China’s Club Fed: A Look Inside Qincheng Prison

China’s Club Fed: A Look Inside Qincheng Prison
May 06, 2012 By

Editor’s note: The following article was translated and edited from an article that appeared in the Shenzhen Economic Daily newspaper. The article provides a surprisingly candid introduction to the history of Qincheng Prison, including its Soviet roots, the treatment of the prisoners (many of who were/are high officials) and its inevitable "retirement".

Qincheng Prison (秦城监狱), undoubtedly the most well-known in China, is a maximum security prison located in the Changping District of Beijing near the town of Xiaotangshan. The prison was built in 1958 with aid from the Soviet Union (while China and the USSR were still in their "honeymoon" phase). At that time, the Soviet Union was assisting China with 157 projects related to the economy and national defense construction, and Qincheng Prison was #156. Due to its secrecy, the name of the prison was not publicized, so it was publicly referred to as project #156. Qincheng Prison is the only prison in China that belongs to the Ministry of Public Security; the Ministry of Justice operates all other prisons.

The 50-year history of detention at Qincheng Prison can be divided into four periods. In the first period, which lasted until the 1960s, most prisoners were old Manchu officials, Japanese prisoners of war, and KMT nationalist war criminals of Major General rank and above. During the second period, the Cultural Revolution, most prisoners were high-level Rightists and so-called "Counter-Revolutionary Leaders". During the third period, which took place in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, most prisoners were those associated with Lin Biao and the "Gang of Four". In the fourth period, which has been ongoing since the 90s, most of the prisoners have been provincial (governor) and ministerial level corrupt officials. Generally speaking, ordinary criminals are sent to a prison in the same area there they were tried but for high-ranking corrupt officials sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or simply serving time, regardless of where they are sentenced, they only get sent to Qincheng Prison. That is to say, not just anyone can serve their sentence at Qincheng Prison – it is therefore perhaps the final "privilege given to corrupt officials.

Architectural features

Qincheng Prison has four three-story brick buildings that serve as jail houses that are named after the celestial stems Jia (甲), Yi (乙), Bing (丙) and Ding (丁). Prison cells are about 20 sq. m, each with its own toilet. The walls of cells for major criminals are specially padded with rubber to ensure that the prisoners cannot commit suicide by running into the walls. The only furniture in each cell is a small bed set about a foot off the ground, and when a prisoner wants to write a "confession", a school desk will be provided. However, perhaps as an added suicide prevention measure, a stool will never be provided, and the prisoner will be made to sit on their bed instead. In addition, edges and corners have been smoothed down rounded over on all permanent indoor facilities, and wire, broken glass, rope or cloth and anything else that may be used to commit suicide are strictly prohibited.

The door to the cell is plated in iron, with a peephole at toilet level and at eye level. Guards for the cells monitor the rooms constantly. The common prison cells include a small window two metres off the ground. The window is inclined and opens outward from the top and is coated with white paint, so prisoners can see the sky, but nothing else. Prison cells for high-ranking prisoners include two frosted glass windows. In 1967, Qincheng Prison following a Soviet design, added six more prison houses, continuing the celestial stem order as Wu (戊), Ji (己), Geng (庚), Xin (辛), Ren (壬), Kui (癸).

The treatment of prisoners

After the construction of the prison was completed in 1960, up until 1967 when Qincheng Prison was placed under the administration of the "Military Control Commission of the 13th Bureau", the treatment of prisoners in the original four prison houses was actually quite high, especially for the highest level prisoners. Each of the 204 high-level prison cells was about 20 sq. m large, carpeted and furnished with a sofa bed. These prisoners' meal standards were set according to their ministerial level, and were procured by the prison authorities at the "34th Ministry of Supply" at Donghuamen in Beijing. Breakfast included milk, and both lunch and dinner included two dishes and a soup, and each prisoner was given an apple from cold storage after the meal. The person responsible for cooking for the 204 high-level prison cells was a Class B chef that had been transferred to Qincheng Prison from the Beijing Hotel. The dishes he served included shark's fin and sea cucumbers. The prison also includes a small clinic, health care doctors and nurses.

According to descriptions given by those who have visited in more recent years, high officials still receive special living conditions at Qincheng Prison. Their prison cells are larger than ordinary cells, and some are furnished with desks, bathrooms, sitting toilets and washing machines. For some of the high-level prisoners, in addition to the allotted time for reading books and the newspaper (People's Daily), they are also aloud to watch television from 19:00-21:00.  And some high-level prisoners who are in poor health are given four "state standard" meals per day, and can receive private care by family members. The family can also provide these prisoners with basic necessities including clothing – although prisoners are given uniforms, they are generally not required to wear them.

Corrupt officials who have called Qincheng Prison "home" in recent years

1) Former NPC (National People's Congress) Vice Chairman, Cheng Kejie (成克杰), sentenced to death in July 2000.
2) Former Mayor of Beijing, Chen Xitong (陈希同), sentenced to 16 years in prison in July 1998.
3) Former China Mobile Group Party Secretary, Zhang Chunjiang (张春江), given a suspended death penalth in July 2011.
4) Former Ministry of Public Security Vice Minister, Li Jizhou (李纪周), given a suspended death penalty in October 2001.
5) Former Governor of Yunnan Province, Li Jiating (李嘉廷), given a suspended death penalty in May 2003.
6) Former Guizhou Provincial Party Secretary, Liu Fangren (刘方仁), sentenced to life in prison in June 2004.
7) Former Ministry of Land and Resources Minister, Tian Fengshan (田凤山), sentenced to life in prison in December 2005.
8) Former National Bureau of Statistics Director, Qiu Xiaohua (邱晓华), sentenced to one year in prison for the offence of bigamy 

9) Former Construction Bank Chairman, Zhang Enzhao (张恩照), sentenced to 15 years in prison in November 2006.
10) Former Vice Mayor of Beijing, Liu Zhihua (刘志华), given a suspended death penalty in January 2009.

About to exit the stage of history

In August 2000, construction began on Yancheng Prison (燕城监狱) in the town of Yanjiao in Hebei Province. In 2009, the first phase of the prison was completed and put to use, supplying detention and rehabilitation functions. In the future, Yancheng Prison will primarily house central and provincial level officials guilty of "duty crimes" (职务犯罪) as well as foreign national prisoners, as well as common criminals deemed worth researching. Once Yancheng Prison is fully operational, it is likely that Qingcheng Prison will "retire" and be changed into a common lockup for prisoners awaiting trial.

Source: szsb.sznews

Related links
Catch Me if You Can: How Many Fugitives are There in China?
The Worst of the Worst: China's Most Infamous Criminals
The Godfathers: Inside Old Shanghai's Underworld

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Keywords: Qincheng Prison China prison treatment in China famous Chinese prison prison for corrupt Chinese officials


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