Anti-government t-shirts in Chongqing


Say no to 2-yuan fares

Update (2009.04.20): The fare hikes have been postponed. ESWN translates a Southern Metropolis Daily report:

At the April 17 hearing on the price hikes, all speakers other than those who represent the management were opposed to the price reforms. Outside the hearing hall, many netizens wore t-shirts that opposed the price hikes in silence protest. China News reported their action together with photographs. The news report immediately appeared at all the news portals and drew strong attention. Thus, the actions of certain netizens became a national news story.

On April 17, Chongqing will hold a hearing to discuss two possible plans for adjusting fares on the city’s public buses.

Price increases form a part of both plans, leaving many Chongqing residents with the impression that a fare hike is inevitable and the hearing just for show. Discussion has been heated on local BBSs and on the Chongqing city boards of national Internet forums.

Members of one forum decided to speak out against the fare increase by designing t-shirts reading “Chongqing Public Buses — Most Expensive in the Country” around the outside, and a slashed out “2-yuan base fare” in the center (shown here is a similar design; the actual t-shirt is pictured below).

Pretty tame stuff in terms of social protest. The local police apparently disagreed, and earlier this month seized the t-shirts where they were being offered for sale and hauled the vendor off for questioning. From the Metro Express:

Shen Qiang said that during the investigation, the police had said repeatedly, “This is a very serious matter.” During questioning, the police station told him that his clothing was seized and he was being questioned because the t-shirt he was selling was “anti-government.” As for how it was “anti-government,” the police said “Raising bus fares is a government matter, so opposing fare hikes is opposing the government.”

The police did not indicate when they would return the 88 t-shirts they seized. The shop re-opened for business on April 7. On the 9th, the police station had Shen sign an agreement stating that he had “voluntarily handed over the t-shirts.”

Southern Metropolis Daily telephoned the station:

When asked about the t-shirt affair, the person who answered the phone said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” On a number of subsequent calls, the person who picked up the phone said immediately, “I don’t know who you are. Talk to the PSB if you have any issues. I can’t receive you here,” and then hung up before the reporter could even make an introduction.


Writing in The Beijing News, commentator Han Han (韩涵, not the novelist) compared the protest t-shirts with other t-shirts that appeared in response to major events in 2008:

For citizens, whatever is not explicitly prohibited by law is permissible. Printing and distributing t-shirts opposing the bus fare hike did not violate any law, nor did it endanger society. This example is identical to the “I Love China” t-shirts that appeared after the May 12 earthquake, and is a perfectly normal expression by a citizen: peaceful, rational, and sincere. For some reason the local police felt that this matter was “very serious,” and if this assessment stands, then would they have been acting negligently when they allowed the sale of “I Love China” t-shirts?

Translated below is what purports to be a personal account of t-shirt design and production, as well as the arrest of Shen Qiang. The post’s sensational description of the detention of an innocent shopkeeper spurred netizens to repost in forums across the country (although the original post appears to have been removed). It eventually caught the attention of the mainstream media, which determined that Shen Qiang and his wife and child had not actually been formally “arrested”; they had been taken to the police station to “cooperate with the investigation” (the nature of which, as noted above, was never made clear).

In any event, the account in the text below (credited to “xiaojin333” in the Metro Express article) illustrates the strong feelings that many netizens have about price increases, government transparency, and capricious law enforcement.

Chongqing netizen arrested for printing and distributing t-shirts opposing the bus fare hike!

(by xiaojin333)

On the Internet I read about a hearing to be held shortly about two price hike plans for public buses. Everyone felt that they were unfair, and enthusiastic netizens formed groups and started a discussion. There were two general ideas: one, print up stickers opposing the increase, and two, print up t-shirts opposing the increase.

Zhifeng started up group 1727300, called “Public Buses Are Unfair”,* meaning that the public bus companies were acting unfairly and that they shouldn’t raise prices. Discussion was animated on Tianya’s Chongqing boards because the issue directly affected everyone. Someone proposed that we should pool our money to print up clothing or stickers. I am a user of Tianya’s Chongqing boards myself, and a Communistparty* member with a party age of 10 years as well as a retired soldier. Due to the fact that present conditions discourage gatherings, demonstrations, and “pageants,” and out of a desire to prevent stickers from becoming a blight, I decided to go ahead and provide funds to print t-shirts for against the increase for everyone.

So D-cup and other enthusiastic netizens designed a few logos. The text read, “Chongqing Public Buses: Dirty and Rude. Oppose the Fare Increase.” Then I took 300 t-shirts I bought and went with Zhifeng to the silk-screen printers. The next day I brought them to a place in the Chenjiawan underground shopping center in Shapingba run by a friend named Shen Qiang. He was an honest businessman, and was a dealer for SQSX brand clothes. He enthusiastically agreed to have his shop serve as the pick-up place for the t-shirts. And he left a phone number. He did not take a single cent of profit. I too did this out of good intentions, as I repeatedly told netizens on the web and on the QQ group.

