the Communist motherland and I love our Great Leader Chairman Mao” in self-assessments.
The file also included my family’s class status, which was a good one, because my parents were both party members and my father was a soldier. My grades were all good, as were the teachers’ comments, though some said I was not always obedient.
When I started to work, there were comments like “Nice job this year, 10 renminbi (about $1.60) pay raise.” It was like they were talking about a machine, not about me. The words were terribly fake. Even at work, we had to write personal assessments, and one year, I wrote that I was a Buddhist, which was a very dangerous thing to say, but I said it anyway. Later, I declared that I had left the job voluntarily, although the truth is I was fired. That was the end of the file.
Anything else notable?
The biggest embarrassment was in my self-assessment at work when I wrote, “I love the Communist Party and whenever the party comes to mind, it always reminds me of its kindness to ethnic minorities. [Laughs] I will dedicate my knowledge to the Great Party.”
Clearly my personal sentiments have changed greatly. Seeing my dang’an helped me revisit my past and see how pathetic we were, these 15- and 16-year-olds, saying formulaic things about our love for the motherland, and not permitted to express ourselves. It was a process of turning us into machines, devoid of free spirit or individuality. That’s why I was fired from my job, because the Communist Party does not tolerate the truth. I didn’t want to be a machine, so I spoke the truth. Now that I’ve left the system, my soul is free, and I’m happy.
But you are not totally free, right? You can’t leave China, you are frequently placed under house arrest or questioned by the police.
True, I’m in perilous situation. I’ve been trying to get a passport since 2005, but they won’t give it to me. They said it’s because I’m on the Ministry of Public Security’s list, and that I’m a danger to national security.
Is it safe to assume there is another dossier that picks up where your old one left off?
Yes, and that file must be very thick, because every time I’m “summoned to tea” with the police, they dutifully take notes, endlessly scribbling. And when we’re done, they even ask for my signature, though I refuse.
I’d like to read that file, but I might have to wait until the collapse of the Communist regime. I don’t know what I would find but maybe I’d be saddened. I think, just like in East Germany before the fall of Berlin Wall, there would be many informers, including relatives and friends. When I returned to Lhasa last year, I counted 50 friends and relatives, just locally, who said they had been summoned to have tea with the police. One friend said he had even been beaten. Others have been roughed up, simply because they are my friends. It makes me feel very guilty.
Patrick Zuo contributed research.

1 条评论:

  1. 在中国,“档案”如影随形
    杰安迪 2015年03月17日






    不用说, 窥探自己的档案是不允许的。

    四年前,如今48岁的藏人作家茨仁唯色(Tsering Woeser)偶然间看到了自己的档案。在因为写了支持达赖喇嘛的内容而被位于拉萨的官方机构西藏文联除名后,唯色请一名前同事帮忙,调出她的档案,这样她才能申请医疗保险等社会福利。



    唯色的朋友、电影工作者朱日坤对这件事非常感兴趣。他跳上了一辆火车,花了45个小时来到拉萨。几天后,他带着这份文件回到北京,建议拍成电影,让唯色在里头生平第一次大声念出自己的档案。于是,诞生了一部名为《档案》(The Dossier)的纪录片,并于去年在国外多个电影节上展映。






    这个档案还包括你家里是什么成分。我的成分很好啊,我的父亲是军人,我妈妈也不错 ,都是共产党员。我成绩还不错,老师评价也都是很好的,这个学生怎么怎么好,虽然有时候不太听话。




    我个人的思想发生了很多的变化,实际上是一个回顾。这个档案帮助自己返回过去,我就觉得,哎呀,我们好可怜。那么小才十五六岁的孩子,每个人都必须说同样的话,必须都是格式化的,要爱祖国。你都不能有个人的表达。整个就是一个机器嘛!怎样训练成一个机器的过程,完全没有个人自由的意志,完全没有个人的自我。党的权力它就觉得你是不能说真话的,你怎么能说真话呢?所以就开除了。我不想做一个机器,我想说真话。自从我脱离了这个体制,我心灵是自由的, 我很开心。