Monday, December 11, 2006

Ryan Pyle Blog: Followed: Zhejiang PSB

note: PSB = Public Security Bureau.

And, begin:

It is not often that I am followed in China.

I know that statement may not seem true to many of my readers who live in Western Europe or North America, but its my reality. For the most part, China is opening up, and I travel extensively, photographing various issues and generally enjoying freedom to point my lens at almost anything I choose. Who would have thought that I would get in to trouble in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

Zhejiang Province is China's most progressive. Zhejiang Province was the first of its kind to allow private ownership and allow private industry. It's population is well educated and the province is home to China's most beautiful city, Hangzhou. For those who aren't familiar with Hangzhou, it is home to China's famous West Lake. It was Marco Polo's favourite stop, and for entirely different reasons it is my favorite city in eastern China. And above all else, it's home to Internet wonderboy Jack Ma, CEO of

So, tonight I arrive by car from Shanghai. The weather was bad and all I wanted to do was get in to the hotel, rest and relax; the next few days are going to be busy. I drift out of the hotel with my writing partner and pop accross the street for a Starbucks for a bit of food and a juice, and while I am sitting on the second floor engaging in a good chat, two men in bad wind breakers come in and sit at the table accross from me. They both have leather man bags, or European carry-alls, they both look at me no less than 3 times on the way past and when they sat down they just sat there and starred over at me. They hadn't ordered any food or drink.

So essentially China's very secret, secret police were sitting opposite us in Starbucks and they were acting like two undercover cops in a bad cops and robbers movie; straight out of a pirated DVD of Starsky & Hutch.

With these two police officers watching our every move, we get up to leave the Starbucks and sure enough they follow, less than 20 seconds behind us as we leave the door and exit out to street level. We make one more stop in a small noodle shop and then head back to the hotel. I head up to the room and it isn't 10 minutes before I am called down by the police. That showed a bit of class, usually they prefer to intimidate in the privacy of our rooms, not the lobby of a 5-star hotel. They wanted to check the passport, view the visa and see how my stay was in Hangzhou. I told them it was fine up until about 30 minutes ago.

When asked why 4 police officers had to come and ask for my passport, the reply was simply - "they work with me". Shocking. When I asked them why I they had to see my passport they replied, because we want to make sure your visa is valid. Shocking. After explaining that I had entered China legally and registared at the hotel with a valid visa, the police officer still insisted that I follow the law of Zhejiang Province in the Peoples Republic of China. Shocking.

I hand over my passport and he views it. And gives it back. I ask if we are finished. He says yes. I shake his hand sincerely and walk back up to my room and write this blog. Fresh from the scene. Less than 30minutes has past.

Disturbing as this first interaction was, for the 3 days that followed we were followed (day and night) so closely that it was uncomfortable and almost claustrophobic. When I stepped in to an elevator our minder stepped in with us. When we sat to have lunch they ate at the table beside us. When we hired a taxi for a tour around town, the black honda was just inches from our rear bumper. Imagine 3 days like that. Exhausting. The Chinese government just used their man power to wear us down, hour by hour, day by day. There was no being secretive, there was no hiding behind trees - they were in our face during the entire trip.

I have written a lot in pervious blogs how China is progressing. So when I visit Hangzhou to do a story about and Jack Ma, the last thing I am expecting is a "1985-like minder". I am trying to be positive about the direction that China is moving in. I even went to Hangzhou to do a really positive story about and there 5000 employees, and how this company is quickly become one of the most successful internet companies in the world. I wanted to write a blog today about Jack, but I was too frustrated about being followed at an obnoxious distance. The policed state of China shows its ugly face yet again.

The most hilarious part of this whole story is that just last week the Beijing authorities came out and told the world that they are going to ease restrictions on foreign journalists between now and the Olympics, in an effort to ease difficulties and allow freer movement. Apparently that memo never made it to Zhejiang Province.

I am curious to know what will happen before, and during, the Olympics in 2008 when 10,000 registared Foreign Journalists decend on China to report. Will this new policy of freedom hold up, or will there be shocking results. I wonder how many times I'll be followed and harassed between now and August 8th, 2008 at 8pm when the opening ceremonies kick off.

As is too often the case in China:
Beijing: One step forwards.
Provinces: Two steps back.

Welcome to China, open for business.

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle


  1. Anonymous21:05

    haha, this is the Destroyer speaking. Although I totally totally side with you, I still think it's unfair and misleading to accuse the PSB of harassing without giving the exact reason why you were harassed.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I agree that I should perhaps give a little more information as to why I was being followed, but for that I would have to implement people I was with and that would not be fair.

    But lets look at the deeper reasoning, when is this behavior justified at all? I am a journalist and all I was interested in doing was talking to some people; and those people were Chinese citizens. And because of that the Zhejiang PSB made Hangzhou feel like Lybia.

    My reason for blogging about his in the first place was to indicate that this kind of thing still happens in China, and it happens regularly and in the big "open" cities.

    Ryan Pyle
    Skype: ryanpyle



This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle