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On Saturday Yaxue shared the story of “Subverter” Chen Pingfu. Essentially, he was deeply in debt after paying for a surgery, and turned to performing in public to try and pay off the money he owed his family members. For this he was threatened and eventually beaten by “public servants,” but he continued on. When he complained about this treatment online, he was further harassed by police, and was forced out of the only job he’d been able to find in years. Chen was a man desperately clinging to the last shred of dignity he had and local officials were determined to take that away from him.
Apparently in China, when the gov’t takes away your job and threaten you by saying, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” you are supposed to swallow the bitter pill in absolute silence. For if you are angry, and express that in any public forum, you can be sentenced for “subverting state power.”
But we saw this weekend, that there is still one thing you can be angry about – Japan.
There were massive protests against Japan’s gov’t buying islands (from a Japanese family) which China claims (for excellent coverage see Eric’s coverage at Sinostand). Friends in Nanjing reported seeing smaller crowds gathered and one emailed me to comment on what happened during the Rape of Nanjing, “I still believe only a twisted and distorted nation could have done such horrific things and have enjoyed. It runs in the blood.”
From what Eric at Sinostand saw first hand, he had little doubt that these were gov’t sanctioned, if not gov’t supported protests, as the crowd hoisted Mao posters, and chanted for the long life of the Communist Party (in Xiamen they clearly were). People’s Daily has also hosted a series of other inflammatory news about Japan, which makes it seem as though the gov’t is not done stoking the fire. Global Times condemned the violent protests, but supported the protests over all (this is perhaps the most explicit piece from GT that shows their allegiance to the Party). This fits neatly with the Party’s beloved narrative that they are the only force that can protect China from being carved up by foreign imperialists (of which Japan is the worst).
Perhaps Chinese people really are this upset with Japan (over a move that has changed nothing as far as the issue of the Diaoyu islands is concerned). China does not accept Japanese control of the islands and so Japan’s recent actions should be as upsetting to Chinese students as China buying Hawaii from some guy in Gansu would be to an American. Furthermore, supporters of the Party like to remind us that the Chinese people are of low character, and would be very warlike without the firm control of the gov’t. Or perhaps it’s just that this is the only issue that one can actually take to the streets over without fear of being beaten by police, forced out of your job, or disappearing into the back of a Public Security Bureau van.
A friend in Chengdu told me that one of his greatest regrets in college was participating in the anti-American protests sparked by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (these were also massive). He told me more than once, that after the U.S. apologized, the protests were halted, and the students were sent back to their universities lest they begin to protest anything else. He feels now as though he was nothing more than a pawn in the gov’t’s game, but at the time it had been a liberating feeling to go and scream and wave banners.
For now the students seem content with venting their frustration with the Japanese gov’t, but as China’s economy slows down and graduates can’t find jobs, it’s only a matter of time before they realize who they are really angry with.
Picking up from where Hannah left off yesterday, I want to look at a couple ideas from Ai Weiwei’s essays that jumped out at me.
Chinese Contemporary in Dilemma and Transition
Ai’s essays provide a great reminder of why Ai was so popular in China before the West took an interest in him – he isn’t speaking to a western audience and he is directly challenging Chinese culture.
In fact much of his essay on Chinese art is in direct opposition to how the gov’t tried to paint him after his arrest; Ai is in no way infatuated with Western ideology, as he wants to see a strong and prosperous Chinese art scene, and by extension China. That Chinese artists should resist western influence, and instead look more deeply into their own history to inspire their works. These ideas that China should be treated as a wholly unique civilization, sounds in some ways similar to what one hears from Global Times when discussing issues like human rights and democracy, which made me pause for a moment to question whether the imprisoned Ai of 2012 would still agree with the Ai of 2004.
Then I began to realize that these ideas about art resonate strongly with Ai’s views on politics: that while the Party is not right for China, and that individuals must have their own voice within whatever system replaces the current one, it must still be a uniquely Chinese government. It should not blindly follow the path of the West, nor can it continue on it’s current destructive course.
