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An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’

China Change, October 31, 2018

This is part of China Change’s new interview series that seeks to understand the effort of civil society in bringing change to China over the past 30 years. The interview was conducted in June 2018 by Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, at Professor Xu Youyu’s home in Flushing, New York City. — The Editors

 

Xu Youyu, screenshot photo

Xu Youyu. Photo: China Change.

 

Yaxue Cao (YC): Professor Xu, would you mind first introducing yourself to our readers?

Xu Youyu (XY): My name is Xu Youyu (徐友渔); I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in 1947. I was in the graduating class at the Chengdu No. 1 Secondary School in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution erupted — right when I was enrolling for the national college entrance examination. Later, I got deeply wrapped up in the Cultural Revolution and became a leader of a mass organization, and as a result I gained a great deal of understanding of what it was all about. This has put me at an extraordinary advantage for studying the Cultural Revolution period in my scholarship now. I was one of the first new entrants to university in 1977 when matriculation resumed. But I’d only studied undergraduate for a little over a semester when, unprecedentedly, I was recommended to take the graduate exams. I transferred to the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in 1979 to become a grad student, and worked at CASS from then on until my retirement. During that period, in 1986, I studied at Oxford for a couple of years. I retired in 2008.

YC: You retired in 2008? You were still quite young at that point. What caused you to retire so early?

XY: It was CASS rules that stipulated 60 as the retirement age — and once you reached 60, out you go.

YC: But for a scholar, a thinker, 60s are quite possibly your golden years.

XY: As the definitions go in China, those under 60 are young and middle-aged scholars; the day after you turn 60, you’re a retiree. It’s absurd, but that’s just how it is in China.

YC: Where were you in 1989?

XY: I was in Beijing. During the Tiananmen protest I was on the Square nearly every day. I was near the center of the Square on June 3rd and 4th, close to the Monument, and I saw the entire sequence of events. I stayed there the whole time, until the early hours of the 4th when students were forced to retreat from the southeast corner. I waited at the edge of that corner until all the students had exited, and only then did I go home.

YC: Just like that?

XY: The route home passed through Liubukou (六部口), and the scene there left a peculiar impression on me. As I proceeded, I saw in the distance a tank facing off against a crowd. When the tank rushed toward the crowd, the latter retreated like the tide going out. Then the tank would stop, and the crowd would again roll back like a tide coming in, then the tank would retreat. That’s what greeted my eyes in the distance. Around me, riding on my bicycle, I had to stop, hoist it up, and step across a pile of people lying on the ground. And I thought, “Huh? How could they be sleeping so soundly, right there on the road when it’s so noisy?” This didn’t seem particularly strange at the time, because many people had been out for days and were completely exhausted. But only as I wended my way through them did it hit me: they were dead. This is one of the clearest and most lucid memories in my entire life: in the early morning on June 4, 1989, after the students had all evacuated Tiananmen and I was on my way home, I stepped across a pile of corpses.

YC: Had they been crushed by tanks or gunned down?

XY: They must have been shot. But I don’t think I saw bullet holes. The corpses were clearly in one piece, this I am absolutely sure of.

YC: What of the blood?

XY: I don’t remember seeing much blood either. I just stepped over; I was perturbed in my heart, and panicked. I didn’t stop to examine the bodies, but it was very clear that they were corpses there on the ground, not live people sleeping.

YC: Can you briefly introduce us to your scholarship?

XY: My field of study had been an extremely technical, specialized area, known as the philosophy of language. When I went to Oxford University my adviser, Michael Dummett, was one of the most well-known philosophers of language in England. After I returned from Oxford, the idea was for me to build an academic career in the system, and it would have been smooth sailing from there.

When the Tiananmen Movement occurred, the strongest feeling I had at that time was that Chinese intellectuals were woefully unequipped and unprepared. When the students put forward their demands, what they actually needed was to be mentored by the intellectuals. The authorities did claim that a few intellectuals were ‘black hands’ behind the scenes, but that wasn’t the case. The thing is, intellectuals should have actually been the ‘black hands,’ but no one was, not because none dared, but because none had the wherewithal. After this massive social movement erupted, just what should intellectuals have done? What theoretical guidance may they have proposed? At the time there were none. I know that Yan Jiaqi (严家祺) held a Democracy University on Tiananmen Square, so he lectured there, but it was far, far from enough for the rushing waves and roiling torrents of that movement.

I personally made a self-conscious turn at a time when I was ready to be the academic authority in my generation, I turned away from language philosophy and turned to political philosophy. I felt that the next time a social movement erupted forth in China, when it was time for us to put forward theories and answers, intellectuals couldn’t be like they were on June 4 — doing a few childish and simplistic things. We have to learn from the experience of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Taiwan. We need a huge number of people who understand the law, and understand politics. I knew our shortcomings. For instance, in 1988, a group of Chinese intellectuals submitted a petition to Party Central, calling for the release Wei Jingsheng (魏京生). I drafted the letter, yet I had no concept of China’s constitution or laws, and what I wrote was based completely on my personal feelings. When I thought about it later I felt really embarrassed. So I turned my focus to political philosophy.

I wasn’t the only one who made this change of orientation. The entire intellectual class in China went through a similar shift — because when the historical mission of 1989 was placed on our shoulders, we failed our role. One of China’s most well-known scholars in the 1980s Li Zehou (李泽厚) put particular emphasis on this — he wrote that the most remarkable change in the Chinese intellectual sphere after 1989 was a major orientation toward political philosophy. I knew that humanist philosophy was good, along with the Enlightenment, liberty, equality, etc. But when a social movement of true significance unfolded, what theories should be used to examine Chinese society? This requires specialized knowledge. It’s not something that a humanist scholar who relies on his personal passion and ideals can carry off. I’ve done a great deal of reading in the contemporary Western literature on political philosophy and political theory, and later I had many opportunities to travel outside of China.

Another part of my research agenda is the Cultural Revolution, since I was deeply involved in the movement myself, and I came to my senses and reflected on it early on. In the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, I formed a Cultural Revolution Studies group with friends, focusing on collecting documents. I think this part of my research is also very important. I’ve published quite a bit on this topic.

YC: Do you think that Chinese intellectuals of today can provide the kind of guidance you’ve been referring to?

XY: I think that if there’s another movement like June 4, intellectuals won’t be helpless in responding to it. I think that today China’s intellectuals can contribute a great deal of deep, quality thinking and analysis. But I still don’t think intellectuals are capable of successfully guiding a similar movement, because the reality of China today is just too complex. I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time, but I can’t focus on both theory and practice. If there’s a tectonic transformation in China sometime in the future, just what should be done? I don’t think one can demand the Chinese intellectuals to supply ideas. They can try, but my sense is that Chinese intellectuals cannot provide the kind of guidance and direction.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 1YC: When did you get to know Liu Xiaobo?

