Arthur Waldron, October 17, 2016
This is a speech delivered on October 2, the first day of the three-day conference on the prospect of a democratic China in New York City, organized and attended by overseas Chinese scholars and dissidents. With Professor Waldron’s permission, we are pleased to post the text of his speech here. – The Editors
Good morning, my dear friends, it’s a great honor to be here.
The first demonstration against dictatorship in China took place outside of the Chinese Consulate in New York more than 30 years ago. I knew it was going to happen, so I went there. There was no press, just me sitting in a café. About 12 people appeared wearing grocery bags over their heads, and they unfurled a banner saying “Democracy for China.” The Consulate was absolutely silent, the windows sealed, but I said to myself: “You have just seen the beginning of a river that’s going to grow and grow and grow.” And I think I’m right.
Since July 9 of last year more than 300 Chinese human rights lawyers have been abducted or threatened by the Beijing authorities and two dozen of them have been incarcerated, tried, and given heavy sentences or are awaiting trial. One is Xie Yang who was abducted in Changsha, July 11 of last year, and tortured in the hope of eliciting a confession, but now looks set to be put away for a long time.
Here is what Xie told the Beijing agents as they threatened him: “I will not confess, because these two charges against me are spurious. I will never dismiss my own lawyers, and I want to meet with my lawyers according to normal procedure. I hope that more lawyers will take part in my case.”
He and those like him, even in prison, represent something new and important for China. A class of fearless people, who are not frightened, and refuse to lie, has appeared. They cannot be intimidated and they cannot be bought.
My argument this morning is that they are writing the future of China, that great civilization.
We must keep these people always in our minds. Tens of thousands of them. We must keep lists, raise names and wrongs at every opportunity, and never forget.
In the pitch black of a prison basement, hungry, shackled, attacked by rats and vermin, just to stay sane is a challenge. If you know that thousands of people outside have you constantly in mind and in the public eye, however, your hope will not die.
Let me now turn to the People’s Republic of China, sixty-seven years and one day old today, an aspiring great power.
China has decided, sometime under Hu Jintao, to abandon her tactical military connection with our country to become flagship of the dictatorial fleet, and oppose the United States and other free countries. China now has the largest military forces in the world equipped with technology that often matches ours, and they have decided that they have no need for the U.S. to counterbalance the USSR, gone a quarter of a century.
Democracy is not somehow new and alien to the Chinese who are, it is thought by some foreigners, natural slaves who need a master – a khozain as they say in Russian. My dear younger son returned from the politically intense Princeton in Beijing summer program unhappy at the attempt to brainwash him, but convinced that democracy in China would mean chaos, which is the Party line.
In fact China had elections from the turn of the last century, a parliament into the 1920s whose building can still be found in Beijing, a truly democratic constitution in 1946, local elections in 1947, and national elections the following year. Yes, pre-communist China was not entirely stable. But she was like a rock of stability compared to the PRC, where more than fifty million people have died in peacetime and good weather.
Even Mao Zedong pretended to be a democrat and fooled both many Chinese and most Americans specialized in the country.
On September 27, 1945, Mao Zedong (毛澤東) provided written and thus presumably definitive answers to written questions posed by the Reuters correspondent in Chongqing. One was “what is the Chinese Communists’ definition for a free, democratic China?”
Mao answered that “a free, democratic China would be a country in which all ranks of governments, including the central government, would be produced by popular, judicious, and anonymous voting, and the country would realize the ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ concept of Abraham Lincoln and the ‘four freedoms’ proposed by Franklin Roosevelt.”
This exchange was published in the newspapers at the time but was not included in the Chinese edition of Mao’s complete works, though it is included in the Japanese edition. Strict control of information. One of the things I love about China is that they screw up all the time. If you go to Baidu, this document will pop right up on your computer. What kind of dictatorship is that?
Today the People’s Republic has decided to abandon even talk of liberalization. She wants a Party dictatorship without end. She has no interest now in the United States.
