An extraordinary story of two ordinary Chinese people.

1 arrest

The ancient city of Dali is a small southwestern Chinese town with more than 600 years of history. For visitors from the mainland, the sapphire blue skies of the Yunnan plateau and the white-walled, carved-beam houses are probably the most striking sights. The city is known for its seasonal flowers and plants on the streets and outside the shops, as well as for its vines on the walls, and for its green mountains surrounded by clouds. Both geographically and aesthetically, Dali is like a paradise. Indeed, in the 1990s and the first decade of this century, many poets, writers, artists, and musicians from all over China came to settle here, as well as people who for one reason or another wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle and harassment.

At noon on June 15, 2016, Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were eating rice noodles in a shop. Lu Yuyu bought a rectangular tile bowl on Taobao to grow catnip for the family cat and to attract other cats to play in the house. While eating, the owner of the Taobao station sent several messages to Li Tingyu (they don’t leave their own address when they shop online), urging her to pick up the goods. The frequent urging was a bit unusual, but they didn’t think much of it.

“We ate the rice noodles on the electric bicycle to ride back, the ancient city to sense pass is not far, about seven miles away. To the courier station Jane into the Taobao station to pick up the delivery, Taobao station to the side of the road there is an aisle about 10 meters long, I waited for her in the highway outside the aisle. I had imagined for the umpteenth time what this day would bring and how I would deal with it, but it all happened too fast. But it all happened too fast for me to react, too late for fear, and I was thrown into a black sedan with my hands twisted behind my back and a black hood. I thought maybe they didn’t know Jane was in Taobao – that’s so childish. Jane was escorted out of the Taobao station by several policewomen, shouting my name at the top of their lungs, and put into another sedan. I started to feel bad.” (Lu Yuyu Lu, “Incorrect Memories”)

They are a couple of lovers. They ran a “non-news” blog from 2012 to 2016 dedicated to documenting mass protests in China.

The police ordered Lu Yuyu to show them the way to their apartment. He resists, but knows it’s no use. Besides, the cat was still at home. When he arrived at their place, about a kilometer away, there were already many plainclothes waiting at the entrance. When he got out of the car, he saw that the car that was escorting Li Tingyu had stopped, and she was in the car, with a black hood over her head. That was the last time he saw her.

2 Before the ‘non-news’

Lu Yuyu was born in 1977 in the countryside outside Zunyi, Guizhou. His father, a retired soldier from the People’s Liberation Army, ran a seedling farm in Zunyi in the 1980s at the beginning of the reform and opening-up period, while his mother was self-employed. His parents were the pioneers of their time, the first families in town to become wealthy and to own a television set. My father was elected one of the top 100 self-employed people in China, and my mother was a national March 8th Red Flag bearer.

The youngest, Lu Yuyu, has been living with relatives and teachers since he was nine years old, and only comes home once on weekends. He changed many schools and, in his own words, suffered a lot of bullying, going to the county’s key middle school when he was in middle school. As a teenager, he loved rock music and guitar. In the small county of Guizhou, it was a hobby that was rarely shared. He also joined boys’ gangs and often got into fights. Every time he saw his father, the latter would lecture him about “studying hard” and would not allow him to have other hobbies. He was bored.

In 1989, his cousin, who had participated in the June Fourth Movement, described to him the student protests and sit-ins that took place that year. He also witnessed students blocking the road at a local Chinese medicine school. That’s when he started listening to the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia’s Chinese programs on his shortwave radio.

In 1995, Lu Yuyu enrolled in the Guizhou University of Finance and Economics to study political economy. He didn’t like it at all. He wanted to start a band with his friends and was going to transfer to an art school to study music. But in the second year of college, he and some friends intervened in a gang fight and injured someone. He was sentenced for this and served six years in Zunyi, from ’96 to ’02.

Six years is a long time. But he says prison administration was different then than it is now, and with the lobbying of his family, he was able to read books, play guitar, and watch football games on TV. But during that time, his family had a change of heart, and in 2000, his mother died. His mother was his closest relative, and his father did not inform him until a few days after the funeral, when he arrived at the prison to inform him.

