Courage Comes from Prison

Liao Yiwu, December 10, 2018, International Human Rights Day, Berlin

 

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Liao Yiwu at the Hohenschönhausen Prison Complex, now the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, April 2018. Photo: Yaxue Cao

 

I’ve so often said that my courage and everything about me comes from prison. This is how I differ from other Chinese writers. In prison, I was tortured ‘til I could no longer bear it, and tried to kill myself twice. But I learned to write secretly; and I learned to play the xiao (ancient flute) from an over-80-year-old monk. From the sound of his xiao, I realized that freedom comes from the soul.

A man of inner freedom is the natural enemy of a dictatorship. His political views come in a pale, second place.

The key is that, only after experiencing the horror, sadness, and pity of losing freedom and being trampled upon, does one fight for the freedom of others with all one’s heart, and moreover turns the fight for freedom into a kind of personal faith.

Most of the time, outside of writing, I’m a failure. For example, my friend Liu Xiaobo, four times jailed, was murdered in a cage on July 13, 2017. We did our best to rescue him, but it was all a failure. Although his wife, Liu Xia, was eventually released and allowed to come to Germany, the price was too painful and too great. And soon it will all be forgotten.

China is still the world’s largest capitalist market, and with the US-led trade war against China and the constant thrashings-about in the news, already the memory of Liu Xiaobo and his wife is being diluted and lost. It’s a vulgar and cruel world that no longer needs a martyr like Liu Xiaobo to strive and be jailed for the cause of democracy. I understand all this. I know that though the records already are numerous, I must continue to write. It’s just as, over 2,000 years ago, when Plato recorded the philosophical debates in Socrates’ cell before his death; without those words Plato left behind, Socrates would have been erased by time, and his death left a vague mystery. His words would no longer stir us so deeply.

Yes, I wrote “June 4: My Testimony” and “Bullets and Opium,” both of which are part of a single whole describing the victims of the Tiananmen massacre nearly 30 years ago, many of whom died, many of whom were destroyed by prison. (Although, even when released from prison, they went on to die in a larger prison without walls.) The idea that “the internet will destroy autocracy and open markets will lead to democracy ” has been a popular notion for American politicians, and coincided with the administration of then-US President Bill Clinton. It’s this phrase that lubricated China’s entry to the WTO, and helped grant it most-favored nation status over 20 years ago.

But it’s clearly not the case that “the internet undermines dictatorship.” Instead, it’s the authoritarian regimes that have made extensive use of Western network technology to comprehensively monitor the entire Chinese populace. No matter where you are, as long you’re a dissident, you’ll be tapped and tracked; all your trips to the bank and online speech will be recorded, and in a moment’s notice, all will become evidence of your intent to harm the state. At hotels, train stations, and airports, your face will be automatically identified by the police using their mobile phones and computers — technology invented by Westerners and augmented by the internet and open markets, all of which has given a tremendous boost to the dictatorship.

What follows naturally is that the dictatorship will challenge Western democracy. For instance, China has the Great Fire Wall, and if you circumvent it and visit foreign websites, this is called “illegal” and perhaps you’ll be arrested. Western countries have no firewall, and almost all overseas Chinese, and many foreigners interested in China, are free to use WeChat, Weibo, and Huawei cell phones — but then they’re silently monitored and tracked too. And if you say ‘extremist’, suspicious, sarcastic, or subversive remarks about China, WeChat administrators will issue a warning that your account may be cancelled — or simply cancel it without a word. Or maybe you’ll temporarily go “missing”, and your family and friends in the country may also find themselves under a cloud of trouble. Dictators not only borrow the propaganda of “counter-terrorism” to carry out concentration camp-style forced brainwashing of millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang, but also use the internet to prevent those in the free world from actually being free.

Many dissidents around me also use WeChat and accept the regime’s control and surveillance without really thinking it over. So today, I, a writer among dissidents, not only refuse to use Chinese-made smartphones, but I refuse to install any software from China, and I only publish my work in democratic Taiwan and the free West.

More importantly, I don’t flinch, I don’t succumb to silence, I continue to fight for the freedom of others, and in this oft-failed struggle, I’m drawing from a passionate need to make a record of this era.

