Citizen Power for China (also known as Initiatives for China) is shocked to learn that the Chinese regime has handed down a severe sentence of 11 years to Mr. Liu Hui, a brother-in-law of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, in a Beijing suburb court on June 9, 2013, right after the conclusion of the summit between China’s president Xi Jinping and the U.S. president Obama.
We strongly condemn the verdict in this politically motivated case which has been completely fabricated by the Chinese Communist regime in order to further persecute Liu Xiaobo, his wife Liu Xia, and their extended family. Clearly their hope is to bring Liu Xiaobo to his knees, and to eliminate the emergence of China’s Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, a conspiracy formed in 2010 after Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At that time China’s national security police threatened his wife, Liu Xia, specifically warning that since her brothers were in business, they could surely find some way to get even. That threat has now come to pass.
We also condemn the fact that the Chinese regime–in a further example of how much human rights has regressed in China–has once again begun to use the barbaric practice of “guilt by association,” and punishing political dissidents’ direct family members or even entire extended family, as was done in feudal China and under the dictator Mao Zedong’s rule.
We emphatically denounce the trial and sentence of Liu Hui, which is not only unjust and unfair, but also illegal even under the Chinese regime’s own laws. The regime has indeed “lost its conscience” as Liu Hui pointed out after hearing his sentence.
We firmly believe that the persecution of Liu Hui has once again exposed the evil nature of the Chinese regime that has no desire for an independent judicial system, rule of law, basic and human rights for Chinese citizens, but a perpetual one-party rule over China, and the regime is willing to do anything to crackdown the opposition.
The Citizen Power for China is determined to launch an international campaign to raise awareness of Liu Hui’s case and to call on the international community, particularly the United States government, not to form a “new type of great power relation” with the Chinese regime, for only when the Chinese regime begins to respect their own people’s constitutional rights, can it be trusted to follow international norms in its international relations.
We pledge to lobby the U.S. government and other democratic countries to hold those individuals who persecute Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, Liu Hui and other members of their extended family accountable by banning those human rights abusers from traveling in the U.S. and other democracies, and freeze their directly- or indirectly-controlled assets.
By Ai Xiaoming, translated by Yaxue Cao
Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) is a professor of Chinese modern literature at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China. In recent years she’s best known for her participation in social movements and documentary making. Her work includes Three Days in Wukan (乌坎三日), The Central Plains (中原纪事, about the struggle of HIV contamination victims in Henan province, with English subtitles), Why Flowers Are So Red (花儿为什么这样红, about citizens’ investigation of student deaths during the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008). Sometimes Professor Ai Xiaoming is referred to as the Ai in the south, as opposed to the Ai in the north (Ai Weiwei). The original was published in the author’s blog as well as the latest issue of iSunAffairs (No. 50).
Independent documentary maker Du Bin (杜斌) has just released video interviews of Masanjia victims. Until May 1, 2013, you can watch it online (with English subtitles) by purchasing a 30-yuan (or $5) ticket, through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org (more details here).
While we haven’t heard anything more about the investigation into torture in Mashanjia that Liaoning provincial government has pledged, we do know that it has already interrogated all the formers inmates who talked to the journalists and threatened them. Which prompts us to wonder: Is the investigation actually about who has exposed the secrets of Masanjia?
“The wind is roaring, horses are howling, and the Yellow River is in wrath.”º This time the lyrics will have to be changed to “the vaginas are in wrath.” If you have read the recently published investigative report (link in Chinese, NYT’s writeup) on Masanjia Woman’s Re-education-through-labor Camp (马三家女子劳教所), and you are a Chinese with humanity living in you, I believe you would have heard the howling of vagina.
It is an organ meant to enjoy the pleasure of copulation, to impregnate and give birth, but this time one woman’s vagina brought us the most savage humiliation and torture, and they were performed in the name of state power.
This roll of letters hidden in the victim’s vagina, and before it a woman’s diary smuggled out in the same manner, laid bare the unthinkable barbarism of China’s reeducation through labor and the unspeakable cruelty inflicted on its victims.
Shortly before the publication of this report, the UN Committee on the Status of Women had just held its 57th meeting, and women’s organizations across the world condemned violence against women. Of all forms of violence, the cruelest, and also the most powerful, is violence against women sponsored by the state and protected by the system, such as wartime rape. But such forms of violence have occurred in Masanjia Woman’s RTL Camp and have been carried out in the name of reforming inmates.
China is an important member of the United Nation and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Placed next to Chinese law and promises the Chinese government has made domestically and internationally concerning women’s rights, what happened in Masanjia challenges not only the bottom line of human nature among the Chinese, but human civilization rebuilt post-Auschwitz.