As Ai warns against labeling Chinese artists as anti-establishment, it is also worth remembering that we should avoid assuming that all Chinese dissidents are pro-western, or that all of those opposed to the one-child policy are necessarily pro-life.
Uli Sigg’s art collection, which Ai admires for its breadth.
Who Are You?
In the next essay we read, “Who Are You?” Ai launches into a philosophical discussion of design and it’s need to label things. In one section he says,
“In certain social situations we may say: ‘I am you, and you and I are the same.’ In other circumstances we may say: ‘I am myself and I am different from all of you.'”
At this moment in China, the Party seems to be reasserting that all Chinese people are united as a single mass, but that this push has led to a growing call from the younger generation for individual and distinct identities. There seems to be an ebb and flow to this cycle throughout all cultures, and that in times of unity (or as Hu prefers to call it “harmony”), there is often an urge to reconsider the possibility of disunity.
Within the dissident community, I would hope to see much more recognition of the idea that their efforts are one in the same. The other day a friend sent me a link to an article decrying the problem of harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners, but shouldn’t we really be opposed to all forms of coerced organ harvesting? Or that Chinese Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims have yet to unite on issues related to the repression of their religious practices; opting instead to each go it alone (with few tangible results).
Ai also argues that, “People today expect to gain status, acceptance, or pleasure from the particular number of square meters in their homes or some set of fixed standards, a life of simply filling in the blanks.” This call for a counter-culture, in which we question whether or not the speed of development is worth the price, has begun to take shape in China over the last few years, especially after the train crash last summer.
Next week we will be reading three essays from Ai Weiwei and discussing them here on Thursday and Friday (the series will continue through August, as Ai Weiwei is a prolific essayist, and we want to make sure you get the most out of your book). They are: “A World without Honor,” “As Soon as You’re Not Careful…an Encounter with Idiocy on a Sunny Day,” and “Aftershocks.” If you are reading along, we encourage you to send your own reflections on the pieces to Hannah@SeeingRedinChina.com
When it comes to describing China’s challenges, foreigners (myself included) tend to attack the gov’t side of the issue. While the current system does seem to reinforce a number of practices that limit people power and encourage corruption, it ignores the cultural factors that are in play. I believe the reason for this is that us “old outsiders” worry about being decried as racist.
To some extent these two factors reinforce one another. For instance, the leaders in China have never actually been required to heed the will of the people, and so there is a limited culture of challenging their rule; 0r that the rich have always been privileged in Chinese society over the commoners.
Fortunately, people like Xu Zhiyong and Murong Xuecun are attacking both ends of the problem by focusing in on the idea that a corrupt system relies on corrupt individuals. In a lengthy new essay translated by Tea Leaf Nation (link was broken for me, so here is a cached version), Murong addresses a litany of cultural issues that are holding China back and offers several solutions.
One of his major arguments is that people have become numb to issues like corruption, pollution and food safety. This ambivalence results in declining morals and an “intolerably evil” government. While I think the default setting is numbness, it seems to be fading as we see in the spate of protests against factories in the last year.
Murong later brings out an infamous example from Lu Xun’s story of Ah-Q that shows how the current culture has led to despicable attacks on children and the elderly.
“When he’s beaten by the mayor, Ah Q doesn’t dare strike back, so he goes to hit Wang Hu. When he can’t hit him, he goes after Little D. When he can’t win in that match, he goes to hit Wu Ma. When he can’t match her, he goes after the children in pre-school. This is not simply a joke or fiction, and the increasing number of murdered preschool children in mainland China proves this point.”
But he does offer suggestions in the spirit of the New Citizen’s movement, that the Chinese people must change their ideas when it comes to making sacrifices for the state; especially when one considers how little officials are willing to sacrifice for those they govern. Murong says that the mantra should be, “I am a person first, and then I can be everything else. I am myself first, then I can help with society.”
In the past when I’ve discussed corruption with my co-workers there was often an initial attitude that it was the gov’t’s money to waste. But when I took this line of reasoning, the anger was often palpable. That a gov’t official’s dinner was money not being spent on their children’s education, and that their shiny cars were bought by selling the land out from underneath their parents.