Coming up next, I shall prepare another book; I shall get ready to turn defeat into victory in the history that will soon be upon us.

“1984” itself makes one hopeless — but the act of writing “1984” is already a flickering of hope from the depths of despair.

 

 

 


勇气源于监狱

廖亦武

2018年12月10日, 国际人权日

柏林

 

我一再说,我的勇气,我的一切都源于监狱,这是我和其他中国作家不一样的地方。在监狱里,我受尽折磨,自杀了两次,但我在监狱中学会了秘密写作,还跟一个80多岁的老和尚学会了吹箫。从箫声中体悟到“自由源于内心”。一个内心自由的人,是独裁政权的天敌,而政治观点倒在其次。关键是体验过失去自由、任人宰割的可怕和可悲,你才会全身心地为他人的自由而奋战,并把“为他人的自由而奋战”作为一种信仰。大多数时候,在写作之外,我是失败的。比如我的四次坐牢的朋友刘晓波,在2017年7月13日被谋杀在囚笼。我们曾竭尽全力营救,但是被打败了;虽然他的妻子刘霞后来被释放到德国,可代价如此惨痛——况且这一切很快会被忘记,中国依旧是全世界最大的资本主义市场,美国发起的对中国的贸易战,不断持续的起伏震荡,已经在一点点抹掉对刘晓波夫妇的记忆——这个庸俗而残酷的世界不再需要刘晓波这样为祖国走向民主而坐穿牢底的殉道者——我明白这些,我明白虽然记录得够多,可还得写下去——正如两千多年前,柏拉图记录了苏格拉底临死前的那场狱中哲学辩论。如果没有柏拉图留下来的文字,苏格拉底也会被时间抹掉,他的死也是一个渐渐远去的谜,不会至今还激荡着我们。

是的,我写出了《六四 我的证词》和《子弹鸦片》,两本书是一个整体,都记述了30年前的天安门大屠杀的受难者,许多人死了,许多人被监狱毁了——他们虽然出了监狱,却在一座没有围墙的更大的监狱中,生不如死——“互联网将摧毁专制,市场化将催生民主”,这是美国一位著名政客的流行语,与当时的美国总统克林顿不谋而合,于是中国被批准加入世贸组织,被给予最惠国待遇——20多年过去,不是“互联网摧毁专制”,而是专制政权大肆利用西方网络科技,对全中国实行全面监控,不管你在任何地方,只要是一个异议分子,都会被窃听和跟踪,你的任何一次银行进出和任何一段网上言论都会被记录,并随时转换成你危害国家的罪证。在酒店、车站和机场,你的人脸会被警察从手机或电脑屏幕自动识别——被西方人发明和不断升级的互联网和市场化,就这样有效地帮助了独裁统治。进而挑战西方民主——比如中国有防火墙,翻越防火墙,浏览海外网站是“违法犯罪”,警察有权抓人;而西方国家没有防火墙,几乎所有在海外的中国人,还有不少对中国感兴趣的外国人,都可随意使用微信、微博、华为手机等等,却不知不觉被监视和跟踪,如果你有过激、可疑、讽刺或其它手段的颠覆言论,微信管理员就会发出“取消账号”的警告,甚至不警告就直接取消,你暂时“失踪”了,你在国内的家人、朋友说不定也会惹上麻烦。

独裁者不仅利用国际反恐,在新疆对上百万维吾尔人进行集中营式的强制洗脑,也利用互联网,让自由世界的人们不自由。我身边的众多异议分子,也使用微信,神鬼不觉地接受他们的控制。所以在当今,我,一个异议分子中的作家,只有拒绝使用中国产的智能手机,拒绝安装来自中国的电脑软件,在民主台湾和西方各国出版作品。更重要的是,不要退缩,不要沉默,继续为他人的自由而奋战吧,并在这种经常失败的奋战中,获取记录这个时代的激情。

接下来准备写书,准备在即将过去的历史中,转败为胜。

《1984》令人绝望,但写出《1984》,就不太令人绝望了。

 

 


Also by Liao Yiwo:

‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom To Liu Xia, May 2, 2018.

Acceptance Speech for the 2018 Annual Disturbing the Peace Literary Prize for a Courageous Writer at Risk, Liao Yiwu, September 27, 2018, New York City

 

 

 

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