Since the LENS report, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported that “Highly concerned [about the report], Liaoning province is quickly forming an investigative team consisted of people from the provincial Judiciary Department, provincial Bureau of Reeducation-through-labor and local prosecution, while inviting related media outlets and a number of people’s representatives and members of the Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Conference to participate. The findings, as well as the decisions will the published truthfully.”
But meanwhile, on the website of LENS magazine, the report has become a 404 error. Why delete the item? If the report itself is not allowed, how can we believe we are going to be given “truthful findings?”
Speaking of Liaoning provincial government “quickly forming” an investigative team, for many victims, “quickly” is not quick enough, perhaps too late already. How many people are still undergoing the torture of the “dead person’s bed¹” and “big hanging²?” How many are still trembling from their nightmares? Those who have died of these ordeals will never live to see it anymore.
A brief search will find that Masanjia has been notorious for a long time. Over the years there have been exposés and complaints about Masanjia, and an extended revelation was posted in June, 2010, on 民生观察 website (Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, here, here, here and here). The editor noted in his introduction that “Written by the victims themselves, the following account exposes the inside stories and ‘evil crimes’ committed there. These include gratuitous beating of inmates, hanging by pulling the limbs, being tied to the ‘dead person’s bed,’ vagina poking, and other forms of torture; forcing inmates to make uniforms for the armed police force; purchasing inmates from other facilities to receive more state funding; receiving bribes from inmates’ families, and more.”
The account was posted in four installations, and the part about the cruelty with which the lieutenant of the camp, Wang Yanping (王艳萍), and others beat inmates is more detailed than the LENS report, complete with cell phone numbers of the victims.
It is courageous that LENS reporter Yuan Ling (袁凌) and intern Xu Xiatong (徐宵桐), with the support of the magazine’s chief editor, have completed this ice-breaking report to become the first domestic media outlet to expose the evils of Masanjia camp. By doing so, it puts a huge task in front of China’s new leaders as well as the public: When did such violence against inmates start? How has the system of torture been developed? How were the torture facilities built, when were the tools of torture first being used? Why have the deaths and disabilities resulted from torture never been investigated and those who perpetrated it never been held accountable?
Violence in Masanjia camp is by no means isolated, nor is it the first of its kind. In 2005, the renowned lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) wrote an open letter to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao demanding an end to the savagery against Falungong practitioners. As I remember, he reported that almost every victim was attacked in their reproduction organs……What his letter revealed was terrifying, and what happened to Gao Zhisheng following the letter was even more horrific. Under threat of violence, the public, including myself, has kept silent.
Katyn Forest is not in China, nor are Auschwitz’s furnaces and guns. But China has An Yuan Ding (安元鼑³, link in Chinese) and there are Masanjias here and there. Following Falungong practitioners, more ordinary citizens whose rights and interest were violated and who appealed for justice have been sent, in an unbroken stream, to these “Masanjias” across China. This has been done because the number of petition cases is a blemish to local government’s performance, and stability must be maintained. Ten years ago, I took part in the appeal to abolish the custody and repatriation policy (收容遣送制度) after the death of Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) in police custody⁴. That year the State Council ended that policy. But in the following ten years, black jails have been “created” across China to detain petitioners, not to mention the practice of dispatching people straight to mental hospitals or to RTL camps.
What would silence mean in the face of human rights disasters on such scales and frequent environmental disasters? Isn’t it clear enough?
The women who came out of Masanjia alive broke their silence, and their memories of the camp are confronting our conscience: If none of us speaks out, are we any different from those who ravaged these fellow sisters’ breasts and vaginas with electric batons? The answer is no.
Of a woman’s body, nowhere is more vulnerable than vagina. It has no fists, feet or teeth to fight invasion; it has been made into booty; it has endured assault and died shedding blood. But it is strong too and it gives life. This time, it smuggled memories. These memories, once born, will live just as a life. But this time, how long will it live?
Once again I have thought about Katyn and Auschwitz.
In 1940, the Soviet Union shot 4,000 Polish officers to death in Katyn Forest near Smolenskaya. Nazi Germany condemned the killing when it unearthed the bodies in 1943. But in 1944 when USSR army recaptured Katyn area, it pinned the crime to the Germans, and the whole world accepted it as the truth until post-1989 when this secret was exposed.