1. The cost of the t-shirt (this can be looked up: 13 yuan wholesale for lesser-quality, but 18 yuan to print and distribute this type). Printing fee of 0.8 yuan.

2. Anyone could get a t-shirt by paying just 10 yuan. If that was a problem, they could get one for free. My idea was that I’d take whatever money I received and use it to print and distribute new t-shirts. This was publicized in all the online groups.

Yet we still had problems.

This afternoon at around 6:50 I got a call from Shen Qiang, who said his store had been sealed off by seven or eight police officers and wardens. They carried off all of the clothing and took his wife (who was watching the store with their two-year-old child) and child to the Sanxia Plaza station. Then they called to ask him to come to the station.

After Shen Qiang described what had happened, he reached the police station, and he became very anxious when he entered, and then through the phone I could hear the sounds of handcuffs. Then Shen told me he had been handcuffed. Then I heard a gruff voice telling him to hang up the phone, that he was not allowed to speak.

That was how things went down.

Afterward, Shen Qiang made a few more calls to me, and I wanted him to tell me on what pretext the station had seized the clothing, and why they had handcuffed him. But the call was cut off. I caught once sentence: Shen Qiang said that the station had said that he was anti-society,* but then the call was cut off again, leaving me not entirely clear about things.

Now I’m writing out the affair for you all to read. If the police station does not provide an acceptable explanation, I will definitely petition the central government. In addition, I solemnly state the following: If, in this matter, Shen Qiang encounters any unjust treatment, I will return it a hundred-fold to the Sanxia Plaza station. I say this as a Communistparty member and a retired soldier. I am hot-blooded, and I uphold the truth and prize righteousness, and Shen Qiang is just a warm-hearted shopkeeper. I can accept any consequences.

Zealous young people like me work hard and want to live good lives, but I need a space for it. I have not broken the law, nor have I undermined discipline. On the contrary, three or four years ago I got together an anti-pickpocket league of volunteers that frequently nabbed pick-pockets on buses and at bus stations in Chongqing. Later, after police from the municipal anti-pickpocket squad explained things to me, I gradually stopped getting involved unless I chanced across them, in which case I would be at the forefront as always: I’m not scared of bloodshed or sacrifice, and I have the courage and determination to shed blood to combat injustice.

After the Wenchuan earthquake, I signed up as a volunteer right away. In the fight against Tibetan and Xinjiang independence, I was on the Internet in support — in support of China and the Olympics. But this time, I stand in the ranks of the opposition. Yes, I oppose the bus fare hike. I have my own car, but I oppose the bus fare hike, and I have come forward. Public transportation concerns the large population of lower-income people. How can they be a target for huge profit-taking?

Now this thing has happened. I feel that I need an answer. Perhaps even as I write this, those police guys are waiting for me to turn myself in. I am not afraid in the least. I am not stupid, but I can play dumb sometimes. I will post this explanation all over and I hope that you can save it. I will send an open letter to the mayor and wait for an answer. And then I will wait for a response from the various parties. One final word: whatever happens, if you do not give me an explanation, I will definitely make you understand.

Evening, 2009.04.06


Plan 1 and Plan 2 (blue) vs. current fares (green)

On April 9, the Chongqing Evening News reported on a comparison chart released by the government to demonstrate that the fare adjustments included reductions as well as increases. The paper interviewed Yang Zhifan, head of the Price Office of the city’s price bureau:

Reporter: Why have you issued this comparison chart on the eve of the hearing?

Yang Zhifan: Some city residents have misunderstood the two fare adjustment plans and believe that they totally a fare hike. We want to speak using the data and demonstrate the actual conditions of the fare adjustment.

Reporter: On short trips between 1 and 12 km, the starting price is 0.5 yuan higher than before. Does the government have any statistics on this class of ridership?

Yang: No. More than a million people ride public buses every day, so it’s unrealistic to expect that kind of statistics.

Reporter: What are trip lengths like on buses in the city?

Yang: 50% are under 20km, 30% between 20 and 30km, and very few beyond 40km.

Reporter: Fares for most short trips will increase in both plans. If riders have to change buses, won’t that mean their fare will jump even more?

Yang: The draft plan does not go into that level of detail. It can be improved later on.

Reporter: Many netizens have compared fares in Chongqing to those in Beijing, Chengdu, and Kunming, and they feel that Chongqing’s fares are far too high. What’s your view of this issue?

Yang: Chongqing is different. It has lots of mountains and slopes, and buses wear out fairly quickly. A simple comparison is not particularly scientific.

The Chongqing Times reports today that the hearing will not be aired live, and one municipal Political Consultative Conference member is now calling for the hearing to be canceled and the fare adjustment plans to be postponed until a later date.


  1. 公交不公: a pun on , which can mean both “public” and “fair.” []
  2. The author writes out a few words in English: “party,” “Communistparty,” and “page~ant” in this paragraph, “” further down the page, and a second “Communistparty” after that. []
  3. 反社会. This is not the psychological disorder, but a term that implies a threat to social order. In describing certain “evil cults,” the term is translated as “anti-social” or “anti-society.” []
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