On 9 September 2011, the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death, Shanghai dermatologist Dr Chao, along with dozens of other petitioners, gathered in Tiananmen Square. Dr Chao was there to protest his detention a month earlier while seeking redress for unfair dismissal. The police responded by detaining 36 petitioners, including Dr Chao, and sending them all back to Shanghai.
They took us to the police station, and then they sent us to the so called Beijing Assistance Centre and got somebody from the Shanghai government representative office to reclaim us. They said that we had been disturbing the peace. But we were not. I did not have a single piece of petitioning documentation. I challenged them to prove that I was petitioning.
Despite being detained for a total of 15 days, Dr Chao was back in Beijing a few weeks later in order to gather evidence for a new complaint against the Public Security Bureau. While he was in the capital, Dr Chao talked on the telephone to CLB Director Han Dongfang in Hong Kong about his search for justice after being fired six years earlier from his posts as a lecturer at Shanghai Second Medical University and as a practising dermatologist at the university-affiliated Xinhua Hospital.
Dr Chao lost both posts when Shanghai Second Medical University was merged with Shanghai’s prestigious Jiaotong University in 2005. Despite his relatively senior position and professional qualifications, Dr Chao was simply notified of his dismissal verbally, with no written notice. No alternative employment arrangements were made for him.
They used the merger as an excuse to get rid of me. Everybody has their shortcomings and makes mistakes, but I was not so bad a doctor as to justify this. I was left without any salary or benefits. So of course, I made a fuss.
Dr Chao was urged to take his complaint up with Jiaotong University because his paperwork should have been transferred there. However, Jiaotong told him that the paperwork was the responsibility of his now non-existent former employers and refused to take any further action.
A revolutionary martyr
Dr Chao claimed that his dismissal was related to the manner in which he was first employed at Shanghai Second Medical University and its affiliated Xinhua Hospital.
I will tell you the real reason why this happened. I am a member of a revolutionary martyr’s family. My father was killed in an accident in a tunnel construction project in Shanghai in 1985. The local government awarded me, as his elder son, a special ‘revolutionary martyr’ title. Xu Kuangdi (Shanghai Mayor 1995-2001) ordered that work be found for me at Shanghai Second Medical University and its affiliated hospital. The Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Education, the Party committee and Municipal Education Commission all worked together to fix this up.
Dr Chao explained that managers at the Xinhua Hospital and Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital, where he was working at the time, did not appreciate this municipal government and Party intervention, made as part of their “twin support policy” (双拥政策) designed to look after the relatives of soldiers and members of the public who died performing meritorious service.
Xinhua Hospital said that they would happily receive me, including the Party and government leaders and the deputy director, but right up to the end of my third year there, the secretary of the Party education committee did not arrange for the transfer of my employment documentation to Xinhua … So the former director of Xinhua, who had been promoted to director of Shanghai Second Medical University, did a very bad thing. He said you must go back to Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital. I said I’m not going anywhere.
Chao reported this conversation to the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Education and was told not to worry. He was told he should just carry on working at Xinhua Hospital and that his salary would be paid as usual. However, the tensions between the local Party and Chao’s direct employers remained unresolved. At the time of the merger, an attempt was made to buy him off with a compensation offer if he would take a separate job at Jiaotong, but not as a doctor. Chao refused the offer.
I told them that I had studied dermatology and, whether or not they arrange a job for me in that field, I am a medical professional and I am a teacher, and those facts cannot be disregarded.
Taking the authorities to court
It was then that Dr Chao was sacked. For three years between 2005 and 2008, he tried to get his job back, negotiating with Jiaotong University and appealing to the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Education, Municipal Education Commission and other authorities. “I went to work, but they would not let me in. They sent a car to take me back,” he said.
Dr Chao tried to file for arbitration but the arbitration committee refused to accept the case because he had not been given an official notice of termination. Then at the end of 2010, Dr Chao filed administrative lawsuits accusing the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Education and the municipal government of failing to adequately fulfil their duties in the merger, leading to his unfair dismissal and loss of livelihood. The court refused to accept the case on the grounds that Dr Chao should have gone through arbitration first.
He then took the case to the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing; attempting to sue the Shanghai Municipal Government and Municipal Bureau of Education “for not arranging work for me in accordance with their statutory responsibilities.” Around the same time, he approached the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and the official petitioning office, the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, in Beijing.
During this process, an official from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security told him that although he had been informed of his dismissal verbally, an official termination notice had actually been produced - in triplicate. This document had been hidden away in his personal file. Because no copy had been sent out, Chao said, there was nothing to prevent the authorities from tampering with the evidence to make it look as though all the necessary procedures had been correctly observed at the time of his dismissal. Alternatively, Han suggested, the notice may well have ended up in the wastepaper basket. Officials could then simply claim that a copy had been sent out but never received.
Meanwhile, Dr Chao now plans to sue the police for his illegal detention in Tiananmen Square during the 9 September protest.
If you look at the surveillance footage that day, you will see that there is no evidence I was doing anything. That is the fairest way of dealing with this.
He was particularly incensed by the involvement of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, whose officers, he claimed, had been operating outside their jurisdiction when they forcibly escorted him back to Shanghai from Beijing.
The chairman’s long shadow
Asked by Han why he had chosen the anniversary of Chairman Mao’s death to go to Beijing, the 45-year-old doctor replied:
I chose that date because in Mao’s time I would not have got into this kind of situation. If Mao were still around, I would still be in work. But now we have another government and I am out of work. I have complicated feelings about this. I am a little nostalgic for the old days.
(Han) But you can only have been about, what, five or six-years-old when Mao died?
I remember what my parents said. My relatives and friends around me all said the same thing. They were very nostalgic about Mao’s time. You could not get yourself into this kind of position then, because there were guarantees put in place by the state.
People like me, members of families of revolutionary martyrs recognised by the government, have fallen on hard times. Revolutionary martyrs — it is a matter of national defence too. So now I’m going to petition Central Military Commission as well.
Han Dongfang's interview with Dr Chao was first broadcast in five episodes in October 2011.