A few days ago I wrote an article about the work of Lin Zhao⁵ (林昭), but I didn’t mention the incident. One day last winter I was at the gate of Tilanqiao Prison, Shanghai (上海提篮桥监狱), where Lin Zhao had been jailed in the 1960s, but wasn’t allowed to go in. Reports said that Lin Zhao’s files had long been removed from there and there was no way one could access them. Across the street from the prison was the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Musuem where many old photos and items were on display to tell the story of Holocaust. In a hall on the second floor, a TV screen kept playing scenes of the concentration camps. Oblivion and memory, face to face, stare at each other on the same street.
I don’t know when we will see museums for victims of Tilanqiao and Masanjia, but I look forward to a truthful report on Masanjia that the Liaoning provincial government promised. But before such a report is produced, the public should provide more evidence to support this extraordinary investigation. It concerns in what direction history will go, it concerns the future of each one of us, and it concerns women’s rights and the “respect and protection of human rights by the state” that the Chinese Constitution proclaims. If a jailed woman could use her vagina to store memory, how much more can we the others do who are not locked up?
If from now on females inmates, upon release, will be subjected to vagina inspection in the future to make sure nothing is hidden there, then allow me to conclude that, if the females of a people are ravaged and mangled, whose mouths cannot speak and whose vaginas are monitored, can this people still be propagated? And more, why propagate it?
So far the LENS report is still being reposted on the web, and I hope all the policemen who have worked in Masanjia, past and present, will come to read it and ask themselves: What have I done? Why? What responsibilities have I to assume? You may say, “I was just carrying out an order to meet our stability maintenance requirement, and we cannot manage those recalcitrant women without using torture.” If so, can you sense the victims’ feelings from the report? Would some of you finally stop your disguise and reveal your true impulses, just as some of the Nazi war criminals did during the Nuremberg trial? “The terrible evil of dictatorship becomes clearer when it is coming to an end. We now can see what it means to obey unconditionally. ……This social system in which we mechanically carry out orders without questioning is ultimately proved to be wrong.” Some in your midst once stood up to stop the violence or help the victims lessen their pain. One victim said that, when a brutal guard dragged her on the ground, another raised her feet so that her breasts and abdomen wouldn’t be rubbed against the rough surface. We hope that these rare glimpses of humanity will also come through during the investigation.
I hope all of the officials and people’s representatives of the investigation team remember who they are and what they are supposed to do. Here I wish to remind you Justice Jackson’s opening statement in the Nuremberg trial: “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”
April 10, 2013
º “The wind is roaring, horses are howling, and the Yellow River is in wrath” is a line from the Yellow River Cantata, a popular patriotic song during the Chinese war of resistance against Japanese aggression. The Yellow River is a symbol of mother in Chinese.
¹“Dead person’s bed” is used to force feed an inmate on hunger strike. It is an iron bed with leather surface that has multiple cuffs and straps to tie down a naked inmate and to force feed her.
²“Big Hanging:” Tie an inmate’s stretched arms high, pulling them to maximum length, while fixing the feet with wooden clamps. “When the guard thumped the bed with his foot, I felt like my chest was being torn into pieces.”
³An-yuan-ding (安元鼑) was a security company that operated black jails from 2008 to 2010 in Beijing.
⁴Sun Zhigang incident: In early 2003, young college graduate Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) was detained in Guangzhou, where he just found a job as a garment designer, for not possessing a temporary residential card. Three days later he died in police custody, a result of severe beating. His death roiled the country, and legal scholars appealed to the authorities to abolish the “Detention and Deportation” policy.
⁵Lin Zhao (林昭), a student in Peking University, was designated a rightist in 1957, imprisoned in Tilanqiao Prison in Shanghai from 1960 to 1968, and secretly executed in April 29, 1968.
Related reading: To Remember Is to Resist, our translation of Dr. Teng Biao’s great essay on reeducation-through-labor.
Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning film Django Unchained was slated to open in Chinese theaters on April 11, and Tarantino was reported to have edited the film himself so as to satisfy the Chinese censors. And obviously he succeeded.
At the last minute though on Thursday, Chinese authorities ordered the movie to be pulled from theaters, and the order came with a panting urgency. “I was watching the first screening of Django in Mejia Theater, Sanlitun (北京三里屯美嘉影院),” Weibo user @血一刀 reported, “one minute into the show, it stopped! Theater workers came in and said the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the theater chain both called to postpone the movie! What the heck is going on?”
Online and at the box offices, lots of tickets have been sold due to wide anticipation of the first Tarantino movie shown in Chinese theaters and the star power of Lenardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx. Theaters and ticket vendors were ordered to refund the tickets, unprecedented in the history of online ticket sale.
