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‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’ – Chang Ping’s Acceptance Speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award
Chang Ping, December 1, 2016
From the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression website: “Chang Ping is one of China’s best-known journalists who reports on political issues. He writes about sensitive topics including democracy, media censorship, the failures of government policy and Tibet. He is the winner of the International Press Freedom Award. This award recognizes the outstanding courage of journalists who work at great personal risk and against enormous odds so that the news media remain free. Establishing himself in the 1990s, he first reported from Guangzhou. As censorship has tightened in China, Chang’s pleas for transparency and accountability have put him under a political spotlight. In 2011, while working as the editor-in-chief at the now-suspended weekly magazine iSun Affairs in Hong Kong, [Chang Ping] was denied a work permit and forced to live in exile in Germany with his family. He remains there today and his columns and books are banned in the country.” — The Editors
Thank you, thank you, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression — and thank you everyone!
I am honored and certainly very happy to be here — but at the same time, I can’t really say that I am. When a Chinese citizen receives an award outside China, I don’t know whether he or she should be happy or worried. It could bring punishment to the recipient and his or her family. In China, a foreign award is often described as sugar-coated poison which should be firmly rejected, because the foreigners always have an agenda, usually a plot to overthrow the Chinese government.
What’s maddening is that it’s been so long and the foreigners still haven’t succeeded in implementing this plot.
Freedom, peace, human rights, democracy, constitutionalism, independence, civil society… these are frightening words that have sent some of China’s most courageous men and women to jail: Wang Bingzhang (王炳章), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Ilham Tohti, Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌), Yao Wentian (姚文田), Dolma Kyab, Gulmira Imin, Kunchok Tsephel, Gheyret Niyaz, Hada (哈达), Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), Shi Tao (师涛), Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Tan Zuoren (谭作人), Chen Xi (陈西), Chen Wei (陈卫), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Liu Yuandong (刘远东), Wang Mo (王默), Liu Ping (刘萍), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Heping (李和平)…
…and sent some of the most ardent advocates of these values to their deaths: Wang Shiwei (王实味), Chu Anping (储安平), Lin Zhao (林昭), Yu Luoke (遇罗克), Zhang Zhixin (张志新), Li Wangyang (李旺阳), Cao Shunli (曹顺利)…
Tonight, we gather to celebrate freedom of speech. So why did I read the names of so many of China’s political prisoners? That is because most of China’s political prisoners are made criminals for their speech. They might have been convicted of various trumped up crimes, but all they have done is nothing more than express dissent.
China’s political space is very narrow, and getting narrower. Citizens have almost no way of engaging in opposition activities other than speech. Meanwhile, speech is the beginning of everything. Dictators often realize the power of speech more than anyone else.
That’s why they brutally suppress every independent voice in China. That’s why they hate the demonstrations in Hong Kong. That’s why they are buying up news media in Taiwan. That’s why they are pushing their propaganda on the world, especially in Western democracies.
They demand that all Chinese media must toe the Party line; they build partnership with newspapers in Australia and radio stations in the United States; they deny visas to foreign journalists; and they are forcing Facebook to build a wall and pay for it.
Mr. Trump, who also wants to build a wall, will have to learn from China’s leaders, or he’ll have no chance to be praised by Prime Minister Trudeau as a “remarkable leader.”
If you are a slow learner, don’t worry. The Chinese government will be tireless in teaching you. Lesson one: For Whom the Bell Tolls. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, clearly taught you this here in Canada in June: “You have no right to speak about our human rights. Only the Chinese people have the right to speak about this issue.” But the truth is that the Chinese people are actually never allowed to speak out.
I have been fighting for speaking out. People often ask me: Why are you willing to make such sacrifices for freedom of speech? I have never hesitated in answering: Without freedom of speech, nothing will be left in the civilized world. Speech is freedom itself. If we don’t fight for it, our freedom will be completely lost.
My seven-year-old daughter loves museums. She once said to me, “Daddy, don’t become more handsome, or you will be locked in a museum.” What she meant to say is that, Daddy is capable of everything except speaking German as well as she does. But she doesn’t know that I’m unable even to explain to her why we can’t return to China. How do I tell her that, in many places where human beings live, people don’t even have the freedom to say what they want to say?