Murong illustrates how backwards the culture is towards corruption by comparing a gov’t official to a janitor, who are similar on the basis that both could be seen as employees. With this he argues that it is a farce when people praise officials simply for doing their jobs. Murong writes,
“If your janitor tells you that he bought a broom for thousands of dollars, then he is embezzling from you. If he takes your money and buys a million-dollar watch, then he is nothing but corrupt. If your cleaner, in the name of cleaning the floor for you, eats in upscale restaurants, drinks expensive Maotai liquor, smokes high-end cigarettes, then you have all the right to think: Would not it be better if someone else is cleaning the floor?”
While some people have argued that these kinds of essays are overly negative, I have had a number of conversations with Chinese friends over the years that have begun with a torrent of similar complaints. For many, it’s not just one area of their lives that are being effected by the gov’t and the culture, it’s starting to feel like everything. They are sick of the scams and the gov’t’s inability to stop them, and they are looking for someone to stand with them against this unjust system.
Yesterday we posted Xu Zhiyong’s essay calling for a New Citizens’ Movement. Today I want to highlight a few of the aspects that make this piece especially interesting to me, and why I believe this essay lays out a realistic path for change.
Reform not Revolution
What has been made clear time and again in Global Times and Peoples Daily is that the Chinese people have little appetite for revolution, they aren’t wrong about this. After all, they got their fill of the chaos that revolution brings during Mao’s reign. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, and a successful movement is going to have to reassure the people that what they are doing is not going to turn China into Libya, Egypt or Syria. I think in this respect, the New Citizens’ Movement accomplishes this by stressing reform not revolution.
The goal of the movement is a democratically elected gov’t and a country ruled by law. Few revolutions have managed this without bloodshed, but those who have seen growing prosperity and stability. In Chinese history, revolution has been a bloody and violent affair (and this is stressed for political reasons in Chinese text books), and revolution creates a new group of winners and losers that can severely limit the success of the new system. Reform strips the Party of these lines of argument.
The New Citizens’ Movement also smartly caches its goals within China’s current laws that are enforced at the whims of the Party. By reforming law from a tool of the Party to a means of protection for the people, it appears as a more palatable choice than starting yet again from scratch.
Unity instead of Division
Several months ago I had the opportunity to do a podcast with Xu Zhiyong about rural education and migrant schools. I made a comment related to the tension between locals and migrant workers that Xu rightly countered. For China to leave this current system behind, it has to abandon the idea that for someone to win, someone else has to lose. In the podcast he pointed out that a better education for the children of migrant workers created a better workforce and a better environment for the urban residents. Furthermore he argued that the hukou system must be abolished in order to tear down these artificial divisions that have been created in Chinese society that keep people from recognize their common hopes and frustrations.
The New Citizens’ Movement successfully argues that even though China has many different problems affecting society, that there is a common solution to these – a gov’t responsible to the citizens. Whether it is the environment or forced evictions, an elected gov’t would not suppress these voices as they have tried to do in Wukan and Shifang. At the moment, China’s various activist groups are all calling for the gov’t to resolve a variety of problems, but this helps to demonstrate that even though there may be many different directions there is only one destination.
Furthermore, the essay recognizes that a successful reformation can not exclude groups from the benefits it would create. Even though the Party would likely fall from power as a result of these reforms, the movement does not aim to make Party members into enemies. If you re-read the essay, you will notice that Xu does not attack the Party, but the problems endemic to the current political system. Power-holders are unsurprisingly reluctant to forfeit power, but allowing them a space in a new system is a step that I believe is a requirement for peaceful transition (which would look something like reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa).
Breaking the cycle
The third aspect, and one that I think is especially useful, is that the New Citizens’ Movement realizes that motivating the gov’t to reform itself is an unrealistic path, and instead encourages individuals to refuse to participate in actions that perpetuate the system. After Shifang, much was made of the riot police beating protesters. This is the kind of violence that the current system demands, but a corrupt system cannot function without corrupt individuals. This is one of the central points of the New Citizens’ Movement, that through reforming one’s self the gov’t will be reformed.
