Police examining packages using a mobile application 

On top of usual articles prohibited from shipment in countries across the world, like flammables and explosives or firearms and weapons, China has also banned the mailing of books and periodicals that are deemed detrimental to the interests of the state.

Therefore, any writings that criticize government policies or its leadership, Bibles and other religious literature, texts concerning religious movements, like The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong or South Korean Christian groups, are prohibited.

The mailing of literature about Tibet and Xinjiang, which Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan, are restricted too. Postal and courier services are under strict orders to inspect packages, and employees that fail to prevent the prohibited items from being sent will be punished: from fines and getting fired to being detained.

The control over delivery companies is increasing drastically, and the means of how the regime controls what citizens send to each other are becoming more sophisticated.

In October last year, the Zhejiang’s Hangzhou branch of the SF Express (Group) Co Ltd, a delivery service company based in Shenzhen city in southern China’s Guangdong Province, was fined 100,000 RMB (about US$14,000) for failing to check items with the symbol of East Turkestan hidden among other things in a package sent by a state employee as part of a covert investigation. The branch was ordered to suspend business for nine days, and the staff member who accepted the package was fired.

Postal and courier companies’ employees in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province confirmed to Bitter Winter that law enforcement personnel often disguise themselves as their clients, attempting to entrap them by sending politically-charged goods, like T-shirts with slogans supporting protests in Hong Kong. Staff members at company branches who failed to discover such forbidden items or didn’t refuse sending them received warnings.

A source from Zhejiang who works in the delivery business revealed that in late September, one of his clients was identified as a “terrorist suspect” for trying to mail a T-shirt with a pro-Hong Kong message.

“The government’s control over delivery companies has been intensifying over the past two years, officials conducting open and secret investigations,” the source explained. “In minor cases, some company branches had their business suspended for some time. In serious cases, fines of 200,000 RMB (about $28,000) were imposed on a branch under question, and 1,000 – 50,000 RMB (about $140 – $7,000) on implicated employees. They may even be sentenced to jail if the shipped items included books on sensitive topics or had religious symbols.”

The source added that for the past two years, the government had demanded to ensure at all times that every sender and recipient had their legal names registered, and all packages are always opened for inspection, harsh punishments imposed on offenders.

A netizen commented on Douban, a Chinese social networking site, that such surveillance and investigation methods are very typical in China. “Our government publicly monitors all citizens,” the netizen wrote. “We don’t worry about any leaks of our private information because we don’t have privacy at all.”

On the eve of the National Day, celebrated on October 1, a list of punished delivery companies was posted on a Chinese website. Among other “offenders,” Haishu Zijie Express Co., Ltd. from Zhejiang’s Ningbo city was fined 102,000 RMB (about $14,000) for failing to conduct inspections of packages. A company in Xianju county under the jurisdiction of Zhejiang’s Taizhou city was given a fine of 200,000 RMB (about $28,000) for not double-checking and registering a client’s ID information.

Apart from secret investigations, the authorities are also strengthening regular monitoring of postal and courier services.

In March, local police stations in Zhejiang’s Hangzhou city installed HD surveillance equipment in some express delivery companies in the area.

“The surveillance cameras allow the police to hear clearly conversations within the company. Everything we say and do is recorded,” said a courier working in one of the companies.

A month after the cameras were installed, one of the couriers was fined 1,000 RMB (about $140) for failing to open a parcel for inspection after the local police station discovered it via remote surveillance.

“The courier did not open this client’s parcel to check its content, and the police immediately called,” his colleague told Bitter Winter. He added that everyday surveillance and clients’ complaints about the inspection of packages had put him under constant stress.

The sentiment is shared by many employees of postal and courier companies across the country, the surveillance tightening amid protests in Hong Kong, and the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Communist China in October, as well as other international or large-scale state-organized events.

“Not only items shipped to Beijing and Hong Kong must be checked. In mid-October, the shipment of packages to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, was also restricted because of the Military World Games,” a staff member in one of the courier companies told Bitter Winter. “In late October, articles shipped to Jiaxing city in Zhejiang were strictly inspected because of the World Internet Conference. Now packages are strictly controlled or even prohibited to be sent to the cities nationwide where various conferences are organized.”

Sun Kairui writes for Bitter Winter, from which this article has been republished with permission. He writes under a pseudonym for security reasons.