To my mother and my father in Sichuan, China, I wish you could be here with me to share this beautiful night. You have always been proud of me, but I can’t even tell you about this prize I’m receiving. All my loved ones in China, I have stopped contacting you, precisely because I love each one of you.
Thank you everyone!
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.
Han Lianchao, September 28, 2016
Some young Chinese friends of mine often criticize me for getting mixed up with the Dalai Lama. They say he’s a separatist element who’s trying to split Tibet from China. I don’t blame them for this, as I once understood things pretty much the same way they do. It’s only after having more opportunities to observe and interact with the Dalai Lama at close range and having more frequent interactions with Tibetans that my brainwashed thinking has gradually begun to change.
My answer to these young people is this: Contrary to what the Chinese Communist Party says in their propaganda, the Dalai Lama is no separatist.
I recently heard His Holiness the Dalai Lama deliver a lengthy discussion on his philosophy at a talk in Brussels. I was impressed by his great compassion for humanity, as well as by his firm stance against violence and separatism, his genuine desire to resolve Han-Tibetan enmity, and his sincere attitude toward compromise and negotiation with the central government. Unconcerned by opposition from young Tibetans and the radicalism of some anti-Communist Han Chinese, he still remains committed to his Middle Way Approach, has abandoned demands for Tibetan independence, and is willing to seek real autonomy for Tibet under the Chinese Communists’ current legal framework and political system.
The reason the Dalai Lama has decided not to seek Tibetan independence and has abandoned armed revolt is wholly based on the understanding on his part that the bloody and brutal way that humans kill each other does not comport with the doctrine and spirit of Tibetan Buddhism and goes against the trend of modern civilization’s development. At the same time, he has also adopted this policy in consideration of political realities and as a kind of compromise of last resort, taken to protect the Tibetan people and their culture and religion. It is an act that demonstrates his compassionate heart and his political wisdom and leadership.
The main tenet of the Middle Way Approach is that the Tibetans abandon their demands for independence and refrain from seeking Tibetan secession from China. But it also does not accept the manner in which the Chinese Communist Party currently controls Tibet. So both sides must compromise: Tibet will continue to remain part of the greater Chinese family in exchange for “genuine ethnic regional autonomy.”
Back in the 1970s, China’s supreme leader Deng Xiaoping expressed approval of the Middle Way Approach, saying that any issue was open for discussion as long as Tibet didn’t declare independence.
No matter which way you look at it, the Middle Way Approach is a policy that is opposed to separatism.
However, the Tibet interest group led by Zhu Weiqun (朱维群) has continually devised ways to demonize the Dalai Lama in order to protect their own Tibetan “iron rice bowl.” They’ve vilified him as a separatist and a traitor and even insulted him as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” They’ve put up all sorts of obstacles for him, deceived the central authorities, undermined negotiations, and prohibited the Dalai Lama from returning home—all of which has radicalized more and more moderate Tibetans and forced them on the path of Tibetan independence. The result is the lurking danger of Tibetan separatism. Zhu Weiqun and his vested interest group are in fact the true separatist culprits.
Zhu Weiqun deliberately distorted the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach as “covert separatist demands.” He’s criticized the Middle Way Approach for not acknowledging that Tibet has been Chinese territory since ancient times and thus furnishing the Tibetan independence movement with legal grounds. Zhu falsely accuses the ethnic autonomy of the Middle Way Approach as overthrowing the current system and the creation of a Greater Tibet that will force the People’s Liberation Army and all Han out of the region. His evidence is a speech the Dalai Lama gave 30 years ago before the US Congress, in which His Holiness put forward a “Five Point Peace Plan” for resolving the Tibetan issue, as well as the “New Seven Point Agenda” he presented later in Strasbourg.
We all know that negotiation is a process of bargaining in which each side seeks to improve its own rights and interests while at the same time engaging in compromise and exchange in order to find a plan that provides mutual benefit and realizes both sides’ greatest common interest. Negotiation is not about being peremptory and unreasonable and forcing one side’s will upon the other.
Whether it’s the “Five Point Peace Plan” or the “New Seven Point Agenda,” neither proposal seeks Tibetan independence and both have been put forward under the premise that Tibet shouldn’t split from China. Under the instructions given by Deng Xiaoping, it should be possible to discuss either of these proposals.
