Singer Wu Hongfei, out of detention over joke bomb threat, but not out of trouble

A Beijing singer who admits she was foolish to post a 'bomb threat' apologised, but still finds it hard to get gigs and has nowhere to live

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 4:20am

Singer Wu Hongfei, who was detained for 11 days last month for posting an apparent bomb threat on her microblog account, paid a high price for speaking recklessly online. Wu, the vocalist of an independent rock band, posted "I want to bomb the neighbourhood committee of Beijing Job Centre and the f***ing housing authority" one day after an explosion at Beijing airport on July 20 set off by former motorbike driver Ji Zhongxing , who claimed that a 2005 beating left him paralysed. Wu subsequently changed her angry rhetoric, calling her post about bomb threats "inappropriate" and the actions of the police "understandable". She cannot forget her days in detention, but says her mind is still focused on music.

How did you feel when you were told you were to be officially detained?

I thought it was no big deal when the police told me I was being detained for posing a threat to public order and safety. I didn't know what criminal detention was and thought I'd be released in a couple of days. I asked whether I could bring books and I wanted to bring a Bible. The police said yes, but in the end I was not allowed to do so.

When did you begin to realise the severity of the matter?

When the police said I might get a sentence of up to five years. I broke down in tears. A woman police officer told me: "Stop crying. It's not the death sentence." Then I felt even worse and cried harder. I just didn't understand. I'd been working hard and writing about the less privileged. I'd devoted a whole year to promoting the authentic music of the Dong ethnic minority, and given the money from the ticket sales to their singers. I'd never done anyone any harm. How come I was under criminal detention?

What was it like in the detention centre?

My glasses were taken away. I lived like a blind person for 11 days. It's worse than losing your freedom. I couldn't sleep at night. The routine was to get up at 6am, have breakfast at 7am, then do chores, such as sweeping the floor, cleaning the toilet. I was locked up with 20 other women, but my cellmates took care of me because of my passion for singing. I realised what they had gone through was actually more horrible than my experience, so I spent a lot of time listening to their stories. I could do nothing but listen and sympathise. I often think of those women who have lost their freedom, and feel bad for not being able to help. When you see others suffering you cannot act like a spoiled child. Sometimes I was taken for police interviews in handcuffs. Police asked me whether I could make dynamite. I said I could not and I didn't want to. I had never even set off a firecracker in my life.

When did your case take a brighter turn?

When the lawyers who my young brother contacted came to visit. They told me I had not committed a crime, and I began to calm down. But I still could not sleep at night.

Why did the criminal detention change to administrative detention?

I think I owe it to internet users because my lawyers said my detention had caused an uproar and that had probably affected the decision to change it from criminal to administrative detention. The police said it would last 10 days. I would also be fined 500 yuan (HK$629). I felt relieved.

What was it like on the day you were released?

I was released at 3am or 4am. Five or six police officers interviewed me. They looked straight at me and told me to write a letter of repentance. They asked what I wanted to do after I left and warned me not to create a fuss. I said I would focus on my music.

Did you write that letter of repentance?

Yes. I wrote that what I had posted was wrong. I sincerely apologised to my country, and also to my parents because I had not got married. I said I had made a mistake, but I did not commit a crime.

Why did you say you wanted to "blow up" buildings?

I had been watching the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which is translated as "Life's Big Explosions", and Stephen Hawking's Universe, which is translated in Chinese as "The Universe's Big Explosion". There was also the explosion at Beijing airport. I was under pressure because I had quit my job to make music. But things had not gone well with my producers. I was not having a good time. On that day, somehow it occurred to me how badly I was treated when I went to the neighbourhood committee on some errand. "Explosions" was always in my head at that time. I feel sad because all this was due to my obsession with music.

Did you ever think you might be detained for writing a microblog entry?

Of course not. It was a joke, and even police officers who interviewed me got it, but somehow I ended up in detention. I guess it has to do with the level of freedom of speech. Now I finally know there is a line you cannot cross in publishing online. You cannot say "blow up".

What impact has this episode had on your life?

My landlord said I must move out by the end of the month on the day I was released. I am still looking for a home. It is not easy to find a suitable place in Beijing. I quit my job as a journalist because I wanted to devote all my time to music. My band, Street of Happiness, cannot perform in Beijing because it always gets banned one day before the performance. It is not just me being affected; a lot of other people work hard to put on these performances. It is really mean. I could write but that does not interest me. I feel my way of making a smooth living in Beijing is blocked. What I am anxious about now is not my detention and loss of freedom, but the fact that I do not have any income. To pay my lawyer's fees I need to work for a whole year as a musician. I don't understand why people call me a "public intellectual". I am not and I am disgusted [by some so-called public intellectuals].

How much do you like your career as a musician?

I couldn't have lived without my band since it was created in 1999. I gave my heart to every song and every album. Now, selling albums does not make money, but I am still into music. I feel life is worth it as long as I can bring joy and warmth to others, even by singing to the women in my cell. I also hummed songs when I was in the police car.