XY: I met Liu Xiaobo very late in the piece. Liu Xiaobo sought me out. I knew at the time that Chinese intellectuals were afraid of being in contact with democracy activists, just like people in the Middle Ages were terrified of leprosy. That was the overall attitude. But when Liu Xiaobo got in touch, I thought that if all intellectuals were afraid of having contact with democracy activists then, firstly, intellectuals would be just too pathetic. What are you afraid of? He’s a citizen; he’s not in jail, he’s free to contact anyone he wishes. Each one of us should be forthright and easy-mannered in our associations, and we should help normalize Liu Xiaobo’s social life. So, when Liu Xiaobo reached out to me I knew what was going on; I certainly knew there was some risk involved by associating with him, and the life I had of the quiet scholar in his study would be broken and it would go in a different direction. I also understood clearly that, because the police were monitoring Liu Xiaobo, they would then begin monitoring me too.

YC: What year was that? In one of the essays you wrote, you mentioned 2004, because you’d signed an open letter on the 15 anniversary of Tiananmen. Tell us more about the Liu Xiaobo you know.

XY: To me there are two parts of Liu Xiaobo. In the 1980s, I knew Liu Xiaobo’s thought and scholarship very well — as a scholar myself I have the habit of reading a great deal. Most people know that he’s the “Dark Horse,” but I went and carefully read through his doctoral dissertation. I thought it was truly execrable — a complete disaster. He loved philosophizing, but basically everything philosophical he had to say was mistaken [Laughs]. So I was really quite nonplussed about why he had gained such a grand reputation. And yet, I was completely different to those jealous of him for gaining notoriety so quickly. I saw his strengths early on: Liu Xiaobo’s thought, from beginning to end, I’ve felt, can be summed up simply: it is extraordinarily penetrating and thorough.

Let me tell you why. Objectively speaking, the thinking of Liu Zaifu (刘再复) and Li Zehou was rather modern in China in the 1980s’, and it indeed it helped to educate and enlighten the young people. But my point is that precisely because the level of thought in the entire Chinese public was so poor at that time that Liu Zaifu and Li Zehou were able to be the tutors. And it was Liu Xiaobo who challenged the role of Li Zehou as a spiritual lodestar that really shows his penetrating insight. I think he really got it.

So, before I met Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him was mixed. I simply felt that on the political level I must receive him, and the more the authorities tried to repress him, the more important it was for me to have an open and unhindered association with him. This was a rational consideration, not because I naturally like Liu Xiabo or have some sort of emotional resonance with him. There was none of that. I felt that as a citizen, I simply had to do these things out of my political conviction.

But once I actually got to know Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him changed for the better a great deal, and over the course of a decade it got better and better. I saw for myself Liu Xiaobo’s step-by-step process of bettering himself. He became a modest and humble man, and a man who puts himself in others’ shoes. This was completely different to the impression I had of him in the 1980s, and it’s because he himself went through a profound transformation.

YC: This is interesting. In April I visited Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) in Berlin, and he said the same thing, describing how he went from loathing Liu Xiabo to becoming his best friend.

You just said that there weren’t any intellectuals who could come out and guide China’s political life and social movements. Did Liu Xiaobo strike you as an intellectual who could have done so? What role do you think he had in China’s democracy movement, and how do you evaluate it?

XY: I think that he took on a leading role, but I don’t think it can be said that he was a leader. Let me give an example: Apart from Liu Xiaobo, I am also very close to Chen Ziming (陈子明), and I understand his thinking and also know the many things he did. When it comes to planning and leading actual political movements, I think Chen Ziming was stronger than Liu Xiaobo — much, much stronger. But if we examine a more recent democracy movement such as in the now Czech Republic, then I think what Liu Xiaobo has done is totally comparable to to the role Vaclav Havel played. He doesn’t meet the traditional definition of a revolutionary leader, and I think the days for that are long gone. If he wasn’t deprived of his freedom and persecuted to death, then I think he would have become more and more a mature and skillful leader.

YC: What’s your involvement in Charter 08?

XY: I had nothing to do with the origins of the Charter 08. On November 15, 2008, Liu Xiaobo came to me with a draft and asked me to sign it. I was reluctant initially and he seemed a little shocked. I said that open letters and statements must have a specific focus, and it has to be for something that you must speak out on. I said that you had already done a number of signature campaigns this year, and there would be more next year, and I was afraid that, with such frequency, this sort of initiative would become a meaningless formality. He seemingly hadn’t considered it from that angle.

But he was insistent, and in the end talked me into it. I said I’d consider it. I agreed to sign it when we met again three days later. I thought that the text itself had many defects, and as a scholar of political philosophy and political theory, I proposed many ideas [for how it might be revised], and Liu said he’d go back and talk it over with Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦). He sent back revisions for me to look at, and said that they were adopting basically all my suggestions.

YC: Not all petitions are equal. All the others have passed into oblivion while Charter 08 has entered into history. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in December of 2008; my impression is that you became more active afterwards, speaking out and trying to get him freed.

XY: When Liu Xiaobo was arrested, my first reaction was emotional — I was really furious. It was purely an issue of expression. Also, Charter 08 was very moderate and entirely in conformance with the constitution and laws of the People’s Republic of China. So this really got me: I wanted to speak up for Liu Xiaobo and do things for him. At the same time, I also felt that there were indeed so many things that needed doing, for example, explicating the basic principles of Charter 08 and defending them. That I became more and more active is a direct result of his arrest.

YC: You were part of the campaign to nominate Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Can you please tell us more about that? 

XY: When people first discussed the idea that Liu Xiaobo should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I supported it. I thought that he entirely met the criteria of candidates and accorded with the aims of the Prize. But how to make it happen? Someone said to me half jokingly: you call for it! I gave it some thought, and thought that I was actually in a unique position to do so. From 2001 to 2002 or so I was a visiting scholar in Sweden, not just any visiting scholar but the Olof Palme Visiting Professorship, which is a rather privileged position established not by a university, but the state, and it was named after former prime minister Olof Palme after his assassination. People [in Sweden] look upon this post with high regard, and I started the Palme Professorship with an acceptance speech. I thought this distinction might lend some weight to my nomination of Liu Xiaobo. So I wrote a recommendation letter to the Nobel Committee and set out my reasons. I put a lot of thought in it. I sincerely believed that he should be awarded the Prize, not because he is a Chinese person, or because he’s my friend, or because he fought for democracy and freedom.

I don’t think the role of this letter should be exaggerated. The day he won the prize, journalists from around the world, abroad, and in Beijing, wanted to interview me. I was fully prepared for what I had to say, and I spoke from morning to night the whole day: why they had awarded him the prize, why they should, the significance of it and so on. I had thought all of this through beforehand and was ready for it.

YC: I read that a group of people, yourself included, went to Prague for the Homo Homini prize. What was that?