After his release, he moved out of his home and worked in a small advertising shop, making signs and banners for clients. It was at a time when the Internet was emerging in China, and like many young people living in isolated and small living spaces, he found freedom online. In his first few years online, he mainly looked for and listened to music. His tastes later shifted to Goths and Darkwave,” he says.

“I was very into that at the time,” he says. As he worked, he started a blog to collect his favorite music and bands, and went in and out of online music forums. At the time, the Internet wasn’t taboo in China (or the Communist Party hadn’t yet developed a strict censorship system), and Google was still operating in China.

Lu Yuyu didn’t want to stay in Zunyi. He felt out of place with the environment and didn’t think like his childhood friends. He felt that if he didn’t leave, he would “rot here. He started to work in Yunnan and Zhejiang; in construction sites, factories, and Internet cafes. Then he was invited by the proprietor of the “China Underground Music Website” to Yinchuan, where he became the chief moderator, responsible for introducing bands, uploading music files and managing the forum. But the site closed down before it started making money.

He said that while he didn’t feel anything unusual about his life, there was a constant feeling of depression. “I didn’t know what it came from specifically.”

In 2010, he returned to compliance. He was in love with a girl, making plans to get married and settle down. Rural people are limited by the segregated household registration system and have few opportunities to enter the system for regular work. In the process of urbanization, the majority of the rural population, only to work odd jobs, or do a little business on the ground stalls, or even mixed triads. The couple later broke up.

3 Images of human rights advocacy between the 2000s and 2013*

The human rights movement in China began in the early 2000s, with landmark events such as the Sun Zhigang deportation case (2003), the investigation and punishment of the Southern Metropolis Daily for exposing Sass (2004), the sentencing of Cai Zhuohua for printing a Bible (2004), Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer, exposing and protesting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners (2005), and independent candidates running for grassroots deputies to the National People’s Congress (2005). (2003-2006), the recall of village officials by Taishi villagers (2005), the discussion of constitutional government by civil scholars and lawyers (2003-2008), the Chen Guangcheng Livelihood Settlement case (2005-2006), the civil society participation triggered by the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan (2008), the Beijing Lawyers’ Advocacy for Direct Elections of the Law Society (2008), and Charter 08 (2008), etc. But these were mainly led by scholars, opinion leaders, bloggers, and lawyers.

But these were mainly events led by academics, opinion leaders, bloggers, and lawyers, and leveraged the market media, which was still relatively large at the time.

In May 2007, the first Twitter-like social networking site in China, “Fanfu”, appeared, attracting a large number of users. By the first half of 2009, the number of users had exceeded one million, including a large number of ordinary people who were concerned about social events and political transformation since the beginning of the 2000’s. In 2009, on the tenth anniversary of June Fourth, a large number of photos of the 1989 pro-democracy movement appeared on Fanfu; in July 2009, during the riots in Urumqi, a large number of photos of the 1989 pro-democracy movement appeared on Fanfu. Rice became the fastest and largest tool for disseminating information.In August, the Chinese authorities shut down Rice.

In August 2009, Sina Weibo was born, and within about a year, several other social media such as Netease Weibo and Tencent Weibo emerged. By April 2011, the number of registered users of Sina Weibo passed the 100 million mark.

For the average Chinese, whether it’s SF or Sina, the emergence of Weibo is a passionate speech revolution and a silent social revolution. The average person, no matter where he or she is, can get information from all over the world through the Internet, and can “meet” anyone on the Internet, where people with similar interests can gather, communicate, organize and make friends. What happened before in a village or town no one knows about, but through the Internet, they can quickly become national public events, such as the May 2009 stabbing of a young woman named Deng Yujiao by a local official who tried to rape her in a small town in Badong, Hubei province; or the December 2010 murder of a village chief named Qian Yunhui in Yueqing, Zhejiang province, who was killed by a local official after leading villagers to resist land confiscation for years. A construction vehicle ran over the death.

Between 2009 and 2011, there were two iconic figures who pushed activism to a broader level of public participation. One was Beijing artist Ai Weiwei, and the other was Chen Guangcheng, a blind, barefoot lawyer from Shandong Province.