In fact, the Dalai Lama has never spoken of a “Greater Tibet.” He has simply proposed that all Tibetan regions be able to have genuine ethnic regional autonomy under the framework of the Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law of People’s Republic of China. Under this autonomy, of course the central authorities would continue to handle foreign affairs and national defense, and the central government still has the power to garrison troops. The Dalai Lama’s idea of a peaceful region is only a recommendation and not a demand that the PLA leave Tibet.
He has also never said anything about forcing the Han out of Tibet, but he does oppose the large-scale immigration of Han into Tibet that makes the Han population far greater than the Tibetans and threatens Tibetan culture and way of life. The phrase “high degree of autonomy” is something that was already applied to the question of Hong Kong and doesn’t have the slightest connection to overthrowing the Communist Party’s current political regime. What’s more, though the content of the Middle Way Approach has softened a great deal over the years, no matter how it changes it still doesn’t seek independence and has remained consistent on the principle of not splitting from China.
As for the question of whether Tibet has been part of Chinese territory from ancient times, a very good response was provided at the Brussels conference by Liu Hancheng (劉漢城), a retired professor at City University of Hong Kong. Prof. Liu has personally spent many years researching these issues and looking at the vast ocean of official historical documents from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, plus documents from the Republican period. He’s dug through gazetteers, records of administrative divisions, tax and tribute records, household registration records, examination result lists, judicial and bureaucratic records, postal records and garrison information, and he’s sorted out a variety of credible evidence that demonstrates that Tibet has been independent of China from ancient times.
I learned a lot from the several conversations I had with Prof. Liu after the conference. Prof. Liu said that he didn’t conduct his research with any political agenda in mind and didn’t want to discuss the question of whom Tibet ought to belong to. He only wanted to get to the bottom of Tibet’s historical status and welcomed the chance to discuss his research rationally with government or non-government scholars in China.
In fact, the Dalai Lama has said many times before that it is impossible to deny history. But no matter what Tibet’s historical status might be, he argues that we ought to let the past be the past. We shouldn’t get bogged down in history and only look forward and focus on future development and the people’s wellbeing. This once again demonstrates the political vision of the Dalai Lama and his position in opposition to separatism.
Zhu Weiqun and the Tibet interest group is hoping that the Tibet question will disappear on its own after the Dalai Lama passes from this world. In fact, if the Tibet question isn’t effectively resolved while the Dalai Lama is still alive, his passing is likely to lead to more intense and long-lasting Tibetan-Han conflicts and unnecessary bloodshed and hatred.
At this recent Brussels conference, I clearly felt the increasing radicalization of young Tibetans and the growing force of Tibetan independence. In some of my private conversations with American friends, we worried about the trend of these young people turning away from the Middle Way Approach. Even though I support the principle of self-determination that has been recognized by the United Nations, I believe that the costs of fighting for independence are high and don’t serve the long-term interests of either Han or Tibetan. I think it’s much better to stick to His Holiness’s Middle Way Approach.
Also, the Dalai Lama’s opposition to separatism and desire for a peaceful resolution to the Tibetan question are both sincere and heartfelt. At one meeting I personally witnessed how the Dalai Lama publicly tried to convince Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer to give up calls for an independent East Turkestan, abandon violence, and follow the Middle Way Approach. On that particular occasion, Rebiya Kadeer admitted that she had been persuaded by the Dalai Lama’s words.
I recommend that young people in mainland China read Phuntsok Wangyal’s book, The Slow Road to Equality and Unity: Reflections on Ethnic Relations in Our Country. Phuntsok Wangyal was a founding member of the Tibetan Communist Party and was the highest ranking Tibetan in China in the 1950s. His descriptions and views on the origins of the Tibetan issue, the flight of the Dalai Lama, and the way to resolve the Tibetan question are all extremely accurate and refined.
Finally, I recommend that President Xi Jinping eliminate the interference of Zhu Weiqun and vested interest groups, seize the historic opportunity and meet directly with the Dalai Lama to resolve the Tibet question once and for all and truly realize the vision of peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups and long-term national stability.
