I thought of ending it all, Ching says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2008, 12:00am

Writer reveals he considered suicide during his darkest days in prison

Speaking of his time behind bars, freed journalist Ching Cheong revealed that he had once thought of ending his life in his darkest days.

'Once you're caught in a downward psychological spiral, that can be the end of it, that is, to commit suicide,' he said during yesterday's press gathering at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.

He told fellow journalists his lowest emotional point came when he was detained in late August 2005. 'When I was formally arrested and handcuffed, when the door of the cell was shut with a loud bang, my heart was broken,' he said.

'I was so depressed that I doubted every single value that I had treasured in my life, like patriotism, honesty and poise. These values I upheld seemed to have betrayed me.'

Ching found comfort in reading philosophical and religious writings, including the Bible, Buddhist classics and the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text also called Book of Changes.

Originally eager to write in prison and defend himself, he finally decided to dedicate his mind to prayer.

'I prayed during times of adversity. I asked God to help me maintain my health, willpower and faith, to face the difficulties in life so that I could persistently follow the road of patriotism after regaining freedom.'

Ching said he had been 'well treated' compared with other prisoners, though he said it was not an appropriate occasion for him to discuss the details.

During his 18 months in a detention centre and a year in prison, Ching was first held alone, then with several other people. He was later transferred to a cell holding 12 men.

'In my cell there were murderers, drug traffickers and corrupt officials - various types of people,' he said.

Ching said that apart from reading and praying, he took part in work as required by prison regulations. He was free to talk with other inmates, but intellectually did not have much to share with them.

He also managed to remain aware of national news.

'In the prison, when I saw on TV that some of my earlier suggestions had become policies, I was so glad that I forgot my own pain,' he said.

Ching was especially delighted when he read a rare article in the state-run Southern Weekly that urged Beijing to grant amnesties to mark the Olympics and show greater leniency towards prison inmates.

After returning to Hong Kong, Ching, known for his patriotism, said he was especially touched when he found a poetic quote on the first page of a book of his articles, published by his friends at the Ching Cheong Incident Concern Group.

It read: 'I will do whatever it takes to serve my country, even at the cost of my own life, regardless of fortune or misfortune to myself' - a line from Lin Zexu, a noted patriotic official from the Qing dynasty.

The quote was also cited by Wen Jiabao at his first press conference as premier in 2003 when he pledged his commitment to the country - then battling severe acute respiratory syndrome.

It was a quote Ching kept in mind to boost his spirits while in jail.

'I was very touched,' he said. 'Patriotism is exactly what links the hearts of me and my friends.'