An unhappy theater operator revealed the harshness of the government’s notice, “Any theaters that download the encrypted key for Django and show the movie presumptuously will be penalized severely. To me this is not something due to ‘technical reasons.’ We suspect that the film’s producer offended some people; otherwise it is just unthinkable.”
WSJ’s China Real Time Report mentioned online speculations that the urgent cease has to do with a bit of nudity at the end of movie, but both critics and netizens quickly pointed out that violence and nudity are not rarities in Chinese film market.
I don’t know whether it is business politics, nudity, violence, or whatnot. Nor have I watched the movie. What interests me is how netizens are interpreting the abrupt ban (some seem to have watched the movie, others apparently haven’t):
“The reason for the ban lies probably in the ending where the slaves send their master and his running dogs to their death. That may have stirred someone’s mind (@yigeniaoren).”
“Dr. Schultz’s didn’t just remove Django’s chains; more importantly, he taught him how to be free (@na_sheishei).”
“With the two movies, V for Vendetta and Django Unchained, the communist bandits in China must have felt they are just like the bad guys. No doubt they have seen in the villains their own images (@rushiewen).”
“In this scene, Django walks across the plantation where former slaves are swinging joyously on swings. This probably is why the movie is barred: being a slave long enough, you either feel content or you rise up to rebel in destructive manners (@isaac).”
“Which slave owners will allow slaves to watch a movie about freedom from slavery? That’s why Django Unchained is called off (@tartarroo).”
“A bunch of slaves were excited and getting ready to watch a movie about the liberation of slaves but were chased away by the master (@billsoong). Hahahaha!”
There have been reports today that Django could be resumed late this month in Chinese theaters, provided that director Tarantino will cut what the Chinese censors ask him to cut. But if netizens keep volunteering their reasons for the ban, I’m afraid there will be no resumption of the movie and the reasons will be exactly the ones they have offered—To too many, the movie feels too much like a parable for liberation and freedom.
The post-totalitarian regime in China, you see, is caught in a tight spot: Every time they import an American movie, there is the danger of it reflecting badly on themselves: for every style of Hollywood villain, netizens will quickly find a Chinese parallel. Urban management enforcers look like thugs, security police look like gangsters, and the regime itself looks a lot like Jonathan Pryce.
In my recent blog “Lock Up and Lock Down” about crackdowns on dissidents and activists during the Two Meetings, I mentioned an incident about a ten-year-old girl whose father is a dissident in Hefei, Anhui (安徽合肥):
“In a particularly egregious episode of this year’s clamping down on dissidents, on February 27 in Hefei, Anhui (安徽合肥), four men kidnapped Zhang Anni (张安妮), the 10-year-old daughter of Zhang Lin (张林), after the school let out, and took her to the local police station. There she was detained for 20 hours without being given food or water, or even a blanket to stay warm. Later, the police also searched Zhang Lin’s home, taking away his computer, cell phone, cash, and other important necessities. The father and daughter have since been deported to Bengpu (蚌埠) where Anni, scared and refusing to talk for days, has no school to go for the time being.
“A Tsinghua-trained nuclear physicist, Zhang Lin is a veteran dissident who has served three prison terms since the 1980s, totaling 13 years.”
Anni (安妮) still has not been able to go back to school. Before the Two Meetings, Zhang Lin lived in Hefei where Anni went to Hupo Elementary School (琥珀小学) and Anni’s older sister attends college in the same city. For Zhang Lin, a single father now (I believe), Hefei is where he wants to live to be close to both children, but he has been repeatedly forced out of the city and back to Bengbu (安徽蚌埠), his hometown. For Anni, she has made it clear to her dad that she wants to go back to Hupo ES because “there are only 23 kids in my class!” (the typical class size in China is twice as big.)
Monday, in an action called “Sending Anni Back to School,” 40 some lawyers and netizens from across China arrived in Hefei to protest on behalf of Anni, demanding that the child be allowed to resume school in Hupo ES. The school’s representative came out on Monday telling the father to go to the “relevant organ” to get a guarantee that the child will never be taken away from school by unidentified people. Today the school said that Zhang Anni does not meet the requirements for enrollment.
The crowd protested in front of various government sites in Hefei, including the Public Security Bureau and the Education Bureau, but no one has come out to speak to them except for scores of plain clothes and uniformed policemen watching over the crowd, videoing taping them, getting into a couple of scuffles with them, and taking some to police stations to interrogate.