Dr. Han Lianchao (韩连潮) is a Visiting Fellow at Hudson Institute, working on the Institute’s Future of Innovation Initiative. He worked in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, serving as legislative counsel and policy director for three active U.S. Senators. He has also been a veteran overseas Chinese democracy advocate.
The Chinese original《韩连潮：达赖喇嘛是反分裂分子》 was published on VOA Chinese website on September 20, 2016. Translation by China Change.
Guo Yushan, September 22, 2016
On September 22, after nearly two years in detention and a trial in August, lawyer Xia Lin (夏霖), my friend, will finally face his sentence.
Whatever he’s been charged with, it’s clear to everyone that it was only because he defended me that he has been imprisoned, and suffered as he has to this day.
In May 2014, Xia Lin got dragged into a number of disputes because of his involvement in Pu Zhiqiang’s (浦志强) case. One day in mid June, me, Xia Lin, and Kaiping (黄凯平) were sharing drinks at Beijing Worker’s Stadium, lamenting Pu’s case. At a break in the conversation, Xia Lin suddenly said to me: “If you get sent to prison in the future, I’ll be your lawyer. I’ll fight your case publicly to the end and I’ll do whatever it takes.” I replied that, of course, if I’m thrown in jail, fight it by all means, fight it as you see fit, and you don’t have to worry about the consequences for me. That we concluded, with Kaiping as witness, raising our hands in toast and draining our cups.
Who’d have thought that the day would come so soon? Three months after the drinks at Worker’s Stadium, both Kaiping and I were taken into custody [in October 2014]. Xia Lin indeed defended me. A month later, he was also detained. In the time that followed I was bounced between three detention centers, while he was kept in the Beijing First Detention Center. A year later I was released on bail — but they kept him behind bars because he refused to supply a confession. Another year passed, and only now is he going to meet a verdict.
We’ve all paid the price we expected.
The price is bound to be exacted, given that we’ve chosen our stance toward this country since when we were young. Xia Lin made his choice in the flush of his youth, as part of the 1989 generation, choosing to go to Tiananmen Square, wearying his spirit in the struggle with his peers to improve this country. He again made his choice when he was a student at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law (西南政法学院), where he made an open vow never to be a lackey or collaborator with evil.
This he achieved. He never wavered from his course for 27 years. From Guizhou to Beijing, from a commercial lawyer to a human rights lawyer: the road of life he took became rockier and rockier, but more and more soul stirring.
As for the price of a life to be paid — Xia Lin, like me, is ready for it. He’s much more awake than I to the reality of how the system reacts, and its brutality.
Our lives have been interwoven together, as if by fate, from our first meeting in Mao Haojian’s (茅海建) course on modern Chinese history at Peking University. In 2004 after fellow students and I were surrounded on the Jingyuan Lawn on campus, where we protested [over the death of a female student], he came with law books and an attorney contract, walking around the lawn, always within reach. In 2008 during the Deng Yujiao case (邓玉娇案), he was in Badong County, Hubei, and I rushed there from Beijing to be a help to him.
In 2012, after I drove Chen Guangcheng to the American Embassy, Xia Lin sat in my study and combed through all the possible charges the authorities could resort to for reprisal, from “subversion of state power” to “illegal business operations.” He analyzed and whittled through them one by one. Two years later, when I found myself in prison, all that probing became precious legal experience.
We all know the fates we’ll come to assume in history. Both Xia Lin and myself, and so, so many of our colleagues, are all fated to be the stepping stones, the paving stones, for the age of the future. Accepting this humble place in history is our honor.
As for what lays ahead, we’ve not changed what has animated us from the beginning, and we won’t.
Whether we’re slandered or given heavy sentences — what surprise will it be in today’s China? When I was first arrested, I repeated to myself, and to the authorities, over and over again: If I were to be sentenced, one day will be the same as a decade. With Xia Lin, who is so proud, it’s the same.
The September 22 sentence might be, say, 11 years imprisonment, or it might be 2 years, but however many years it is, it will have had nothing to do with the law. This is our fate. We have no choice but to accept it.
Such is our world — so top up the goblet. On September 22 I’ll be outside the court with wine, waiting for the outcome. But for Xia Lin, for myself, for the judge Yi Daqing (易大庆), for the 101 Special Investigation Team assigned to my and Xia Lin’s case, this isn’t the conclusion. It’s just the beginning.