Just to name a few. In the aftermath of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Ai Weiwei mobilized dozens of volunteers in Sichuan to investigate and count the number of students killed in jerry-built school buildings, clashed frequently with local officials and the police, and was beaten by plainclothes police on more than one occasion. On May 12, 2010, Ai Weiwei released on the Internet a large-scale sound piece, Nian Nian, an audio clip of thousands of people reading the names of 5,196 students who died. This is what I heard when I walked into the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. a few years ago to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition.

When Ai Weiwei’s studio in Shanghai was notified of its demolition in November 2010, he hosted a “river crab banquet” at his studio, which was attended by nearly a thousand netizens from all over China.

On November 1, 2011, Chinese authorities fined Ai Weiwei’s studio RMB15,220,910 (approximately $2.34 million) for tax evasion. Ai Weiwei turned this into a larger online campaign, launching a campaign to borrow money from Internet users and designing elaborate IOUs. In just two weeks, nearly 30,000 netizens “borrowed” money from Ai Weiwei. Some even folded the yuan into an airplane and dropped it into the courtyard of Ai Weiwei’s studio in Caochangdi, Beijing. The Global Times editorial mocked this, saying, “Ai Weiwei’s ‘borrowing money to pay back taxes’ is too dramatic. It was indeed dramatic, and at the same time the most innovative social mobilization. Arguably, many of China’s civil rights activists of the past decade have been directly or indirectly associated with it.

Immediately after Chen Guangcheng was released from prison on September 9, 2010, after serving a four-year sentence for leading villagers against violent family planning, he and his wife were placed under house arrest 24/7 by dozens of local government-employed people and forbidden to go outside. Surveillance cameras and cell phone shields were installed in front of his home and on the road outside; bright lights shone in and around his yard at night. Netizens across the country began spontaneously visiting Chen Guangcheng in the ancient village of Dongshi in Shandong Province, where he was intercepted, beaten, abused, robbed, or forcibly repatriated. Netizens posted these experiences to social media, prompting more netizens to visit Dongshi Gu. The visit to Chen Guangcheng became an intense social media campaign that lasted a year and a half, until Chen Guangcheng’s successful escape in 2012. I remember when I first registered my Weibo account in the fall of 2011, almost many liberal public intellectuals on Weibo and a large number of netizens were using avatars with sunglasses. Without a platform like Weibo, such a rights consciousness and social movement could not have emerged and built up so quickly.

This is why, between 2012 and 2013, Communist Party propaganda officials and the party media continued to send urgent signals that social media was a lost battleground that the Communist Party must regain, even though censorship was already tightening and Weibo had already begun to implement a real-name system in 2011.

4 Beginning

Lu Yuyu is one of those more than 100 million Sina Weibo users. He started using Weibo in 2011, attracted by the waves of enthusiasm surrounding Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng. But he neither lent money to Ai Weiwei, nor did he want to go to Dongshigu. Seeing so many people going to Dongshigu to be beaten up, he sent out a tweet saying, “Instead of going to Linyi to get beaten up, you should go to Beijing.

With that sentence, the police in Zunyi found him. During questioning at the police station, the police asked him why he told everyone to go to Beijing. He said truthfully, I felt that if I wanted to get Chen Guangcheng out, going to Dongshigu might not be a good idea, and that going to Beijing to exert pressure might be more effective.

The police made a statement and released him. That was the first time the police looked for him.

Lu Yuyu went to Shanghai soon after that. His sister ran a small clothing store in Shanghai, and he found a job installing pipes at a construction site. In March 2012, more than a dozen activists in Guangzhou were arrested by the police after they held up a sign demanding Hu Jintao to take the lead in disclosing his assets and demanding the right to free elections in the busiest commercial district. Many people online took photos in solidarity with them. Lu Yuyu wanted to give it a try, too. Although he is already a 35-year-old man, he is a man of few words and an introvert, and his fear of holding up a sign in public is deeper than the fear of being arrested and sent to jail. He tried to find a partner to go with him and didn’t find one. He hesitated in front of the Shanghai Municipal Government for a long time, but finally, on busy Nanjing Road, he made up his mind to hold up his sign, took a picture and left in a hurry. He posted the photo online to express his solidarity with his friends in Guangzhou.