Xu Zhiyong himself is an excellent example of this principle. In his account of his detention he refused to co-operate with police who were operating outside of the law. Imagine the kind of change that would take place if gov’t officials refused bribes, judges ruled by the laws, and individuals refused opportunities to make quick, illicit profits. I think this is a far more effective approach to stem many of China’s social problems than calling for more laws that will not be enforced.
Reading Xu’s essay the first time reminded me of an argument I had had with a Chinese friend back around Christmas. My friend was making the claim that democracy was not suitable for China, and that it was a tool of the West to trip China up. After an hour or so of rather heated discussion, another Chinese friend in the room stood up and told our friend to shut-up. “When do I get a say in my country?” he pleaded, “I’m Chinese, I want democracy. Don’t I count? Don’t I deserve a say?”
While I doubt that the New Citizens’ Movement is going to sweep over China at any point soon, I find it hopeful in that it lays a clear framework for what China’s future could be. By pushing for meaningful reform, the unity of social movements and the Chinese people, and individual reform, Chinese activists are once again asserting their desire for a democratic China that is ruled by law. I find it incredibly frustrating that while Xu Zhiyong is currently under house arrest for his work with the New Citizens’ movement (and a number of other projects), the New York Times is wasting ink on a laughable op-ed calling for the establishment of a Confucian gov’t.
By Xu Zhiyong, published: July 11, 2012
On May 29th, 2012, Dr. Xu Zhiyong published an article titled “New Citizens Movement,” it was quickly censored by the Chinese authorities, but here we present it in English for the first time with the permission of Xu Zhiyong. This essay and Xu’s activism are truly deserving of further coverage overseas as it offers a comprehensive path for reform in China. – Editor
China needs a new citizens’ movement. This movement is a political movement in which this ancient nation bids utter farewell to authoritarianism and completes the civilized transformation to constitutional governance; it is a social movement to completely destroy the privileges of corruption, the abuse of power, the gap between rich and poor, and to construct a new order of fairness and justice; it is a cultural movement to bid farewell to the culture of autocrats and subjects and instead create a new nationalist spirit; it is the peaceful progressive movement to herald humanity’s process of civilizing.
In the 20th century, China experienced many movements: the Xinhai Revolution, the New Culture Movement, the New Life Movement, etc. In trying to bid farewell to autocracy, they changed the Chinese people’s living habits and spiritual realms. Due to internal and external problems, however, the Republican Era ended quickly. These historical progressive movements were unable to complete fundamental changes in the political system; they were but a flash in the pan. After 1949, China’s totalitarian regime launched a flurry of movements—land reform, the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, the socialist transformation, the anti-rightist movement, and everything from the Great Leap Forward through the Cultural Revolution. These regressive movements against the tides of history were destined to have tragic endings. In the 1980s, the Communist Party of China initiated the “five stresses, four beauties, and three loves” campaign, but a social reform movement initiated by a dictator, tainted by self-interest, cannot bring real change in society.
Today, China still has not been able to leave behind authoritarianism, power monopolies, rampant corruption, the wealth disparity, violent housing demolitions, education imbalance, and the black hole of social security … the root of these weighty social problems is autocracy; the Chinese nation needs a great citizens’ movement that moves with the historic tide, moving from bottom to top, from political and social to cultural, from the awakening of individual citizens to the revitalization of the entire Chinese civilization.
The goal of the New Citizens’ Movement is a free China ruled by democracy and law, a just and happy civil society with “freedom, righteousness, love” as the new national spirit.
The core of the New Citizen’s Movement is the citizen. This is an individual concept as well as a political and social concept. The citizen is not a subject—the citizen is an independent and free entity, and he or she obeys a rule of law that is commonly agreed upon. He or she does not have to kneel down to any given person. The citizen is not a layman—the citizen is the master of the country. The ruler’s power must come from election by the entire citizenry, bidding farewell to the barbaric logic of “ruling by the barrel of a gun.” Citizens are neither docile nor mob-like; they share happiness and bear of responsibilities in the order of justice; and they are upstanding, magnanimous, moderate, and rational.