September 20, 2016
Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) was the head of the now disabled Transition Institute (传知行), an independent think tank in Beijing that advocates political and economic liberalization. Mr. Guo was one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gong Meng公盟). He was detained in October 2014, tortured during detention, and released on bail in September 2015.
Also by Guo Yushan:
Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, August 10, 2013.
Zhao Xin, September 11, 2016
“Chinese state media spilled much ink on the “three factors” and “five main proposals” to demonize Hu Shigen, but avoided discussing Hu’s “three stage” roadmap to change. This is because if the 88 million Communist Party members hear about such a moderate and rational roadmap for transition, some of them may very well embrace it, leading to fissures within the ruling clique itself.”
From August 2 to 5, The Tianjin Intermediate People’s Court carried out a four-day so-called “open trial” against Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), where they were charged with subversion of state power. The first two were sentenced to 7.5 and 7 years of imprisonment, while the latter two were given suspended sentences. Their punishments were so severe, on evidence that was so rash and far-fetched, in a trial that was so expedited, that both foreign media and China watchers were outraged. The Chinese activist community called it Beijing’s version of the “Moscow show trials.”
The four were among the over 20 human rights lawyers and activists arrested in what’s known as the “709 incident” (referring to a rash of arrests on July 9, 2015). Over the past year they have been put through secret detentions and forced to “make statements” dismissing their own lawyers, while also being deprived visitation from them. After the four trials, not one of the victims lodged an appeal. In the following weeks and months, more lawyers and activists will be forced to perform the same farcical show trials.
However, one of the unintended products of the four trials in August is the discussion and dissemination of “Hu Shigen thought” and the “topple-the-wall movement,” thanks to the hysterical vilification of the veteran dissident. Immediately following the trials, Communist Party mouthpieces including Xinhua, People’s Daily, CCTV, and Legal Daily, published articles with headlines like “How Hu Shigen’s ‘Topple-the-Wall’ Theory Bewitches and Poisons the People’s Minds,” “Using the ‘Topple-the-Wall’ Theory to Subvert State Power,” “Instead of Repenting, Hu Shigen Sentenced for Trying to ‘Topple the Wall’,” and “Trying to ‘Topple the Wall’ But Only Toppling Himself.”
All of these were clear demonstrations that Hu Shigen was being tried and punished as a thought criminal. The concept of “toppling the wall” has been familiar to Chinese political activists for a long time already, but thanks to the Communist Party’s propaganda, many people who are afraid of politics, or afraid to ask about politics, are inquiring: What is Hu Shigen’s thinking? What is the ‘topple the wall’ movement?
As someone who has known and worked with Hu Shigen for 26 years, I’ve been asked many of these questions myself. In the following passages I will set down what I know about these questions, as a preliminary explication.
I. Hu Shigen’s ideas are the consensus for China’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy
During the show trials, the state media reported the following: “According to the testimony of multiple witnesses, this gathering (in an Anhui restaurant called Qi Wei Shao, 七味烧) was not a simple dinner party. Instead, it was a meeting for exchanging views and perfecting ideas about subverting state power, and for planning and implementing the overthrow of the socialist system. The gathering had a number of strict and set regulations, with clear, explicit topics for discussion about the subversion of state power, including a summary of the activities to subvert state power undertaken in 2014, and the secret conspiracy and plot for continued organization to subvert state power in 2015. The meetings also set forth systematic theories, methods, and steps for the subversion of state power, and these were also concrete acts by Hu Shigen and others to organize, plot, and carry out the subversion of state power.”
The activists were also accused of “widely spreading so-called ‘state transition’ and other subversive theories.”
In reality, the so-called “Hu Shigen thought” and so-called “state transition and other subversive theories” are no more than topics that have become a matter of widespread consensus in Chinese civil society about China’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy. The reason the Chinese authorities made such an implausible attempt to point out Hu Shigen’s “harmful thinking” was in order to leverage his status as a veteran of the democracy movement to make false charges against rights defense lawyers and human rights defenders, casting the peaceful attempts to defend civil rights and the rule of law as nefarious efforts to subvert state power. The goal, of course, is to strangle the rights defense movement of the last decade or so.