XY: After Charter 08 was published, a human rights award in Czech Republic called the Homo Homini Award was given to Liu Xiaobo and all the signatories of Charter 08, and it invited some of us for the ceremony. We accepted the Homo Homini award on behalf of Liu Xiaobo and all Charter 08 signatories, and while there we had a lot of direct interaction with Vaclav Havel.

YC: It’s sad: come 2018, Liu Xiaobo is no more, and none of what you did then is possible now — signing Charter 08 and going abroad to receive a human rights award. 

XY: Before Xi Jinping came to power, the persecution was severe, and imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo was one example. Yet on the other hand we had a little bit of room to breathe. The day Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, I was taking interviews all day and I remember part of the day I was walking through a busy shopping street like Wangfujing (王府井), a really bustling part of town, while talking on the phone to foreign journalists. Nobody interfered with me. But that’s inconceivable in China now.

YC: A few years ago you and Hua Ze (华泽) compiled a book titled 《遭遇警察》. It was also published in English as In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China, which includes your own chapter ‘Defiance’ (《抗拒》). It left a very deep impression on me, and from it I understood the life of an intellectual living under the constant surveillance of China’s political police. China Change published the English-language version on our website.

XY: Police in China are unrestrained and shameless. Chinese police permeate into your everyday life. They’re there with you all the time; ubiquitous. They ‘make friends’ with you, go out drinking on the town with you, make jokes, give you a nickname, and so in the end, you get so used to their presence that the figure who was sent to spy on you becomes some kind of ‘friend’ of yours.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 2But I could never get used to it. I hate it. When the police come to visit me I often don’t let them in — but I can’t do that every time. They would force their way in. They can be polite, calling me ‘Teacher Xu,’ but the only reason they dare enter my home is because they’re police. They just come in with or without your permission or invitation because they can. As seemingly respectful and polite as they are, it’s still a humiliation. Every time they came visit me, it was an encroachment and insult on my dignity and personal liberty.

I was forever tortured by such questions. I could never get over it. For me, the basepoint is that I’m a free citizen. The police come, I subject myself to them, but I can’t reconcile with such subjugation.

YC: In May 2014, a dozen or so intellectuals, dissidents and lawyers held a commemoration of June 4 at your home. They included Qin Hui (秦晖) of Tsinghua University, professor Guo Yuhua (郭于华) also of Tsinghua, Hu Shigen (胡石根), and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Five were detained and you were one of them. Was that the first time you were held in a detention center? What was it like for you?

XY: That time was really just risible. I always see myself as a rational and careful person; I guaranteed everyone that it would be safe to hold such a gathering. Five years prior, in 2009, we’d held a similar event, and that time I felt it was extremely dangerous and the fallout would also be severe. Things got quite dramatic; I won’t talk about it all, but in the end it didn’t turn out so bad. So in 2014, I told everyone that there wouldn’t be any problems. I cited Chen Wei (陈卫) and Yu Shiwen (于世文), who in February of that year held a big event marking the death of Zhao Ziyang in Henan, and nothing happened.

YC: Although in July that year the couple was arrested, and Yu Shiwen was locked up until August 2016 — held without trial or sentence for two years before being released.

XY: So in May, 2014 when they arrested us, it was a surprise. In hindsight, things seemed a little off that very morning. The property management people had come to my apartment in the morning to fix something without an appointment; they were there fixing it for half a day but didn’t end up fixing anything. Later on I realized that they were there to watch me. They had been planning it all since the morning; they’d arranged everything, but I had no clue. So later on when the police came to our meeting, I said: “you didn’t come earlier and didn’t come later; you’re here right when I’m busy — what do you want?” They said that I had to come with them. So it happened just like that.

Some people gave the opinion that the arrests were mainly about taking Pu Zhiqiang, and the rest of us were just caught in the net. Some people love such analyses; the more they analyze it, the more esoteric it gets, and they think they’re so full of foresight — like ‘Look, I even know how the state security apparatus works.’ I really take exception to this stuff. What I stick to is one thing: Have I broken the law? Which law have I broken? Do you have evidence? Later when I was in detention center being interrogated, this is what I focused on.

YC: How long were you detained?

XY: Precisely a month, in the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

YC: What was it like for a Chinese philosopher?

XY: I had read so much about Chinese prisons, so I had some idea. For example, when new inmates come in, typically the veterans will bully them. They’ll make a show of strength and domination. They make you do the filthiest and most tiring work, give you the worst place to sleep, or do other things to take advantage of you.

It was early morning when I was sent to the cell, and the prisoners were just waking up. Everyone had their head shaved. It was a terrifying sight to behold. They all looked like bandits, with no clothes waist up, all with an ominous glint in their eyes. As soon as I got in, someone ordered me to squat: Who are you? I thought I’d be beaten up right then. I said that I’m a political prisoner and that I was being detained for commemorating June 4, and that I was a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As soon as I said this the entire atmosphere in the place changed. Their attitude turned around entirely. They were good to me the entire time I was there. There are things that I don’t dare to tell you even now. You wouldn’t believe some of the things if I said them, about how the police told the prisoners to treat me well.

The place they gave me to sleep was the second best to that of the cell boss. I was afforded all the preferential treatment that one could expect in prison — but of course, there wasn’t much of that. Overall, conditions were horrendous, but at least their attitude to me was completely different — all because I said I was a political prisoner and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, because I’d held a memorial for June 4. This was for me a real psychological relief. Those men, locked up for murder or whatever else, are actually very clear on what’s right and what’s wrong in the politics of Chinese society. They truly had a sense of respect towards me.

There was a murderer there who was very nice to me — if he didn’t help me out, I’d be in a sorry state, because when a prisoner was taken in, you had nothing. You have no toothbrush to brush your teeth with, no chopsticks to eat with, you have to buy everything. He gave me all of that. I would have been extremely miserable without them. He was someone who had committed homicide. Who did he kill? He killed the village official who was a corrupt embezzler and bullied everyone in the village.

There were other prisoners who were also quite nice. A young police officer told me privately, while taking me out of cell for this and that purpose, ‘Teacher Xu, I’ve read your books.’ To convince me, he began citing A Variety of Rebellions (《形形色色的造反》) and explaining its place in the history of scholarship on the Cultural Revolution. He knew a lot about it. But the police officer in charge of interrogating me was really bad. He had a female assistant officer and I wasn’t exactly polite with her. We got into an argument during interrogations. She seemed like she wanted to justify herself and said, ‘Oh, Teacher Xu, let me tell you, I’m a PhD graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law.’ As soon as I heard this I really had a fire in my belly and I retorted: ‘Oh, CUPL, I thought it was better, so you are what they produce.’ But later she was very nice to me. There were others who were even nicer. I can’t say how good they were because that would be bad for them. You’d find it hard to believe. Actually they understand exactly what’s going on. I think that most people in the police forces are like that. Of course there are some, like the one who interrogated me, who are just vicious. But other police would criticize him; they said to me that they themselves had already been on the force for years, but he was still young and felt the need to prove himself. This is how they’d talk to me in private, that he wanted to make a name for himself on the force and that’s why he was so fierce.