Having no place to turn, Anni wrote a letter today to Peng Liyuan, China’s first lady, appealing for help:
“Grandma Peng, how do you do? I’m a student at Hupo Elementary School in Hefei, Anhui. I’m ten years old. In the afternoon on February 27 this year, several policemen came to my school and took me away. A few days ago, many uncles and aunties who are concerned about me wanted to send me back to school, but the teachers in my school won’t let me. Grandma Peng, I really want to go back to school. Please, can you and Grandpa Xi tell uncle policemen and the teachers to let me go back? Zhang Anni, April 10, 2013.”
The letter is a hot topic on Tencent Weibo and has been re-posted many times.
Will Grandma Peng hear Anni and help her out? We shall see. Meanwhile, I’ll let out a deep sigh: China Dream.
“A longer, more pessimistic outlook [than the Economist’s special report on China’s internet].“ – the author
By Mo Zhixu, published: April 6, 2013
On March 28, the General Office of the State Council issued a “Notice about the Division of Labor in Implementing ‘the Plan for the State Council’s Institutional Reform and Function Change’” (国务院办公厅关于实施《国务院机构改革和职能转变方案》任务分工的通知) which lays out, among other things, the time table for implementing the information network real-name registration system (“The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and State Internet Information Office, along with the Ministry of Public Security, will be in charge of it. It shall be completed by the end of June, 2014”); and for establishing a unified credit information platform and a unified social credit coding system based on citizens’ identification numbers (implementation will start in 2015 and be completed in 2017).
Few people would realize the connection between the two, and fewer people would think, as I do, that the gradual implementation of the online real-name system, a unified credit information platform, and a unified social credit code will mark the arrival of an unprecedented information totalitarianism.
The attempt to apply the online real-name system is nothing new. As early as the mid-1990s, when the state was drafting regulations on residential access to the Internet, the Ministry of Public Security wanted each computer to have a fixed, singular IP to access the Internet. It was a form of a real-name system since information such as a unique address and identification must be provided to apply for access. But due to technical reasons, such as the limited number of IVP4 addresses, what was then called the Ministry of Information Industry opposed that requirement. Arguments between the two ministries, according to a direct government source of mine at the time, went all the way to the then-top leader of China who made the decision to solve the issue with a simpler approach, perhaps to expedite China’s WTO entrance.
The attempt for a real-name system was then scrapped, but you can see that the attempt to control the Internet was on the mind of the Chinese government from the very beginning.
As Internet use skyrocketed, the government also became more and more vigilant. The notorious GFW has becoming more capable than ever with “walls” being erected higher and higher. But for the worth of the Internet, enthusiastic users have always found ways to scale the walls, and also to hide their traces under the searching eyes of the government. The large-scale surveillance and detentions during the non-existent Jasmine revolution in the spring of 2011 were largely a result of the government’s sense of crisis about hidden, cross-border information flow and its potential power to mobilize. Furthermore, with the emergence of Weibo and other social media platforms, the government has been alarmed by the fact that sudden events can spread and amplify instantly, and can potentially cause chain reactions. At the same time the government is less and less tolerant of the growing number of activists. As a result, Internet real-name system is becoming inevitable.
The real-name system has two purposes. One is the chilling effect, and it works very well on average netizens but not so much on activists. The other and the main purpose is to be able to locate activists and eliminate them from certain information/opinion platforms, in the same way that opinions of dissident intellectuals are completely eradicated from the traditional media.
The online real-name system has been implemented for some time now and the results are less than remarkable. A casual online search can yield a string of ID numbers which you can use to register online accounts. Because of this, many people have little sense of the Internet real-name grade system that is coming. The Internet real-name system that will be upon us soon enough will leave no hiding place for anyone, and all of the activists will be like fish caught in the net once this system is integrated with a unified credit information platform and a unified social credit coding system.
First of all, once the real-name system is used in website backstage management where one ID card matches one ID number, as Alipay (支付宝) does, those ID numbers culled online will soon become useless for repeated use. Secondly, with regard to activists using ID numbers of relatives and friends, if the conventional deterrence measures don’t work, the government could resort to building control into services by bundling ID card and the correlating social credit code with matters of personal interest. That way, relatives and friends will not want to, nor dare, to lend their ID numbers to anyone else.
Having established “a unified credit information platform with gradual input of information about finance, commercial registration, tax payments, social security contributions, traffic violations and other credit information” and “a unified social credit coding system based on identification number,” personal credit information will necessarily include information about Internet use. Thus, the Internet real-name system will be tied with one’s social credit code, and even with the social welfare system. From there, it’s not unimaginable for the government to use the unified credit code as the exclusive online ID code.