The “new” in New Citizens’ Movement refers to new historical conditions, new forms of behavior, and a new liberal order. The counterpart of the new citizen is not the citizen, but the subject, of the past. The new historical conditions include technological advancement, market economies, ideological pluralism, and the common democratic trend in human society. The new forms of behavior are the lawful defense of citizens’ rights, citizens’ non-violent non-cooperation, and peaceful democracy movements, all under a new system of ideas and discourse. The new liberal order is the constitutional order of democracy, rule of law, republicanism. The social background of the New Citizens’ Movement is new, the model of behavior is new, the movement’s goal is new, and thus it is called the New Citizens’ Movement.
The big change in Chinese society needs direction and spirit. The New Citizens’ Movement advocates the New Citizen Spirit, which is the direction and spirit of great change.
The New Citizens’ Movement is a political movement. China needs to complete a political transformation, establish a free, democratic China with the rule of law. The New Citizens’ Movement is a social movement. The solution to power monopoly, rampant corruption, wealth disparity, education imbalance, and similar problems does not solely depend on a democratic political system, but also rely on the continuous social reform. The New Citizens’ Movement is a cultural movement. It aims to rid of the tyrannical culture, which is degenerate, depraved, treacherous, and hostile, and build a new nationalist spirit of “freedom, justice, and love.”
There must be an end to tyranny, but the New Citizens’ Movement is far from being just a democratic reformation; the New Citizens’ Movement’s discourse is not “overthrow,” but “establish.” It is not one social class taking the place of another social class, but letting righteousness take its place in the Chinese nation. It is not hostility and hate, but universal love. The New Citizens’ Movement pursues facts and justice, but from the aspiration and hard work of not giving up and settling differences. In the process of societal change, there must be new kind of spiritual coalescing of the Chinese people as a whole, from the individual citizen to the entire country.
The New Citizen’s spirit can be summarized as “free, righteous, and loving.”
Freedom implies the sovereignty of belief, thought, expression, life, the pursuit of independence, and the unrestrained, authentic selfhood. People’s freedom is the end goal of society, country, and law. Righteousness: it is the fair justice of this world; it is the ideal status of the country and the society; it is equal opportunity.
The strong will have restriction; the weak will have protection, and every person, to the best of their abilities, will build on their strengths, perform their duties, and do what they want. Righteousness implies democratic rule of law is the cornerstone of the system. It implies individual responsibility, defends and pursues rights, cares for the common good, and respects the boundaries of other people’s rights. Love is the source of humanity’s well-being; it is the highest state of the New Citizen’s mind. A people’s mind must contain love as well as erase hate and hostility entirely, founding a free and well-off civil society.
The New Citizens’ Movement includes the citizens’ rights movement, the citizens’ non-cooperation movement, and the democracy movement. It follows the lead of the New Citizen’s spirit in China’s magnificent movement toward peaceful transformation.
The citizens’ rights movement is the soil of the democracy movement. It includes the social movement for the defense of the rights of individual cases, rights of building demolition [property rights], rights of ex-servicemen, rights of the environment, right of the freedom of belief, and right of opposing the housing registration system, which strives for the rights and interests of the group.
The citizens’ rights movement emphasizes an individual’s or an individual group’s demand for rights. However, China’s internal power monopoly, rampant corruption, wealth gap, black hole of social security, and other serious societal problems have already reached the point of needing a political solution. The citizens’ rights movement, after developing to a certain point, will inevitably enter into a democratic political movement.
The citizens’ non-cooperation movement runs through the entire rights movement and democracy movement, including the negative resistance of authoritarianism and the positive protection of free rights. As compared to the citizens’ non-cooperation movement, the New Citizens’ Movement moreover emphasizes establishment. The establishment of a civil society will do away with tyranny, not only putting an end to tyranny, but also establishing the future of civilized politics and civil society.
In a broader sense, the New Citizens’ Movement also includes a campaign appearing in many recent democratic countries that is centered on the demands for fairness and justice. Background to the morally-upright fourth wave of democratization is new technology changing peoples’ societal structure. China’s New Citizens’ Movement gathers the previous democratic era’s civil rights movements and democratic revolutions as well as the social revolutions of democratic countries.