His sign read: officials disclose property. Give us back our ballots.

Two days later, the police found him at the construction site. He was working and was covered in ash. They took him to the police station and released him after a day of interrogation. He was forbidden to stay in Shanghai. Then he went to Sanya, Hainan for a while, couldn’t stay, and returned to Shanghai. On his first day back in Shanghai he was found by the police. He was detained for 10 days. The police also harassed his sister. No choice, Lu Yuyu had to leave Shanghai again.

This is October 2012. Wu Kam (better known as The Butcher), who was famous and respected by activists at many public events during those years, asks Lu Yuyu to go to Fujian, where a friend of Wu’s gives him a call. There, a friend of Kam Wu’s found him a job in a plastic factory.

In Fuzhou, he doesn’t use his ID card, and life is relatively settled. Working during the day and having free time in the evenings and weekends, he started to do one thing. He started to search for the group protests that were often seen on various microblogs at that time, and then he started to post them on his microblog. He’s an experienced searcher.

He said Weibo wasn’t very good at deleting incidents of advocacy groups at the time. He only had one cell phone, and he searched less at first. “At the beginning I remember I could search eight or nine times a day, and after a week or two it started to increase gradually, with more than 20 searches a day. The following year, he bought an iPad and worked more smoothly. He would make copies of the searches, save the pictures, and post them to Weibo with the source account attached, sometimes one, sometimes several. After a few months, the more searches he did, the more he searched each day, the more he began to feel overwhelmed and physically and mentally fatigued. He tried to find someone to do it with and couldn’t. His account @darkmamu survives for a few days, or a month, and then gets deleted, or sometimes it survives a little longer. When it is deleted, he re-registers his account, called “Reincarnation”. At his peak he had about 10,000 followers.

By April or May of 2013, he felt he could no longer do this while working. The pressure to survive was real, and it was something he had to face every day. He was going to give up. He felt there was little point in doing it if he couldn’t do it full time. When he expressed this intention on Weibo, he did not expect many people to follow his account. Many people on Weibo, including several very active opinion leaders in protest circles, such as Yan Jinfeng, Mo Zhixu, and Wu Qiang, a professor at Tsinghua University who observes and studies social movements, offered to help him keep this going. People began crowdfunding for him, and for the first time, they received more than 20,000 RMB in donations.

5 Li Tingyu and the ‘Non-News’ blog

Li Tingyu was then one of the many young people who followed Lu Yuyu on Weibo. In early 2013, she went to Guangzhou to participate in a protest against the censorship and revision of the Southern Weekend New Year’s message. Because of this experience, she became a target of the attention of the political police. She has been interrogated by the National Security, and political teachers at her school have often warned her.

She and Lu Yuyu chatted on Twitter through private messages, and they talked more into 2013. In the spring, she started working with him and became a couple. He was in charge of searching and posting the information he found on Weibo; she was in charge of archiving collections.

But she wasn’t just in charge of archiving collections. She upgraded Lu Yu Yu’s work.

First, she started a blog called “news worth knowing”, where she uploaded daily searches and pictures. The information gathered is tweeted. Their work became more formal and professional.

In August 2013, Lu Yuyu moved from Fuzhou to Zhuhai and they rented an apartment together. Lu Yuyu searched more and more every day, and Li Tingyu’s workload increased. “At the end of 13 to 14 years, Tencent Weibo and QQ space can still be searched,” Lu Yuyu said. “She did it every day, and it would be backlogged for about five or six days if she couldn’t finish it. Too much, especially to the month before the Spring Festival, a lot of migrant workers for wages. A casual search every day, there could be dozens of cases, hundreds of pictures. When there’s a bigger incident, there might be thousands of pictures. She couldn’t do it all. I remember finding someone on the internet to help out, but after that person had been doing it for a week, the National Security came to the door and searched his computer as well.”