Imagine, when that becomes a reality, who would dare to let others use his or her credit code when so much is at stake? This code is tantamount to issuing you a “driver’s license” for speech: You will be subjected to point deductions for speech violations (which Weibo censorship frequently tells its users); once you have no points left, you will be barred from “going on the road” again, and that is, you will be barred permanently from speaking on information/opinion platforms. (After all, there are already plenty of citizens, such as Ai Weiwei, who have not been able to maintain a Weibo account without being deleted instantly–Yaxue)
You can imagine what it will be like in China’s online opinion platforms. First, the threat of being permanently banished from Internet access will have a much more powerful and chilling effect. Second, online opinion space will become similar to the grid management of stability maintenance in current life (网格化维稳)¹, that is, any activist, once exposed, will be stripped of access permanently, the same way the traditional media shut out dissenting voices. Consequently, online opinion platforms will be just like the traditional media today where you can never hear the voices of dissent and opposition. Finally, the chilling effect and the denial of activist users will make online platforms much less active; as a result, even non-sensitive emergency events will not spread explosively, nor are any chain reactions likely, due to the absence of active participation. This, as you can imagine, is a dream come true for the rulers of China.
By scaling the wall, activists perhaps will still be able to receive information, express their opinions, and exchange views with others on overseas platforms, but without reverberation and coordination on China’s domestic opinion platforms, the circles of activists will become small and isolated, making it difficult for them to participate in real-life events. This of course is a grim outlook, but by no means unheard of. After all, this had been the state of opposition activities in China before the rise of Internet. What makes me sad is that, while this brand new information totalitarian system is marching toward us in full gear, I see no realistic force that can stop its arrival. Despite today’s globalized world, a “Great China 1984” will be upon us within a few years of time.
¹ Following this post, Seeing Red in China will publish an exclusive article by Dr. Wu Qiang of Tsinghua University explaining “grid management”(网格管理) to our readers.
The Chinese original is published in the latest issue of iSunAffairs Weekly (No. 49). You can also find it here. Other commentaries by Mo Zhixu (@mozhixu) on this site: The Opposition Path and China’s Future; Perspective on Southern Weekend Incident: Root, Failure and Future.
By Teng Biao, translated by Rogier Creemers
Even in Robinson’s world of one man, his life required information, reflection and memory. Human society not having information is even more impossible to imagine. It may be said that a person is moulded by the information he or she comes into contact with and masters; a society is the same.
Thinking and memory cannot be separated from language. Modern philosophers have paid more and more attention to the extreme importance of language in human societies. The thinking human (homo sapiens) exists first and foremost as a language human (homo loquens). Society and language have not stopped interacting for a blink: regardless of whether philosophy is concerned, or whether politics or society is concerned, language not only is a tool for expression and memory – language itself has a huge capacity to create reality.
Because of this, all systems that want to control and transform society attempt to control and transform language. (Do you remember “Newspeak” from Oceania?) Movements to transform thinking are at the same time movements to transform language; the education to keep people in ignorance is at the same time an education that promotes a language system designed to keep people in ignorance. The highest effect of controlling language is ensuring that a person cannot produce heterodox thinking, and to ensure that persons cannot become their true selves. Because totalitarian ambitions are not only to transform public politics and transform private lives, but also to transform spirits (“Wreak revolution in your innermost soul”); they are surely aware of the deep effects of this revolutionary tool, language, and know how to achieve the greatest effect.
In the various Spring and Autumn thinkers, Han prose and Tang poetry, Song verse and Yuan drama, Ming and Qing novels, the Book of Odes and the Historical Records, essays and letters, plays and storytelling, calligraphy and couples, Mandarin art has extraordinarily enriched the spiritual world of Chinese, and has made immortal contributions to the culture of humankind. But its fate is similar to that of Russian, and the Mandarin that once created outstanding culture was unable to escape the ravages of totalitarianism in the 20th century. From character reform to revolutionary slogans, from applications to join the party to ideological reports, from the Little Red Book to poetry contests, from model plays to the Three Old Articles, from eight-legged Party writing to language and literature course, from letters to diaries, from film and television to comic dialogue: Mandarin has met with complete abuse and pollution. Totalitarian politics are a politics “without laughter” (dixit Zizek); totalitarian language must be a language lacking in humor, mechanical and insipid. Bloody and hypocritical politics have led to the withering of Mandarin; dull Mandarin has led to the desertification of the minds of the Chinese.