The New Citizens’ Movement already has a social basis. Thirty years of Reform and Opening Up has established the economic basis of private property and the market process. It has also brought with it a pluralistic society. The party in power has gone from a totalitarian regime to an authoritarian regime and then to an oligarchic regime; the forces of tyranny have already become weak, and therein the citizens’ movement already has a certain amount of leeway. The Internet, telecommunications, and other new technologies have sped up China’s enlightenment and the formation of citizens’ interpersonal networks. The trend of international democratization is transforming and restraining autocratic violence, and imbuing the political movements in newly democratic countries with the peaceful and rational spirit of world citizens.
Without the New Citizen, there can be neither a new civil society nor a constitutional China; the New Citizens’ Movement emphasizes the New Citizen, from the individual and the small matters on upward; it practices citizen responsibilities and does not obey the despotism of unspoken rules. It is not concurrent with privilege and corruption, believing instead in democratic rule of law, in the pursuit of freedom and fairness, civil movements, and a constitutional China.
The New Citizens’ Movement includes all types of current social movements and political movements: the “Grass Mud Horse” campaign, the displaced residents campaign, the campaign to oppose the household registration stratification, the campaign to remember June Fourth, the freedom of belief campaign, the blogging campaign, the environmental protection campaign, the food and health safety campaign, the campaign to elect deputies to people’s congresses, the microblog-based campaign attacking human trafficking, the campaign to oppose monopolies, the campaign to oppose corruption. These social and political movements are brought together by way of the New Citizens’ Movement.
The New Citizens’ Movement advocates the practice of the New Citizen spirit and societal responsibility in every sector: the New Citizen judge is impartial and evenhanded, loyal to the law and of good conscience. He or she does not pervert the law for the sake of dominance and selfishness. The New Citizen policeman is an impartial implementer of the law, removing the evil and content with the good, never torturing for confession, uncorrupted by dark and evil forces. The New Citizen public prosecutor is loyal to the country’s laws, does not appease corruption, does not pervert the course of justice and does not indulge in crime. The New Citizen deputy to the people’s congress has the courage to carry out the law for the benefit of the public; it is not a voting machine and rubber stamp.
The New Citizen teacher loves his or her students, never passing lies onto them. The New Citizen physician loves patients and does not accept bribes, arbitrarily prescribe medications, or discriminate against patients. The New Citizen lawyer abides by the law, lawfully defends the rights and interests of clients and does not bribe judges. The New Citizen accountant abides by accounting regulations and does not cook the books. The New Citizen editor and reporter seek the truth and do not report lies.
The New Citizen college student diligently studies, cares for the society—does not cheat on tests or plagiarize essays. The New Citizen scholar seeks truth with professionalism—does not flatter or ingratiate, or use another’s ideas as his or her own. The New Citizen artist expresses truth, goodness, and beauty and rejects unspoken rules. The New Citizen sports referee makes calls with impartial independence—does not blow the whistle unfairly. The New Citizen athlete competes fairly—does not throw competitions for profit. The New Citizen entrepreneur faces the market and runs business honestly—does not parlay favor with bigwigs. The New Citizen industrial worker guarantees the quality of products—does not use inferior materials to turn out substandard products or make fake, shoddy products. The New Citizen food manufacturer does not mix in poisonous and harmful materials. And so on.
To push forward the New Citizens’ Movement, the New Citizen can:
Disseminate the New Citizen Spirit: Explain the “freedom, righteousness, and love” of the New Citizen Spirit by way of online posts, street fliers, t-shirt slogans, and any other method of spreading the New Citizen Spirit. The New Citizen Spirit must appear on the Internet, flourish in the streets, and, most of all, take root in the deepest part in our hearts.