We Americans do not yet entirely recognize that this change of course has been determined in China. We are all, as it were, Emersonians. We believe other cultures will understand our gestures as we mean them: our hand proffered for a handshake, our attempt to walk a mile in their moccasins, our gestures of restraint, will signal desire for peace and understanding, even friendship. That is the message we are trying to send.
How does the Chinese government receive it? Not at all as intended, but as the opposite.
The official Chinese reaction will be, “We have successfully intimidated Washington to the point she won’t even mention us. The Americans are weak, irresolute, and when it comes to it, craven. We can deal with them and drive them out of Asia.”
“Compromise” is a scarce concept in Chinese theories of conflict. Rather the phrase they use is ni si wo huo (你死我活) —“you die, I live.” That is not “win-win.” We do not understand the culturally-determined difference between the message sent and the message received.
China’s rulers suffer from the dangerous delusion that the Communist Party can maintain stable and continuing control over China by dint of terror and arrests at home, combined with red carpet welcomes and intimidation abroad.
Let me conclude with my deepest worry, which is the acceptance and normalization, as it were, of the largest and longest lived and hideously oppressive PRC. HHDL comes in past the garbage cans to the White House. We are the United Bloody States of America, as Churchill might have put it. We are a super power and our ideals if not always our actions, are of sublime goodness. So since when does Beijing get to tell us how to treat our guests? We should tell them – write a protest, hand it to our deputy under assistant secretary and we will file it. And the Dalai Lama should go in from the front door and into the Oval Office.
Now, since 2009 Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) has been imprisoned in Liaoning Province, I believe the United States should say to China that, until he is released, we will have no high-level exchanges, no visits of the Chinese presidents, our president doesn’t go over there, because all the work of diplomacy can be done by an ambassador, the rest of this is fluff. Just tell them: look, if you want to come and have the red carpet, dinner at the White House, you have to release these people. Otherwise, we can wait.
The White House has told the Pentagon, secretly, to stop speaking about China’s growing military strength.
Chinese money has infiltrated our system in staggering quantities. One of my colleagues is tracing how many of our so called scholars, think tanks, foundations, etc. take money from the PRC, and are bought intellectually.
But the best deception is self-deception. Our current China policy comes from Henry Kissinger, a man entirely ignorant of the real China. Zhou Enlai he almost worshiped, and trusted completely.
Myself and scholar/diplomat Jay Taylor—he working through Taiwan and me working through China—have now shown that all of the ultra-secret China policy [of the United States] that Kissinger secretly confided to Zhou Enlai was in fact shared immediately from about 1969 onwards with Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. And it was discussed – Zhou and Chiang had discussions about how to handle this American approach.
This is an astonishing discovery. But the thing is, we never even suspected the Chinese. This is absolutely certain. It’s confirmed in Taiwan, and it has been confirmed to me by Chinese who are authoritative on this. Some people doubted, but this is absolutely true.
Two of those who went with Henry in 1971 are persuaded; Mr. Kissinger has never answered any of my very polite notes and indirect inquiries.
For decades we Americans told ourselves fairy tales about how China was going to liberalize and democratize. I think she will, but how and at what cost is the question. Now we have stopped talking about liberalization and democratization. Our view is, “that’s just how the Chinese are. They disappear people, they beat people up, they run a tight dictatorship. We have to accept this—not as a communist but as a Chinese characteristic—if we are going to get along. So we accept it.”
As an American I am deeply ashamed of this approach, which is both unrealistic and corrupt. But we too are sitting in China’s school room. I am confident that China’s dictators will teach us the lessons we need to know.
Democracy has been the key theme of Chinese history and politics for well over a century. It continues to be the key word. It cannot be stopped though it can be persecuted and delayed. I believe, and I know you all believe too, that in the end it will win.
Thank you all.
Arthur Waldron has been the Lauder Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania, since 1997. He works mostly on the history of Asia, China in particular; the problem of nationalism, and the study of war and violence in history.