Beatings fail to stop Uncle Ou's watch over government car abuses

The popular 60-year-old dedicates his life to reporting on the misuse of government vehicles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 9:42am

Sixty-year-old Ou Shaokun may be a recurrent headache to many, but to most Guangzhou people he's a warrior for justice. Known as Uncle Ou and more popular than the city's mayor, he has filed complaints involving more than 150 cases of officials abusing government cars since retiring 10 years ago. It's made him famous but also a regular subject of retaliation and harassment. He lives on a monthly pension of 480 yuan (HK$587) and usually dresses in floral shirts and white pants. He writes a microblog that has more than 41,500 followers. Ou was admitted to hospital in July after being assaulted by a customs officer. Ou spoke while in hospital.


What put you in hospital?

This is already my third time in hospital after being assaulted by those seeking revenge for being busted for abusing public resources. Someone pushed me on to the ground and kicked me. My legs, hips and my back were injured. I've been injured five times in the past two years. A car also ran over my leg in May.


What exactly happened?

I was outside a shopping mall and I saw a vehicle with car plate number O80256 parked next to a bus station. The car plate was issued by the Guangdong Public Security Bureau and the driver was wearing sunglasses and a face mask. There was a woman and a little boy sitting in the back. A government car should only be used for public duties as it is being paid for by taxpayers' money. So I told the driver that he was abusing public resources. He then told the woman to get out of the car with the boy. Just as I was photographing the scene, the man blocked me and pushed me on to the ground. I grabbed his bag but he pushed me over again. That man turned out to be with the Guangzhou customs department, stationed at the Baiyun International Airport, as a police investigation revealed. Many people insulted, harassed and threatened me, hoping I'd mind my own business. This is what you get in China for being a responsible citizen, but I'm not afraid. What they are doing is not only hurting Uncle Ou, but also the entire civil consciousness.


Why are you so obsessed with monitoring government cars?

I think this is driven by my personality, I just can't stand by doing nothing when something wrong happens. Many people think an elderly man like me should just enjoy retirement, hang out with other oldies in the park and chill out in tea restaurants. They think what I'm doing is useless because the mindset of the society is that people are selfish and will only mind their own business and stay out of trouble. They think I can't do anything to change it. But I cannot submit to this concept. My power as an individual is limited but I want to use my action to make an impact on civil awareness, which will ultimately reshape policy or even push for reform. Every social advance requires pioneers to take the lead.


How do you monitor the cars?

I use the camera on my mobile phone. I take photos of suspicious vehicles, such as those parked outside tourist spots, fancy restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and entertainment venues. I post them on my weibo (microblog) account or call the government hotline to expose these abuses.


How can you tell a government car from a private vehicle?

Any car plate number that starts with the letter O, the word police [in Chinese] or without any alphabetical letter signifies a police or government vehicle. But some are even labelled with the name of a government department or organisation.


How is your family dealing with your work?

My son is 26 years old and he doesn't talk to me anymore. I have also been divorced for six years because of my reporting of government car abuse. She didn't want to live in constant fear of revenge. My body is not broken but my heart is. What's wrong with monitoring public resources? How come my own personal safety is at stake for doing the right thing? This society gives little respect or protection to those who report wrongdoings. Our government says it welcomes public monitoring of their work but it is doing nothing to protect people like me who live up to their civic duties. My ex-wife is still mad at me for being so stubborn. She always tells me stop being so naïve, because I can't be expected to change society.


Who took care of you during your previous stays in hospital?

My family didn't but many fans came to visit me with fruit baskets. They kept me company and I don't even know them personally. After finding out I was admitted, some rushed to the hospital to help settle my bills. Some made donations. I'm really grateful as I feel I'm not fighting this battle alone.


Did anyone harm your family?

In June, someone threw a large bag of paper money for the dead, which scared my 88-year-old mother half-dead. She has heart conditions and was rushed to the hospital. These people can do anything to me but they should not hurt my family, especially my mother. She really can't put up with any more intimidation like that.


What did you do before?

I used to work with the Guangzhou government's Industrial and Commerce Bureau as a market researcher. I have personally caught more than 20 petty thieves myself.


Why do you carry on?

My logic is that everyone must respect their own rights highly - especially so when it comes to their right to monitor public resources. As long as I stand strong, the government officials will know there are eyes out there watching what they do. I will keep on doing what I do until the day I die. In the past, there was no control over government car abuse as police did not dare touch them and the people would not say anything about them. But ever since I began my reporting, my fans around the country are also capturing cases of government car abuse and posting them online. Now there are many "Uncle Ous" out there.


What is your next plan?

Some local lawyers and I are planning to set up a non-government organisation. It's called the Uncle Ou Association. We are hoping to use this as a platform to draw in more people who are fighting injustice and we hope to provide legal help.

Ou Shaokun spoke to Mimi Laumimi.lau@scmp.com