The editorials of the People’s Daily and the CCTV Evening News once were an important part of Chinese people’s lives and, for some, it is still their “compulsory course” every day. As soon as it turns seven in the evening, some people concentrate their attention on the television to watch the Evening News with the piety of apostles. If they watch a sports program at that time, they feel they have let down the benevolence of the Party, the country, heaven and earth. Every day, people see or hear these phrases in newspapers, magazines or the television:
“The Party’s strong leadership is the basic guarantee for doing good in everything. ……The Party cadres and State personnel across the board must persist in seeking truth from facts, progressing with the times, and maintaining a good spiritual outlook and work style, persist in using their powers for the good of the people, showing concern for them and working for their benefit, so as to better unite and lead the masses to base themselves on scientific development, strive for indigenous innovation, perfect structures and mechanisms, and stimulate social harmony.” (People’s Daily, January 1, 2006)
“Let us raise high the magnificent banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory, completely implement the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, closely unite around the Party Center with Comrade Hu Jintao as General Secretary, carry forward the cause into the future, progress with the times, work diligently in spite of difficulty, pioneer and innovate, and wrest new and even greater victories in the cause of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, imbued with confidence.” (People’s Daily, March 19, 2003)
“Carrying forward Lei Feng’s spirit is consistent with the basic requirement of completely implementing the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, and is a concrete reflection of practicing the important ‘Three Represents’ thought. Launching activities to learn from Lei Feng under new circumstances, we must closely grasp this topic of the times that is to study and practice the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, and we must persist in making the important ‘Three Represents’ thought into a mandatory course for young officers and soldiers to grow and establish themselves, a mandatory course for Communist Party members’ to train them about the nature of the Party, and a mandatory course for leading cadres to govern and use power. The broad officers and soldiers must carry forward the Lei Feng Spirit, earnestly comprehend and deeply grasp the scientific connotations and spiritual essence of the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, persist in using revolutionary theory to guide lives, consciously make the important ‘Three Represents’ thought into ‘nourishment,’ ‘weapons’ and ‘the steering wheel’, ensure that it becomes a formidable spiritual pillar for strengthening political convictions, hold high the magnificent banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory throughout, and determinedly obey the commands of the Party Center, the Central Military Commission and Chairman Jiang.” (PLA Daily, March 5, 2003)
The result of these sentences is not only that they strangle our thinking, but that they also strangle the delight and aesthetics of our language, so much so that chewing wax is more interesting than reading these sentences. If I am required to choose between ignorance and insipidness, I would rather select the former. But totalitarianism requires that we are insensitive towards language, that our souls become numb, and that we are both ignorant and insipid.
Through the round-the-clock and repeated clamor and unobtrusive influence of public language (newspapers, radio, television, plenary reports, red-headed documents, news bulletins, textbooks of history), the flavor of our writing, reading, lecturing and even daily speech is molded. When picking up a pen, we come up with nothing but clichés and hackneyed expressions. When we talk, there are either lies and double talk, or boasts and idle talk. Regardless of whether it is an official, an actor, a professor or a journalist, as soon as someone gets on the stage to speak, they all become prigs as if by appointment. The haughty official’s tune, the hypocrite’s tune, the revolutionary tune, in short, people just cannot talk like normal human beings. A few years ago, someone criticized the television drama “Grand Justice” for not speaking “the people’s language”, and I shared the same feeling deeply. In real life, people who talk like that are either lunatics or political counselors at Tsinghua University. It isn’t just in “Grand Justice”; in all the works with officially-promoted themes, few people speak the people’s language. The characters are either tall, grand and perfect, or false, ugly and vicious. How can they speak the authentic language of humanity when what they do is deceive by either dressing up as gods or playing devils?
“The style of Party newspaper editorials” and “the tune of the news broadcast” indicate that totalitarianism dominates our thinking habits and our aesthetic habits as a dominant grammar and as an official aesthetics. “Wolf’s milk” has become “wolf’s blood” in our veins through language, thinking and unconsciousness. Are there more “microscopic” or more profound “techniques of power” than these?
The governance of writing and speaking is realized through governing language users’ flesh as well as their minds. In order to transform memories, inject ideas into people’s minds and prevent independent writing, a formidable, comprehensive governance project to purge language is required: the work unit system of intellectuals, the prior censorship system, prototypical literature, the officially-promoted themes, language textbooks, political exams, the “five one project,” the writers’ associations, the literary inquisition as well as writers and speakers’ self-censorship. Furthermore, Mandarin has also been trampled beyond recognition by all sorts of banning and filtering technologies. Under so many taboos and restrictions, people can only say one thing and mean another, hold their tongue, make oblique accusations, beat about the bush, and perfect the art of being indistinct and ambiguous. The Mandarin world after passing through the filter is a harmonious society that is beautiful without parallel: “there is no speech that isn’t important; there is no applause that isn’t enthusiastic; there is no policymaking that isn’t wise; there is no path that isn’t correct; there are no popular feelings that aren’t inspired; there is no progress that isn’t smooth; there are no ranks that aren’t united; there are no masses that aren’t satisfied”. Thanks to our wise leaders, life has climbed another step up, enemies have made asses of themselves again, and the situation is excellent everywhere we look.