Of course National Security found them too. “If I break your laws,” he told the police, “you can arrest me.” The police didn’t arrest them, but harassment ensued. Landlords were pressured to move out; people threatened them from windows; people cut their water pipes.

Shortly after the Chinese New Year in 2014, they both left Zhuhai and moved to Dali. Li Tingyu did not go through withdrawal procedures and automatically abandoned her studies in her last semester at university, leaving with Lu Yuyu.

After arriving in Dali, they began a life of isolation, reducing their contact with the outside world to a minimum. Dali was a tourist city with many foreigners and cheap prices. They live in an inn for about one thousand dollars a month (about $160 USD) and can change their place of residence frequently. Lu Yuyu not only doesn’t use a cell phone, but she doesn’t use her own ID card. Lee Tingyu uses a phone card. They use a VPN to access the Internet and post messages.

They work at least eight hours a day, and if they don’t keep up, the work can pile up. On weekends or long holiday days, when there is less content, they go out on their bikes, to Erhai, to Xizhou; sometimes they go shopping in the ancient city, listen to a band, or sit in a small bar.

Sometimes a foreign journalist would contact him online about an event, which to some extent enhanced Lu Yuyu’s professional awareness of seeking to verify the authenticity of information. “The first step is to seek confirmation through multiple sources: there are different sources of information about the same event that can confirm each other, along with pictures, videos, and geographic information. Some incidents occur in remote locations with few sources of information, sometimes even only one. In this case, you can judge by the pictures and videos, and then contact the person who sent the information to confirm it. For more detailed information, such as the cause of the incident and the number of people demonstrating, we usually contact the person as well. Information like the number of arrests, the source may not say on Twitter.” The good news is that those who sent the original information to Weibo wanted to spread the information. When Lu Yu Yu approached them for confirmation, they were more than willing to talk.

Their last post before they were arrested was on June 13, 2016, documenting 94 incidents, types of which included workers protesting unpaid wages, farmers protesting environmental pollution and land confiscation, evictees protesting government and developer breach of trust, property owners defending their rights over property rights or management services, investors protesting financing scams, and veterans protesting unfair treatment. Among them, pan-Asian investors rallied at the State Bureau of Letters and Visits in Beijing to recover their investment money, attended by tens of thousands; demobilized soldiers rallied at the Central Military Commission’s Letters and Visits Bureau to demand the implementation of rank treatment and confirmation of cadre status, attended by 2,100 people.

Over 13 days in June, they recorded a total of 840 protests, ranging from 34 per day to 110 per day. These recordings, including photos and videos, were posted daily on Twitter.

Active Twitter users probably feel the same way: when they see accounts that post content on a regular basis and never participate in conversations or send any information about their lives, they are always confused and distrustful of who is behind it and what their motives are. It’s hard to imagine @wickedonnaa being behind such a millennial named Li Tingyu, a girl who is as ordinary as can be. She, Lu Yu Yu, is doing a tough job. They only have 17K followers and not a lot of retweets, usually between a few and a dozen tweets. But that doesn’t seem to affect their ability to keep up this work day after day. Over the years, they’ve documented over 70,000 mass protests.

They are passionate about this work. “There’s a sense of accomplishment after every day’s work,” says Luu Yuu. “Because these things are not available anywhere else, we’re the only ones doing it.”

They collected the major protests that took place during those years.In March 2014, more than 10,000 people in Maoming marched to protest the government’s construction of a PX (aromatic hydrocarbon) project.In April 2014, more than a dozen factories and nearly 100,000 workers at Yueyuan Shoe in Dongguan, Guangdong province, went on strike to protest the company’s deception of employees on the purchase of social security benefits, resulting in workers receiving little pension after retirement. Also in April 2014, in a small town in Cangnan County, Zhejiang Province, city officials clashed with vendors, and a middle-aged man was beaten with a hammer by five city officials for taking photos next to him until he vomited blood and died. Angry crowds began to surround the five city managers, then thousands of protesters smashed police cars, ambulances, city law enforcement vehicles and overturned.