Practice New Citizen Responsibility: Promise to practice New Citizen Responsibility, stand fast to New Citizen behavioral standards, reject corruption in one’s life, reject the practice of seeking private gain at the expense of the public, be loyal to good conscience and do not actively do evil, do good service for society, and mutually supervise one another to carry out this promise. The New Citizen Spirit is the spirit of commitment, sacrificing one’s profit to be an example, to maintain good conscience and righteousness, up until righteousness exists all over the Chinese nation.
Use the “Citizen” sign or other identifying methods: Citizens design their own “Citizen” insignias, and strengthen their own Citizen status and self-affirmation by wearing the insignias in everyday life.
Participate in civic life: Hold regular mealtime talks, discuss current political situation, pay close attention to people’s livelihood, care for public service as well as public policy, help the weak, serve society, promulgate fairness and justice. Every place has a group of modern citizens. Everybody needs to group together for society to progress. Unity begins with acquaintance.
Unite to share labor and coordinate work. Repost messages, file lawsuits, photograph everyday injustices, wear t-shirts with slogans, witness everyday events [specifically referring to the phenomenon of standing in a circle around someone causing a scene to witness it], participate or openly refuse to participate in elections, transcribe [things that you see happen], hold gatherings or marches or demonstrations, do performance art, and use other methods in order to jointly promote citizens’ rights movements and citizens’ non-cooperation campaigns—such as assets reporting, openness of information, opposition to corruption, opposition to housing registration stratification, freedom of beliefs, freedom of speech, and the right of election. Practice the New Citizen Spirit in action. Citizens’ power grows in the citizens’ movement.
(Translated by an anonymous friend of seeingredinchina.com)
Last week I carefully broached the subject of Tian’anmen Square with one of my co-workers. Together we looked through a series of pictures from that day from The Atlantic (excellent), which sparked a very interesting, and yet minimally productive conversation. It was her first time seeing evidence of civilian casualties, and I explained that no one was certain how many students and workers had died in the Square, but most foreign sources say hundreds. With the ongoing violence in Syria (which she is following), this wasn’t an easy idea to accept.
So I told her that I had never really heard about June 4th from a Chinese view, and asked her to tell me what it had been like.
She said here in Nanjing and in Beijing many workers and students gathered to protest against the gov’t. Some of them might have been working with foreign gov’ts and that many others had joined in. On the third, the students had attacked the military. She emphasized that just like with Syria it was sad anytime civilians were killed by their gov’t.
But she didn’t stop there. “You know, they were blocking the roads and it made traffic very bad. And all of the factories had to close. Nobody was working. It was chaos. The gov’t had to stop it. You can’t just have people not working and blocking traffic.”
Even though this co-worker is critical of most of what the Party says, and was willing to accept that the number of students was probably higher than what had been reported in China, she couldn’t shake this fear of chaos.
Then in Hangzhou yesterday, I got into a cab operated by a Christian. I could tell this because of a small plastic box on his dash that preached the Gospel for him with the push of a button. Over the crackly hymn he shouted back to me, “You know, our government is really terrible. Just terrible.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yeah, we all want to get rid of them but what can we do? I’m a patriot, and I know they are no good for China, but if we over throw them there will be chaos…”
This fear of chaos is pervasive, and is reproduced over and over again in China’s media. Discussion of the Arab Spring had very little to do with the power of the people, or their desire to shape their own countries; instead it focused on what the GDP losses must have been for Egypt with all those people milling about in Tahir Square, the soaring prices of tomatoes, and the unnecessary casualties. If one took People’s Daily and Global Times seriously, they would assume that most of the world remains plunged in chaos with no end in site. In fact the word “chaos” appears on at least a weekly if not daily basis in both papers.
A major hurdle for Chinese democracy activists will be convincing their fellow countrymen that change doesn’t have to be chaotic. Unfortunately, most Chinese people have very vivid memories of chaos, while democracy is an intangible idea that has never been seen by the majority of people. In this way, the tragedies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution have helped to cement the Party’s power.
For political reform to be a palatable option, activists will have to demonstrate on some scale that reform and revolution are very different things. Only by convincing farmers and factory workers that democracy is a way to a greater form of stability, one that doesn’t require Chengguan or Weibo censors and could protect their property and wages, will they succeed.