In the years since the June 4 massacre in 1989, China’s civil society has gone through different stages of political activism for change, and it has also reached a consensus that China needs a peaceful, rational and nonviolent transition, not a violent revolution, toward democracy; that rights defense should be based on the law (thus the role of lawyers came to the fore); and that a free and democratic constitutional republicanism, not a totalitarian dictatorship, is the future for China.
A component of this consensus is that the Communist Party could transform itself into a socialist party, or a democratic socialist party, participate in democratic elections, and that its officials could hold government offices. It could even, after laying down a clear roadmap for transition to a constitutional government, consider making the Communist Party itself a legal transitional ruler.
For all these reasons, it’s clear that this is a moderate, rational, and constructive consensus, and that it can guide Chinese society toward a broad and open road with the least risk, the lowest cost, and the greatest value, where there are no losers and only winners. But all this has been besmirched by a terrified dictatorship as “subversive thinking.”
II. The Three Factors (三个主要因素) and the Five Proposals (五个方案) for China’s Peaceful Transition to a Constitutional Democracy
Chinese state media have engaged in widespread and targeted criticism of the three factors and five proposals for China’s transition. The “three factors” refers to the three main forces needed to push forward China’s transition:
- A powerful citizenry: A mature civil society and a strong citizenry are the fundamentals for social progress;
- Splits in the ruling clique: Given that the Communist Party has previously produced types like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, it’s entirely possible that a catalyzing figure, like Chiang Ching-kuo or Boris Yeltzin, may yet emerge;
- The involvement of the international community: A hardline totalitarian regime is not in the interest of the world.
The Five Proposals include:
- Transition: That the transition to constitutional government be peaceful, steering clear of violence;
- Nation-building: That a democratic constitutional government system be established;
- Livelihood: The communists tax heavily but neglect the people, while maintaining massive bureaucratic institutions. Post-transition China will need to focus on education, healthcare, care for seniors, housing, welfare, and other aspects of the people’s livelihood;
- Rewards: All those who made contributions and sacrifices should be recognized through rewards, thus asserting a set of social values;
- Punishments: Reconciliation should be extended on the basis of truth and righteousness, while the obstinate criminals will be accorded punishments.
III. The Three-Stage Roadmap for Social Change
During the trial in Tianjin, Hu Shigen “confessed” the following: “On multiple occasions of citizen meal gatherings (同城饭醉) with lawyers and petitioners present, I talked about my concept of a ‘peaceful transition,’ in particular the ‘three main factors,’ ‘three stages (三个阶段),’ and ‘five proposals’ for transition. I inculcated these ideas in other people in order to achieve the goal of a ‘color revolution.’”
Chinese state media spilled much ink on the “three factors” and “five main proposals” to demonize Hu Shigen, but avoided discussing Hu’s “three stage” roadmap to change. This is because if the 88 million Communist Party members hear about such a moderate and rational roadmap for transition, some of them may very well embrace it, leading to fissures within the ruling clique itself.
The three stage roadmap for social progress that Hu Shigen proposed can be summarized as follows:
- The Phase of Enlightenment
The root of this enlightenment can be traced back to the enlightenment movement at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the early Republican Era. The Democracy Wall-era of Wei Jingsheng and others in the late 1970s was a continuation of this, with the most recent episode being the enlightenment of public intellectuals in the post-1989 era. While this enlightenment has not been completed over the last century, and faced brutal repression under communist rule, the ideas have not died. The importance of movements to enlighten and transform the thinking of the masses by spreading truth and common sense has been a consensus of all liberal Chinese citizens who favor democracy.
In 2004, when Hu Shigen was still serving out his 20-year sentence in prison for organizing political groups and activities shortly after the Tiananmen Massacre, I wrote an essay titled: “The Plight of Hu Shigen Is a Test of the Conscience of Every Chinese,” in which I quoted something he said to me during the post-June 4th white terror. He said (roughly): China doesn’t need heroics. What China needs is for every citizen to find a little conscience and courage inside themselves, a bit of public spiritedness and sense of civil responsibility. If everyone can think, beginning with themselves, to proactively get involved, then our country will definitely have hope and future.