Lu Yuyu noted, “Protests like the city manager beating, in 2013, there was definitely a larger average of one per week, tens of thousands of people. But I remember very clearly that after the Cangnan City Pipe beating incident, the large-scale protests triggered by similar incidents were significantly less. I guess the government has a special kind of early warning mechanism for such incidents. If people gather on the street, they might arrive within minutes to take care of it, and there wouldn’t be a time lag to fester like there was before. It’s not that city officials don’t beat people up now, but there’s no time or space for fermentation among the public now.”

He said, “Demonstrations on the environmental front have also declined massively since ’14, unlike in 2012 and 2013, when there were a lot of them. after 2014, the government should have done something to deal with this situation specifically.”

Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu have lived in Dali for more than two years is more quiet, beautiful. Lu Yuyu said. “We spend a lot of time working every day. I talk less, she asks me about my childhood, and sometimes she tells me things about her, like announcing at the school radio station when I was in high school. More often than not, she does hers and I do mine.”

He’s in charge of grocery shopping and cooking every day. She doesn’t pick and choose, she eats everything. They have a cat, called Stinky. Lu Yuyu has a guitar and plays it when he has time. Sometimes, Li Tingyu longed for a social life, but such a desire had to be given up because they needed to hide. In those two years, except for seeing a friend once or twice, they abandoned any relationship, even if they knew from the Internet that a friend had come to Dali, they did not contact each other. Sometimes Li Tingyu would buy some small things, and when she bought too many, she blamed Lu Yuanyu for not restraining her a bit. “Life has been hard for the two of them, just a little luxury,” he told her. They hardly ever quarreled.

6 Danger Approaches.

Lu Yuyu has a premonition of the danger that will eventually come.

In 2014 and before, his Sina Weibo posts had a high number of retweets, some of which could go to tens of thousands, or at least hundreds; when they reached a certain number, the posts would be deleted. But starting in 2015, his posts netizens were often unable to retweet them. A reincarnated variant of his @darkmamu account would be deleted as soon as it was discovered. People would private message him on Twitter asking strange things like paying to delete a certain message.

Once he received a notification of two-step authentication of his Gmail email, and he knew that someone was trying to log into his email from a different location.

One day when they were riding their motorbikes in the ancient city, a man suddenly appeared by the roadside, and Lu Yu Yu panicked to avoid him, and he and Li Tingyu both fell to the ground. The man didn’t help or apologize, and a woman and three men, who were in the same group as the man, stood by on the road. “They didn’t look like tourists and they weren’t dressed like tourists. I felt very wrong. I wasn’t very angry at the time, and Li Tingyu said a few words about them. It’s just some of these signs, or maybe it’s normal, or maybe I’m thinking too much, it’s all stuff that’s not clear.”

He commissioned a friend to archive the non-news site.

He never discussed the possibility of being arrested with Lee Tingyu. But, “She also knew that if we went ahead with this thing, we would definitely get locked up. I seem to remember a reporter once asking me what my plans were, and I said to keep doing it until we got caught going to the point where we couldn’t do it.”

“I remember when I was arrested and went in, I saw on the file that it was ‘1517 provocation case’. That could have been the date the authorities set up the task force. The timing coincided with the time I felt a significant change had occurred. I could sense that this was not a local case in Dali, and it was confirmed later that it was a task force for the Ministry of Public Security. They had already set up a task force before they even found out where we were. Once they found us, they entrusted it to the Dali police and the National Security to handle. When they arraigned me, they always had a list in their hands. And the information that they have on the case, it’s not something that a city public security bureau can obtain, because in Sina Weibo, that information is deleted, some of it has been deleted for years, but they have it all.”

7 Released.

On 7 November 2016, Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu received the 2016 “Press Freedom Award” from Reporters Without Borders. Also awarded in the same year were Syrian journalist Hadi Abdullah** and China’s June 4, 2016 network**.