YC: Hearing you describe things this way, it seems like many people are simply keeping to themselves, living a kind of dual life.

XY: This is a question that can be subject to deep examination; but I’ll put it simply. A regime that does not enjoy popular support, or rather one that completely goes against human nature, can exist in two ways: the first is ideological deception. For instance in the Maoist era, everyone truly felt that Mao Zedong was an angel, truth incarnate. The other means of rule is, an illegitimate regime can use naked violence and power to get its way when the ideological control no longer works. The situation in China today is of this sort. This is something shown in history and contemporary times, in China and around the world. In the ancient past, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang could spark a rebellion and overthrow the [Qin Dynasty] regime, because a soldier and a peasant were about on par in terms of arms. The soldier had a broadsword and a lance; the peasant had a hoe and a sickle — the difference is not huge. In modern society, violent rule is able to rely on a massive gap in coercive power. But ruling by coercion doesn’t give the regime any more stature in the eyes of its subjects.

YC: This year, Xi Jinping announced that he was abolishing the system of term limits for state chairman. He’s also begun implementing and exhibiting some ‘Maoist-revival’ behavior, so some people have said that China is returning to the Cultural Revolution. Thus, in such a modernized, interconnected society, we seem to be in a situation where among China’s 1.3 billion people, Xi Jinping is the only one allowed to have his own thoughts: whatever he likes is correct; whatever he doesn’t like is wrong. At the same time, the regime is doing everything it can to monopolize ideas and thought. There is on the one hand a high level of economic capacity, yet on the other an extreme level of control and suppression. How do you think this country will end up if this new absurdity goes on?

XY: The first thing I want to say is that there’s a huge difference between the society of today and Mao’s time. You can say that during the Maoist era the idea was that Mao was the only one who could think, even though I know through my studies that during that time there were many heresies and folk schools of thought, but overall it can be said that, during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong was one brain controlling 800 million Chinese people. Nowadays, that is absolutely not the case. We could say now that of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, at least half have their own minds. The regime allows only one voice [in the public sphere], but there is no way they can control what people think. This is a fundamental change. These days the regime uses naked violence to force people to conform — this differs from ignorant people truly believing something. So from this perspective, the times have changed, and there is no going back to the Maoist era.

But unfortunately we must face one cruel reality: the use of naked violence to rule, though it has no moral value, can be maintained for a long period of time. I don’t think this situation in China will change anytime soon. I’ve prepared for the absolute worst, based on what I’ve lived through. From what we’ve spoken today, we can see one thing, which is that China doesn’t have a ‘worst’ period, it only has ‘worse’ periods. I’m very pessimistic.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the Cultural Revolution — though I also reflected on it very deeply afterwards. I wondered why the Cultural Revolution happened, and from there wondered why the Chinese communist revolution took place in China and why it is that the CCP was able to seize power. I feel that I thought it through deeply and thoroughly, and began to understand just truly how sinister and cruel the Chinese Communist Party is. I think that I see these things a little more thoroughly than most. I especially appreciated the thoroughness of Liu Xiaobo’s thinking, and I also consider myself a thorough thinker. As for how evil the Communist Party can be, I’ve had the time to psychologically prepare — this is what sets me apart from others. Everyone now thinks that things are the worst they can possibly get, and they can’t bear it — but when you look back and understand the Party’s own operating principles and guiding ideology, and especially its own history, I think the most evil things it may do are already within my expectations.

I don’t think that the fascist forces and tendencies in China have reached their extreme yet. The worst is yet to come. Under such circumstances, hoping for any kind of rapid change is impractical. As someone who loves thought and theorizing, the mission I gave myself is to tell the world just how this tragedy came to pass. There are no obstacles to the rise of fascism in China. I want to explain how it happened and why it happened and is still happening. These are the questions I’m observing and thinking over at present.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 3YC: After Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 14, 2010, you and 109 Chinese liberal intellectuals, dissidents, rights lawyers, and rights defenders published a statement. Your name was first on the list. The first sentence of the statement reads: “In contemporary society, peace and human rights are inseparable.  The deprivation and trampling upon life takes place not only on the battlefield, but also in the workings of the tyranny and the Draconian laws inside a country.” Come 2018, Liu Xiaobo died in prison for more than a year, the repression in China is such that it would no longer be possible to find 109 firm voices to sign a letter like that. In the China of 2018, the violent deprivation and trampling upon life is even more vile, even more unrestrained. And yet China’s influence on the world stage has become ever greater. It’s truly distressing to behold. What would you say to our readers?

XY: Peace doesn’t depend merely on the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization distributing grain and cereals around the world — though of course this is very important; and it isn’t just about healing people who are ill and injured. The enterprise of promoting peace is not simply tender-hearted charity work — such an understanding of peace is far from sufficient. A country that is ruled by a tyrannical dictatorship that uses naked violence to mobilize the power of the state to ravage human life and destroy human freedom — this is a matter more worthy of attention than sickness and hunger. I hope that the international community pays more attention to the values that Liu Xiaobo fought and sacrificed for. An important component of peace is that we must stand up and fight against evil forces that take humankind as their enemy. It’s an extremely salient issue, and it’s something that people with ambivalent values find uncomfortable, and that they wish to avoid. But this cannot be avoided. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the enterprise of peace. I think that the use of the instruments of the state to, in an organized way, on a large scale, violate the principles of peace and violate human rights, is far more damaging than the natural and man-made disasters that happen, or the inter-ethnic conflict that breaks out. This is a task that we cannot avoid shouldering.

 

 


Related:

Defiance, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 13, 2014.

Intellectual Discourses in Post-Mao China and Today, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 24, 2014

The Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later: How It Echoes Today, Xu Youyu, Foreign Affairs, May 15, 2016.

 


Xu Youyu’s work in Chinese:

《“哥白尼式”的革命》,上海三聯出版社,1994年,获1995年金岳霖学术奖。
《羅素》,香港中華書局,1994年
《精神生成語言》,四川人民出版社,1997年
《形形色色的造反》,香港中文大學出版社,1999年
《告別20世紀》,山東教育出版社,1999年
《驀然回首》,河南人民出版社,1999年
《自由的言說》,長春出版社,1999年
《直面歷史》,中國文聯出版社,2000年
《人文立場》,中國青年出版社,2008年
《重读自由主义及其他》,河南大學出版社,2008年

 


Xu Youyu’s essays in Chinese:

http://www.aisixiang.com/thinktank/xuyouyu.html

 

 

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

Ten Years of Humanitarian China Supporting Political Prisoners and Families

Yaxue Cao, December 13, 2017

 

 

Humanitarian China celebrated its 10th anniversary in Los Angeles last Sunday, December 10, on International Human Rights Day. I was there with more than 200 others, one of the largest recent gatherings of overseas Chinese who support democracy and human rights in China. Gone is the time when, in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre, several thousand Chinese students and visiting scholars gathered in Chicago in 1989 to form the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars and give their support in words and actions to the cause of democracy in China.