Because of this, apart from the fact that today’s Mandarin overflows with politicized clichés and prudery, it is also congested with naked lies and shameless perversions: “the Chinese Communist Party has first and foremost rushed into the forefront of the anti-Japanese war, the Communist Party is the mainstay of the nation’s united anti-Japanese resistance”, “the masses enthusiastically welcome delegates of the Two Meetings”, “our country’s human rights situation is at the best period in history”, “there is no conflict between peasants and the police in China”, “There is no one in China who has been arrested for speech online.” Such lies can be found everywhere. In totalitarian ideological language, there is a “class struggle” without “class enemies”, a “democracy” in which the people cannot make decisions, “constitutionalism” in which the Constitution is willfully trampled underfoot, “freedom of speech” that doesn’t let people speak freely, “citizens” who have no power and also aren’t protected by the law, “public servants” who are always higher than the “people” in power and position, “the representatives of the proletarian class interests” who care more for capitalists than workers”, etc. (Xu Ben). Through forced and deliberate misrepresentation, the CCP has changed China.
Mandarin under totalitarianism is brimming with tautologies, self-aggrandizement and gangster logic, it has no use, no mercy, no reason, no fun, and no taste; it is reduced to a language game that has no connection with reality. China’s “fault lines” are first and foremost the fault lines between the signified and the signifier in Mandarin, and the fault lines between Mandarin and Chinese reality. Mandarin is the home of every Chinese person, but nowadays it is as if all Chinese people are living under an enemy occupation.
Under the mirages constituted by false, aggrandizement and empty Mandarin, another, real world of Mandarin has been growing arduously on the solid ground. Behind a world that “puts up a false show of peace and prosperity,” ordinary people’s anxiety and difficulties are hidden; behind forced collective forgetting, there are tenacious individual memories; behind the grand lies and narratives, there is resistance against slavery as well as an incessant thirst for freedom. Public language and official language, often rigid, affected, ugly, dull, overbearing and coarse, has become the target of ridicule, sarcasm and disdain in private conversations.
Browsing some independent Chinese-language media or websites, you see a different world: “United Nations Special Envoy for Torture Novak says China’s use of torture is still broad”, “blind rights defender Chen Guangcheng has been arrested for 58 days without any whereabouts”, “Election results of Dashi Village Challenged”, “Yahoo Company has been exposed again as allegedly providing evidence to the Chinese police, resulting in a prison sentence of 10 years for Beijing online dissident Wang Xiaoning”, “‘Freezing Point’ weekly refuses to publish the reply article of Yuan Weishi”, “After a secret visit and investigation, rights defenders refute the official statement about the shooting incident in Shanwei,” “On the eve of the Two Meetings, the appropriate authorities have again been searching and arresting petitioners, and a petitioner was struck and killed by a train during pursuit.”
Through folk poetry, underground publications, individual blogs, network periodicals and free media, Mandarin begins to recover its vitality. Ever more people begin to write honestly from their heart; ever more people hope to read truthful, idiosyncratic writing; ever more people begin to think independently and speak the truth. In order to clean out the poison of totalitarian language, and in order to save Mandarin, individual writers, citizen journalists, liberal intellectuals, poets, directors, teachers, students, network writers as well as all conscientious Mandarin users have sprung into action. They do not want Mandarin to become a series of mechanical and dogmatic words devoid of imagination, to become a yoke that confines thinking and suppresses the individual, or to become a writing game of altering history and glossing over reality. Among the writers and journalists locked up across the whole world, the absolute majority are writers and journalist who write in Mandarin. This fact indicates the brave exploration and struggle of Mandarin speakers under grim circumstances.
They are creating a new Mandarin world. This new Mandarin world is continuously vying for members with the old Mandarin world. This process of competition and its results will decide what China looks like in the future. And every person is able to influence this process by answering the following questions: What sort of writing do we read? What sort of Chinese do we use?
The first step in rebuilding civil society is to build ourselves up; building ourselves up needs to begin with re-building our own language. “Power is the language of the powerful, language is the power of the powerless” (Hu Ping). Tyranny has occupied and continues to occupy our homes, bodies and language, and one of the easiest and the most basic works perhaps is to drive away the tyranny of Mandarin from our writing and speech.
May 6, 2006