The girl who splashed ink over Xi’s portrait accused Beijing of ongoing surveillance in a fresh video

Dong Yaoqiong was sent into a mental hospital in 2018 after she splashed ink over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s portrait in a Twitter livestream. After disappearing from the public for more than two years, she resurfaced in a new video uploaded to Twitter on November 30. She accused the Chinese government of oppressing her and she claimed she’s no longer afraid of the Chinese government. She wanted to fight for her own freedom through the video.

In the video she uploaded to Twitter on November 30, Dong said she is no longer afraid of the Chinese government and she also accused the Chinese government of closely surveilling her after releasing her from the mental hospital for the second time in July.

“After I was released from the hospital for the second time, they forced me to work at the local government in Hunan Province,” said Dong in the video. “Rather than describing it as ‘work,’ it’s actually a form of surveillance. I will face limitation no matter where I go. The reason why I decide to upload this video on Twitter is because I’m no longer afraid of them.”

Dong emphasized in the video that if the Chinese government sent her to the mental hospital again, she may not be able to walk out of the hospital alive. She wanted to fight for her own freedom through the video.

“I want to have the freedom to choose the job I want to do, and I want to have the freedom to choose the friend that I want to make,” Dong said. “I have no freedom at all. My life is full of limits. The government wants to know everything about the friends that I try to make. Even though they don’t intimidate me or harass me, they still make it clear that they don’t want me to make friends. They also don’t want me to contact my father.”

Dong’s father said after he met his daughter in January, he didn’t have another chance to see her until this past August, after she was released from the mental hospital for the second time. He saw her briefly at her mother’s place.

“She sometimes would cry and my ex wife would think that she might be bewitched,” Dong said. “She asked a master to go to her house and try to drive out the evil spirit. When I tried to take a photo of her with my phone, my daughter would be really scared. My ex wife said my daughter would scream and cry at home. Sometimes she would also say something crazy.”

A few days ago, an accident happened at the coal mine that Dong’s father works at. He had some minor injuries and his daughter called him on December 1, after she learned about the accident from her friend. She told him to visit her once his injuries heal.

“The reason why my daughter is emotionally unstable is because of the limitations that the Chinese government has been imposing on her,” he said. “She wanted to express her dissatisfaction, and that’s why she became emotionally unstable. The government doesn’t let her leave her hometown and her space for freedom becomes really small.”

Dong also said that the local government has not allowed him to meet her, and they also ban him from expressing opinions online. While his daughter faces the possibility of being sent into the mental hospital for the third time, he says that his daughter will have to fight for her freedom on her own. He emphasizes that both of them are no longer afraid of the Chinese government.

Dong Yaoqiong says she no longer wants to live under the government’s high pressured surveillance. She admits that she is on the brink of crumbling. “Thank you all for paying attention to me, and I don’t want to think about what might happen to me after I shared the video on Twitter,” Dong said in the video. “I’m willing to bear any consequences. All I want to ask the government is: have I done anything wrong? Have I violated any law? Am I really mentally ill?”

A source who’s familiar with Dong Yaoqiong’s situation says since he met Dong in person just a few months ago, he can confirm that the person in the video is Dong. “Her condition has been rather ok, but she also told me that she has been preparing for the worst,” he said. “However, she will still think of ways to resist against the Chinese government if necessary.”

Leo Lan, the research and advocacy consultant for the China Human Rights Defender, says the video Dong uploaded to Twitter reflects the reality facing dissidents in China. “No matter how well one’s life used to be, they are doomed in every aspect of their lives,” said Lan. “The government will prevent them from finding a job or force the friends to leave them. They will be pushed to the corner.”

According to Lan, Dong’s act of splashing ink over Xi Jinping’s portrait is an embarrassment for the Chinese government. He thinks the Chinese Communist Party will not be able to tolerate a young woman openly challenging the top leader of the Chinese government.

“I’m very concerned that her condition will deteriorate if she were sent to the mental hospital again,” Lan said. “When dissidents are discredited as ‘insane,’ ‘sanity’ is only an act of obedience to the government under such an authoritarian regime. That’s what Dong and other Chinese dissidents are facing now.”

From the “girl who splashed ink” to “a patient with mental illness”

In July 2018, Dong expressed her dissatisfaction towards the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule, and she accused Beijing of brainwashing Chinese citizens on a daily basis. She said all that in a livestream video via Twitter in Shanghai. Before she ended the video, she splashed black ink on a portrait of Xi Jinping.

The video immediately went viral online and Dong was arrested by the police in Shanghai on the same day. Later that month, they sent her back to her hometown in Hunan Province and sent her into a mental hospital in the name of “mental illness.”

Chinese human rights website Weiquanwang reported in May this year that Dong was released in November 2019 and her father visited her for the first time in January 2020. He told Weiquanwang that Dong might have been forced to take medications for mental illness, which turned her into a different person.

She reportedly became a lot more quiet and she would sometimes be nervous yet unresponsive. Then in May this year, she was sent back to the same mental hospital again. This time, she was released in July, 2020. Apart from continuing to be unresponsive and slow, she would pee her pants without realizing that she needed to change her pants. Dong would sometimes scream at night and when it was raining and thundering, she wouldn’t let anyone get close to her.

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese Website.

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William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.