“Where are all the Chinese?” Someone asked me once, referring to the puniness of a June 4th Massacre commemoration one year. I asked back: “Where are all the political leaders of the Western democracies?”

I digress.

In 2017, it’s not a popular thing to be a Chinese democracy activist. So I was mightily heartened by the 200 plus human beings, and the din that filled the evening, in a Chinese restaurant in downtown LA.

I’m deeply proud of Humanitarian China. It’s just a bunch of regular guys living in California. They all have jobs to go to and families to raise. They hustle every day on the 12-lane freeways in the Bay Area. For 10 years, they have worked on providing humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families in their greatest hours of need.

In the first few years, the founders and the board of directors were the main donors. Only over the last few years have more contributions come from other sources.

Humanitarian China is not the only organization that provides such assistance to political prisoners. In fact it’s small by any standard.

But it’s unique like no other. It’s self-motivated, self-organized, and it’s grassroots. In other words, it’s not institutionalized human rights work. This 19-minute film tells Humanitarian China’s humble beginning and inspiring story.

There is a sad irony about this that shouldn’t be lost, as a friend of mine plainly pointed out to me. “It’s amazing that, given the scale of China and its role in the world, and the number of overseas Chinese people, and the amount of capital being moved outside of China, that this is the most established program of its kind. It speaks to the incredible ‘success’ of the CCP’s repression from another perspective.”

Clarity about conflicts of interest is one of the two most cherished principles of Humanitarian China (the other being volunteerism). To honor it, I hereby disclaim: I’ve been one of the eight directors of Humanitarian China since 2014 , and I produced the film I’m asking you to watch.

In this holiday season, I also ask you to consider making a charitable contribution to Humanitarian China.

Among other methods of donating, you can also use AmazonSmile to support us.

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Eight Years After – An Interview With Wang Dan

October 25, 2017

 

Yaxue Cao sat down with Wang Dan (王丹) on September 27 and talked about his past 28 years since 1989: the 1990s, Harvard, teaching in Taiwan, China’s younger generation, his idea for a think tank, his books, assessment of current China, Liu Xiaobo, and the New School for Democracy. –– The Editors

 

Wang Dan cafe

Wang Dan. Photo: China Change

 

YC: Wang Dan, sitting down to do an interview with you I’m feeling nostalgic, because as soon as I close my eyes the name Wang Dan brings back the image of that skinny college student with large glasses holding a megaphone in a sea of protesters on Tiananmen Square. That was 1989. Now you have turned 50. So having this interview with you outside a cafe in Washington, D.C., in the din of traffic, I feel is a bit like traversing history. You recently moved to the Washington, D.C. area. I suspect many of our readers are like me –– the Wang Dan they know is still that student on the Square. Perhaps I can first ask you to talk a bit about where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to since 1989?

Wang Dan: When you speak like that, I feel that I have become a political terracotta warrior in other people’s eyes; when they look at me, they see only history. For me, 1989 is indeed a label I can’t undo. I’m conflicted about this label. On the one hand, I feel that I can’t rest on history. I don’t want people to see me and think of 1989 only, because if that were the case, it would seem that my 50 years has been lived doing nothing else. On the other hand, I am also willing to bear this label, and the sense of responsibility that comes with it. As a witness, survivor, and one of the organizers, this is a responsibility I cannot shirk. Everyone lives bearing many contradictions; this is my conflict, and all I can do is carry it.

After 1989, my life experience has been pretty straightforward. From 1989 to 1998, for a period of almost 10 years, I basically was in prison. From 1989 to 1993, I was in Qincheng Prison (秦城監獄) and Beijing No. 2 Prison (北京第二監獄); I was released in 1993. Then I was detained for the second time in 1995 on the charge of “conspiring to subvert the government.” During the period from 1993 to 1995, I was in Beijing starting to get in touch with friends who had participated in the student movement, and I also traveled all over the country. Deng Xiaoping went on a “Southern Tour,” I also took a southern tour. I started to assemble some of the June 4 student protesters. We issued some open letters, and started a fund to support political prisoners. We found more than 100 people to contribute, each person contributed ¥10-20 each month. The government said our activities were that of a counter-revolutionary group. This criminal charge was the same as Liu Xiaobo’s –– inciting subversion: writing essays, accepting interviews, criticizing the government. Because of these activities, I was detained again in 1995, but in 1998 I was sent into exile to the United States. Although I was out of prison for more than two years from 1993 to 1995, I had absolutely no freedom. Wherever I went, there were agents following me. The big prison.

Wang Dan, TAMYC: When you were released from prison in 1998, you hadn’t finished serving your sentence, right?

Wang Dan: I was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but I only stayed in prison for 3 years. I was released on medical parole as a result of international pressure.

YC: At the time China needed acceptance from the international community, and it wanted to join the World Trade Organization. Now this kind of international pressure is impossible.

Wang Dan: After I came to the U.S. in 1998, in my second month here, I entered Harvard University. First, I attended summer school for a month, and then took preparatory classes for a year. I then studied for my Master’s degree and Ph.D. I graduated from Harvard in 2008. This was another 10 years, and this 10-year period was for the most part study. Of course, I also engaged in some democracy movement activities in my spare time. After graduating from Harvard, I went to England where I lived for a time, and then in 2009 I went to Taiwan to teach, which is where I have been living until this year, 2017. That’s eight years. So in the 28 years since 1989, I have either been in prison, studying, or teaching. During this whole time, regardless of what I was doing, I remained engaged in opposition activities.

YC: You were a history student at Peking University, and you studied history at Harvard. What would you most like to share about your 10 years at Harvard?  

Wang Dan: Harvard has had a great impact on my life. I think with respect to China’s future, I have political aspirations, or a political ideal. I believe that China’s political future requires people who have specialized knowledge. So I feel a strong sense of accomplishment about getting my degree from Harvard. I achieved a goal I had set for myself. I think it is necessary preparation for my political future. This is the first point.

Second, at Harvard I was able to broaden my horizons. It gave me an international perspective. But obviously the most important thing, I believe, is my third point: the ten years at Harvard enabled me to just be an ordinary person. The students around me didn’t know who I was, only the Chinese students knew, but at that time there weren’t that many Chinese students. I was completely anonymous, just an ordinary international student. This was a very fortunate thing. If I were always only just a 1989 figure, active in the media, talking about politics every day, I’d feel really awful. During my time at Harvard, besides going to class, I also became friends with some people who had nothing to do with politics. It was just a very ordinary situation.