This is what he ardently hoped for — and he practiced what he preached. Over the last few years he and Zhao Changqing (赵常青) and other like-minded people have steadily organized and expanded the same-city dinner gatherings across the country. They have met with threats and crackdown, but the activities remain alive among activists.
- The Rights Movement Phase
At the heart of civil consciousness and the development of non-government citizen organizations, is the struggle and defense of citizens’ rights. This includes economic rights, political rights, cultural rights, religious rights, and personal rights.
The Communist Party claims that it’s the vanguard of the working class, and that its political base is an alliance of workers and peasants. But the greatest irony is that, given that the Chinese economy is an oligarchy and reforms are rudderless, those harmed the most by China’s vested interest groups have been workers, peasants, and urbanites.
So where is the social base for those in favor of constitutional democracy? Where is the breathing room for this opposition group to survive? Which groups should those committed to China’s social advancement represent? This is what Hu Shigen thinks, and it’s also the consensus of China’s rights defense community: we need to rupture the authorities’ plan to marginalize us, and also the tendency to marginalize ourselves. We defend everyone’s rights, be they workers, farmers, city-dwellers, businessmen, military officials, intellectuals, religious believers, victims of forced sterilization, the elderly, and those demanding equal education and healthcare. In the final analysis, if one has no political rights, then one has no right to other rights. A system of constitutional democracy is for safeguarding all lawful rights of every Chinese citizen.
As early as 1991, again since his release in 2008, Hu Shigen emphasized repeatedly: rights defense is the greatest enlightenment. Every citizen should help to defend the rights of everyone from every strata who has been harmed, and use every rational and reasonable means to do so. Only by completely disintegrating the Communist Party’s social base and undermining its foundation can the temple of constitutional democracy be constructed.
That is the “Topple the Wall” theory.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Phase
How will a post-democratic transition China treat the 88 million Communist Party members and their families? This is a massive social constituency. If they have no future, China has no future — because they’ll form the greatest obstruction to social progress. Absorbing and reconciling with them, thereby reducing as much as possible the obstacles to peaceful transition, needs to be at the forefront of our work.
Hu Shigen was determined to learn from the examples of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, who advocated a truth and reconciliation movement in their country. At an appropriate time in the future it will be necessary to carry out the same process in China. Just as Archbishop Tutu said: If there is no truth, there can be no justice, and if there is no forgiveness there can be no future.
Hu Shigen remarked on many occasions that since the social transition in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Chinese Communist Party has been needlessly terrified and anxious about a future peaceful transition to constitutional democracy in China. The reason, as Hu said during that Qi Wei Shao dinner, is because the social transformation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe demonstrated one principle very clearly: as long as Communist Party officials aren’t “blinded by their Party nature so much that they sacrifice their lives for it,” and as long as they mobilize when the time is right and become a force for social progress and not an obstruction, then they will have made a great contribution to the future constitutional democracy. Whether the Chinese Communist Party re-organizes itself to become the Chinese Socialist Party, or the Socialist Democratic Party, current party members will be in a relatively better position to play a larger role in every aspect of Chinese society to promote positive changes.
According to statistics, following the social transition of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as many as 95 percent of the key social positions, with the massive social resources those posts commanded, were still held by former Communist Party members. Hu Shigen joked about this: There are golden bricks in the Berlin Wall — we’re just waiting for the Chinese Yeltsin. In the future, China is bound to produce minor and major “Yeltsins,” guiding the China’s transition to constitutionalism.
Twenty six years ago, Hu Shigen declared before me: Sitting around and waiting for freedom is a poor cousin to getting up and fighting for it. Twenty six years later in the Qi Wei Shao restaurant in Beijing, Hu Shigen is said by communist mouthpiece media to have made the following rousing declaration before his colleagues: “It’s better to mount a rebellion than wait to be shot.”
August 11, 2016
Zhao Xin (赵昕) is a student leader in 1989 and one of the earliest rights movement activist. After years of being blocked from traveling overseas, he was able to leave China recently and relocate to San Francisco. This article was written for China Change.
Chinese state media sources:
China Sentences Hu Shigen, Democracy Advocate, to 7 Years in Prison, the New York Times, August 3, 2016.
Hu Shigen: The Prominent Yet Obscure Political Prisoner, Ren Bumei, August 2, 2016.