In prison, Lu Yuyu insists on pleading not guilty. He told Deutsche Welle recently, “Once they upgraded my case to ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ which carries a sentence of more than seven years, but I still didn’t plead guilty. Then they sent it back to the prosecutor’s office and changed it to ‘provoking trouble’ and sentenced me to four years in jail. The prosecutor would come to see me every half month and would ask me if I had been given a chance, saying that this was my last chance, and that if I didn’t plead guilty I would be given a very heavy sentence.”

While in prison, he suffered from severe depression and was unable to get treatment.

Released on June 15, 2020, the first day after his 43rd birthday, Lu Yuyu was spun around and sent straight back to Zunyi in Guizhou by police. While he was in prison, he learned from prosecutors that Li Tingyu had been sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation.

The first thing Lu Yuyu did after his release from prison was to look for Jane Li Tingyu. He asked Li Tingyu’s lawyer and other friends, but no one had any news about Li Tingyu. He sent out a tweet, “Jane, please contact me if you see the news.” Maybe she’ll read the tweet.

Finally he found Li Tingyu’s mother on WeChat. She told him that Li Tingyu was married and asked him to stop looking for her. He didn’t believe her.

Later they spoke once. She said she had a new life, but “she was crying all the time.” She said she had a hard time the three years she was out. She also said that the three happiest years of her life were the three years she was with Lu Yu Yu. After that phone call, they never contacted him again. “I could tell from the phone call that day that she was pretty scared,” Lu Yuu said. “She didn’t even call on her own phone, she was taking someone else’s phone.” He resolved not to bother her again, hoping she would gain peace.

When Lu Yuyu was released from prison, he found that the current political environment is even worse than it was four years ago. “China’s grid is all-encompassing and doesn’t give you any space,” he says. “In the virtual space, it won’t let you make your voice heard; in the real space, it gives you no place to stand, makes you bow down, and some people are even threatened to be informants.” Indeed, the human rights movement, after nearly a decade of waves of exterminating repression, seems to have fallen apart and become more fragmented; arbitrary detention has become more arbitrary, and prolonged detention without sentence or secret trials are becoming the norm.

To Lu Yuyu’s surprise, past netizens have not forgotten him. Two months after his release from prison, he received 75 letters from both signed and anonymous netizens. He started a #tanning hashtag on Twitter to post these letters. During his four years in prison, he received only one letter and one postcard. The letter came from a human rights activist, Sister Wang Lihong, who also lived in Dali at the time, and the postcard came from an anonymous person with just four words: “more sunshine”.

“The Internet has memories, we all do. Everything you do is meaningful and valuable, and there are many people who are still hanging on to you and thanking you.”

“Rather than writing this letter to you, it is written to my pain and conscience …… I do not have the courage and strength to do what you have done, nor do I have the capital and guts to flee away, I can only think of you and continue to live cowardly.”

A few days ago, a blogger shared with him the joy and sense of freedom he felt when flying high in an airplane for no apparent reason.

But back home, he told the Voice of America, he had no friends and no one to understand him. His Communist father advised, “Don’t do anything bad.” His relatives urged him to “do something decent and stop acting like that.” Anyway, everyone thought that he had done something shameful.

The police, of course, took the greatest care of him. After his release, the authorities required him to report to the general administration office of the police station, and to inform them that they would monitor his mobile phone after he had completed his phone card. There is usually a police officer in charge of him and he needs to be kept informed at all times. He was warned not to return to Dali, not to go to Beijing, Shanghai or Xinjiang; he had to report to them when he went abroad. In the autumn he went away for a month, visiting Sichuan, Fujian and Guangdong and meeting friends. In Guangzhou, he was evicted by the police. Recently the police have been pressuring his landlord to force him to move out.

Will he continue his “non-journalistic” work or something similar? We want to know, and the police monitoring him want to know even more. Impossible, he said, I’m going to do this again, and I’ll be back in jail in a month.

In the summer, he started writing about his four years in prison, titled “Incorrect Memory. He had finished writing the caretaker part. Next write the prison part. He shared part of it on Twitter. Surprisingly, he’s a very good writer. His writing, like his character, is very tart, but precise. The brutality of prison, even on paper, is enough to make one flinch. I hope to write about this topic in another article.

“I’m no hero,” he says.