YC: Why did you go to Taiwan?

Wang Dan: Soon after I got to Harvard, I started to frequent the library. I saw a magazine called The Journalist (《新新聞》) –– a Taiwan magazine founded in 1987 focusing on social and political commentary. The Journalist covered the process of political transition in Taiwan after martial law was lifted in 1987. I was really excited reading it and began to be very interested in Taiwan. Later, I wrote my dissertation on Taiwan’s White Terror.

YC: Please tell us a bit more about your dissertation.

Wang Dan: This morning I was just talking with my editor, and we’re hoping that Harvard University Press will soon publish the English version. I compared state violence in the 1950s on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. At that time, Taiwan had White Terror, and China had Land Reform, the Campaign to Suppress Counter-revolutionaries, and the Anti-Rightist Movement, which was Red Terror. These are two forms of state violence, but each with different characteristics. What I was interested in was the different mechanisms, the specific methods by which it was carried out. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used the method of mass campaigns. I analyzed how they were launched and executed. Taiwan’s White Terror was basically accomplished through political spying, with agents infiltrating society. When the National Security Bureau investigated so-called “communist spy cases,” they were mostly targeting individuals. The Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party) used agents to monitor society, whereas the CCP used the people to monitor each other. They turned everyone into a spy, including some of China’s famous intellectuals, who were also informants.

Back to your question of why I went to Taiwan. I went to Taiwan to teach –– there were no positions in the U.S. to teach Taiwanese history. Second, since my dissertation is a comparison of Taiwan and the mainland and Taiwan had started to democratize, I was interested in living there for a period of time so that I could experience it first-hand. Third, I really like Taiwan –– the scenery, the people, and the relationships between people.

YC: Please tell us more about your time teaching in Taiwan.

Wang Dan: I taught at pretty much all of the top universities in Taiwan, with the exception of National Taiwan University. I taught at Tsing Hua, Cheng Chi, Cheng Kung, and Dongwu –– mainly at Tsing Hua University, but also taught classes at other universities. After I arrived in Taiwan, I discovered a big problem –– they really didn’t understand mainland China. There were basically no courses at universities on contemporary Chinese history covering the period from 1949 to the present. So I decided to teach Chinese contemporary history, which is essentially what I taught during my eight years in Taiwan, in the hope that people in Taiwan would gain a better understanding of mainland China.

Another unexpected benefit was the arrival of mainland students to Taiwan. Shortly after I got to Taiwan, Taiwan opened its doors to students from the mainland. These students were 90-hou, the generation born after 1990. Before knowing them, I was just like a lot of people and looked down on them, believing they were a selfish generation, that they weren’t concerned with politics, that they were brainwashed by the government, and had absolutely no understanding of history. But after interacting with them, I discovered that this was a total misjudgment. They are in fact very idealistic, they really hope to change China. For example, in Taiwan I held debates on the issue of reunification versus Taiwan independence. I organized about 10 such debates, and each time there would be at least three or four students from mainland China who openly stated their names and university affiliation and said they supported Taiwan independence. There was even media covering these debates. This is really hard to imagine, isn’t it? I was really shocked. I asked the students if they were afraid of the media making this public, and one of them said, “If worse comes to worst, I go to jail, no big deal.”

Of course, not all of the 90-hou are like this, but I never really care about the makeup of the majority of any group. I believe that as long as a group has a few leaders, this country has hope. The students I came into contact with in Taiwan were inspiring, and gave me a morale boost. Previously I was pessimistic, and felt that even in 30 or 40 years it was unlikely that China would move towards democracy, but after engaging with the 90s generation, I became an optimist. I believe that I will see China change in the hands of this generation in my lifetime. And do you know just how fearless this generation of students is? They know who I am. There were some students who audited my class, but each semester there are quite a few students who directly selected and registered for my class. My name will appear on their transcript; they’ll take this back to China, and they just don’t care, they still choose my class. As of yet, there hasn’t been any instance of a mainland student being punished for taking one of my classes.

YC: Are you still in touch with them?

Wang Dan: I do stay in touch with some of them. There are a few who are studying for their Ph.Ds. in the U.S. And we have a Facebook group, and have become good friends. But I want to emphasize, it’s not all of the mainland students, but the mindset of at least 10% of the 90s-generation students whom I came into contact with in Taiwan is very forward looking. They’re more enthusiastic than us, and more eager for change. We thought these people supported the Communist Party, but it’s really not like that at all. I can say that 90% of them don’t support the CCP. I also think that this group of students is more resourceful than our 1989 generation of college students. I strongly believe that China will change in their hands. This is one of the reasons why I came back to the U.S., because I think there are more Chinese students like this in the U.S., students who are even more outstanding.

YC: What are some of the other reasons that prompted you to come back to the U.S.?

Wang Dan:  Another reason is that I have been thinking about what I can do now. What’s my next step? I think that influencing the younger generation is one of the main things I can do. Of course, if history gives me the opportunity, I will throw myself into the democracy movement, run for office, even become president of China if possible. Why not? But I prefer to be the President of Peking University. But these things are unpredictable, and influencing the younger generation is something I can do right now. So whether I’m in Taiwan, or in America, I give talks wherever I can, to let the younger generation understand history; to let them know that we, as the opponents of the regime, are constructive and not just shouting slogans; and to let them know why China needs democratization to make the country stronger. I want the patriotic younger generation to know that if you are truly patriotic, you must oppose the CCP, and I tell them the logical connection between these two positions. During those years in Taiwan, in my spare time, on weekends, and in the evenings, I would hold “China salons.” I probably organized several hundred of these. The topic was very simple: get to know China. About half of the audience were mainland students, most listened without saying a word, nor asking questions. I felt it was OK, as long as they were listening. My responsibility is to pass the torch on to the next generation.

YC: I read your Tiananmen memoir, in 1989 you became a student leader, but before that, you got your start organizing democracy salons on campus.

Wang Dan: If you look at history, revolutions all start with salons. For example, the French Revolution got its start from salons.

YC: Let’s digress a little here. Can you talk a bit about the democracy salons you organized at Peking University?

Wang Dan: At that time, I was only a freshman; I didn’t have much experience. Liu Gang (劉剛) and those older guys were the first to hold salons. I followed after them. Each time we invited an intellectual, a so-called “counter-revolutionary,” to come. I hoped to use this platform to connect the ivory tower of the university with society.

YC: What kind of scale did you have? How many people attended each democracy salon?

Wang Dan: It could be as few as 20 or so people, but as June 4 approached, and the atmosphere was very tense, sometimes more than a thousand people came.

YC: Where were the salons held?

 

Wang Dan: Outdoors. We held one salon each week, on an area of grass in front of the statue of Cervantes, next to the foreign students’ dorm.

YC: Cervantes statue…. I like these details. It tickles the imagination.

Wang Dan: It’s a place where young students discussed politics and expressed their political views.

YC: I read that since you returned to the U.S., you’ve already held a few salons: in Boston, New York, Vancouver, and Toronto. How did these events go?

 

Wang Dan, Harvard

Wang Dan graduating from Harvard in 2008. Photo: Radio Free Asia

Wang Dan: Generally speaking, I feel that this generation is dissatisfied with China’s current situation. The fact that they left China to go abroad to study demonstrates that they are not that content, particularly those that applied on their own to go abroad. They are seeking new knowledge, but they are also quite confused. First, they don’t know what they can do. Second, they are disappointed in those around them; they feel that most Chinese they know are disappointing. Third, they don’t see any alternatives: who can take the place of the CCP? Because of these three issues, they are not able to express much enthusiasm. But in the process of chatting with them, I feel that there is a flame burning in their hearts. They really want to do something, to change things. When we talk about China, every person is critical. From the things they’ve said, it’s clear that they look at problems deeply; no less deeply than us. All of them have Ph.D.s or Master degrees. They are knowledgeable.

 

YC: Among the Chinese students studying abroad, many are the children of quangui (權貴), the powerful and the rich. They are beneficiaries of the system and tend to defend it.  

Wang Dan: Not necessarily. In the early period of the Chinese Communist Party, many of the leaders were children of wealthy families. For example, Peng Pai was the son of a wealthy man in Shantou. The wealthier the family, the more likely they are to be inclined towards revolution, because they don’t need to worry about their livelihood, and they have more time to read and think. This is a possibility. Children from poor families have to think more about their livelihood, and have more to worry about.

YC: I feel I must disagree here: the powerful and rich families in China today are fundamentally different from the genteel class of traditional Chinese society.

Wang Dan: The parents of these families might be tainted, but the children are just a blank page. I’ve been in touch with some of these 20-year-old kids studying abroad, for example, children of mayors, and also chairs of the Chinese Student Associations who are in direct contact with the Chinese embassies and consulates. I don’t think the latter are spies. I’ve had quite deep conversations with them privately. They all know what’s going on. It doesn’t matter what family they’re born into, youth are youth, and young people have passion.

YC: I wish I could, and I desperately want to, share your enthusiasm. I admit that I have next to no interactions with children from quangui families. If there are rebels in their midst, it’s not showing. You look at today’s human rights lawyers, dissidents, and human rights defenders, people who are making efforts and sacrifices for a free and just China, you will see that the absolute majority of them come from the impoverished countryside.  

Wang Dan: To the extent possible, I befriend young people from all different backgrounds born in the 90s. They are very smart, and they grew up in the Internet age. It’s not so easy for them to accept us as friends. But it’s very important to become friends with them. Some colleagues in the democracy movement are divorced from the young generation.

YC: So you believe one of your most important missions is to influence the young generation?

Wang Dan: Yes, one of them. In addition to salons, in the future I may organize summer camps and trainings. I’ve been involved in the opposition movement for so many years — what sort of look does the opposition movement take on in order to integrate with this era –– that is an important question. Starting from the time I was 20 until now, 30 years have passed, and what I have been doing politically is politics. For example, we have critiqued the totalitarian system, exposed abuses, rescued political prisoners, organized political parties, established several human rights awards, etc. I will continue to do these things, but now I feel that I’ve reached a time when I need to adjust what I’m doing; I want to somewhat remove myself from current, immediate events to think about what China will be like after the communist regime is gone. A lot of people are thinking about how to overthrow the CCP; I won’t be missed. The issue is this: if there comes a day when the CCP is toppled, regardless if it’s caused by other people or itself internally, what sort of situation will China find itself in afterwards? We need to have sand-table rehearsals. I’m interested in policies and technicalities for a democratic, post-communist China. Between politics and policies, I hope to devote some time and energy on the latter.

YC: That’s interesting and certainly forward-thinking. In the west, people are getting used to the idea that communist China is so stable that it will never fall. In any case, their plans are made based on such assumptions. But I keep thinking that the CCP hasn’t even stabilized something as basic as power succession. 

Wang Dan: We need to have something like a shadow cabinet. We need to come out with a political white paper: how to conduct privatization of land; how to define a new university self-governance law. Obviously, this is a big ambition; it’s not something that can be done in a short amount of time. But this is the second big goal I set for myself after returning to the U.S.: I’m planning on establishing a small think tank to research and advance a set of specific governance policies.

YC: You didn’t leave China until the end of the 1990s, so you know the 90s well. Since the early 2000s, the rights defense movement has emerged, NGOs have burgeoned, and faith communities have expanded rapidly in both urban and rural areas, the entire social strata has changed as a result of the economy opening up. Previously, everyone belonged to a work unit, a “danwei.” Now a significant part of China’s population doesn’t rely on state-owned work units. They might work for a foreign enterprise or a private enterprise, or they might run their own small business or be engaged in other relatively independent professions such as being a lawyer. The rights consciousness of these people is totally different than before. I personally think they have been and will be the force for change because they are less subservient to the system. One may even say that they hate it, or they have every reason to detest it. What sort of observations do you have regarding the past 20 years in China?

Wang Dan: Profound changes occurred in China after 1989. First, never in the thousands of years of Chinese history has there been an era like today’s China in which everything is centered on making money—the economy takes precedence above all else. The second profound change is that in the entire country—from the elite strata to the general population—few have any sense of responsibility for the country or society. They’ve totally given up. From those in power to intellectuals to college students to average citizens, most people do not think that this country is theirs, they believe that China’s affairs are someone else’s business and that it has nothing to do with them. This is a first in China. I believe that these are two important reasons why China has not yet democratized. Therefore speaking from the perspective of the opposition, the most important task is the work of enlightenment. Those people who advocate violent revolution probably will oppose what I say, but I think Chinese people still need to be enlightened.

YC: I want to interject here that the fact that the elite class, whether it’s intellectuals or the moneyed class, have given up responsibility for the country is an indication of the rigor of communist totalitarianism. Isn’t that so? Hasn’t the Party worked methodically, meticulously, and cruelly to diminish individuals, including the elite class, into powerless atoms, preventing them from becoming a force, making sure they are beholden to the state, and depriving them even of a free-speaking Weibo (Chinese Twitter-like microblog) account? Having a citizenry that takes the country’s future into its own hand is at variance with the totalitarian system. It’s against the system’s requirement. On a personal level, acting out of a sense of duty for the country’s future is suicidal, it goes against one’s instinct for survival. Look at what happened to Liu Xiaobo and Ilham Tohti. Look at those lawyers who are tortured, disbarred, or harassed for defending human rights. Look at the professors who were expelled from teaching for uttering a bit of dissent. The Communist Party has a monopoly on China’s future as long as it’s in power, just as it does on the past and the present. Now please explain to us what you mean by enlightenment.

Wang Dan: For example, the majority of ordinary citizens sincerely believe that if China becomes a democracy, there will be chaos. Even if they have not been brainwashed by the CCP, even if they loathe Communist Party members, they still feel this way. Why do they think this? We need to reason with them. For example, just because the 1989 movement failed, it does not mean that it wasn’t the right thing to do. If you don’t talk about issues like these, the majority of people won’t think about them, therefore we must reason with them. This ability to inspire people through reason has a great potential to mobilize society.

YC: It was probably around the time of 2007 or 2008 when I first started looking at China’s Internet. There was also censorship, but comparing the Internet expression at that time to today, it was like a paradise back then, and there was a lot of what you call enlightenment, many public intellectuals or writers had many fans, and they could say and did say a lot. It was also around that time the CCP sensed a crisis, believing that if they continued to have lax control over speech on the Internet, their political power would be in imminent danger. Thus the censorship regime during the past decade has become stricter and more absurd. So now you are facing a very practical problem, even someone like Peking University law professor He Weifang can no longer keep a Weibo microblog account. People’s throats are being strangled, there’s no way for them to speak.

Wang Dan: Now it is very difficult, we must admit. But we shouldn’t give up just because some difficulties exist and sink into despair. Nietzsche said the disadvantaged don’t have the right to be pessimistic. You’re already underprivileged, if you’re then also pessimistic, your only option is to give up. I believe now is the darkness before the dawn. It truly is the most difficult time, but it is also the time when we have to persist the most. Like me, traveling around giving talks, oftentimes there aren’t many people at each talk,  maybe 20 or so, but I feel it’s worth it.

YC: Liu Xiaobo died in a prison hospital. Even as someone who doesn’t know his work in any depth, I feel hit hard by it and it is difficult to grapple with. It’s like, for all these years, everyone sort of expected him to come out of prison rested and ready to go in 2020 after he served out his prison term. That’s not too far from now. When he died, it dawned on a lot of us that the CCP would never have let him walk out of jail alive. You were together with Liu Xiaobo in Tiananmen Square, and you worked with him during the 1990s, how does his death affect you?

Wang Dan: I grieve Xiaobo’s death as many others do. But I know that he would want us the living to do more. We need to do things that he can’t do anymore. And the best remembrance of Liu Xiaobo is to get more done and to see that his ideals for China become true.  

YC: Many people won’t have the opportunity that I have to sit down with you. They know who you are, but they don’t know what you have been doing. They will say, “Those people who’ve been abroad all these years, what have they done? We haven’t seen anything!” How would you respond?

Wang Dan: First, I don’t really care about the various criticisms of me that others may make. I actually welcome it. It’s a form of encouragement, and at the very least, it’s a reminder. I personally feel I’ve done some things as I’ve told you. In addition, I’ve also come out with quite a few books that have made an impact.

YC: Could you tell us about your books?

Wang Dan: The book that’s sold the best is Wang Dan’s Memoir (《王丹回憶錄:六四到流亡》). And then there’s Fifteen Lectures on The History of the People’s Republic of China (中華人民共和国史十五講》). Both were published in Taiwan, and both have sold well. The third book, titled 80 Questions About China (《關於中國的80個問題》), is the most recent. These 80 questions were all questions I encountered at the salons, so I packaged them together.

YC: What are a few examples of these questions?

Wang Dan: For example: Was Deng Xiaoping really the “chief engineer” of China’s reform and opening up? Why should we not place hope on a Gorbachev emerging from the CCP? Why hasn’t China’s middle class become promoters of democracy? In China, how does the CCP suppress opposition forces? Will democracy lead to social instability? Why don’t Chinese people speak up? Who are the people who might be able to change China? Why do we say “reform is dead”?

YC: While in Taiwan, you also founded the New School for Democracy (華人民主書院). What does it do?  

Wang Dan: The New School for Democracy was founded on October 1, 2012. At the time, I wanted to advance the idea of a “global Chinese civil society” spanning Hong Kong, Taiwan, the mainland, Macao, Malaysia, Singapore, and overseas Chinese communities. Our Board of Directors are people from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. What we all face is the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP not only impacts the people of China, but also Taiwan and Hong Kong, and it influences the interests of Chinese all over the world, so I felt that we should all unite and combine efforts. We had an online course, and invited some scholars to give lectures. We later realized that there were not many people interested in a very specialized online course. A Salon was a major project of the school, and it is my contribution as chair of the Board of Directors. We also published a magazine, “Public Intellectual,” which we issued eight times before we had to stop due to lack of funding. Now that I have come back to the U.S., I hope to bring some of the school’s activities here, such as online classes, salons, trainings, and a summer camp.

YC: Your summer camp idea is really interesting. What would it look like?

Wang Dan: A summer camp that brings together students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China who are studying in the U.S. They spend a week together, everyone becomes friends, exchanges views, and they have a better understanding of each other. They learn how to rationally discuss issues. No matter how controversial or sensitive our topic is, they must learn how to speak civilly. You can’t just curse another person because you don’t agree with something he or she said.

YC: On social media, I’ve seen so many people who lack the most basic democratic qualities although they ardently oppose dictatorship and champion democracy. They launch ad hominem attacks without making efforts to get the basic facts straight, and use the foulest language to hurl insults at people.

Wang Dan: So I think that one of the fundamental trainings is how to listen attentively to what the other person is saying, and to take care in how one says things –– to speak civilly and mindfully. There’s also some basic etiquette when speaking, such as not to interrupt others, etc.

YC: I think that’s about it. I hope you settle in smoothly, and that you’re able to start doing the things you want to do as soon as possible.

Wang Dan: It’s been eight years since I left the U.S. I can’t do the things I want to do all by myself. I’m looking forward to connecting with people in certain groups. First, Chinese students studying in the U.S.; second, Chinese living in the U. S. who are not engaged in the democracy movement but are concerned about democracy and politics; third, Americans who study China.

YC: Thank you. I wish you success in your work and life.

 

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao

 

 


Related:

Liu Xiaobo: Walking the Path of Kang Youwei, Spilling His Blood Like Tan Sitong, Wang Dan, July 20, 2017.

Tiananmen’s Most Wanted, the New York Times, June 4, 2014.

 

 

 

From Dr Wang Bingzhang, a Special Prayer on the 15th Anniversary of His Abduction by the Chinese Government

Yaxue Cao, September 18, 2017

 

Last Friday, Dr. Wang Bingzhang’s family – his wife, children and siblings in Canada and the U. S. – received a letter from him in Shaoguan Prison (韶关监狱), Guangdong. He shared “a special prayer” with them on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of his kidnapping:

Wang Bingzhang_特别祈祷辞1

My loved ones, June 27, 2017 is the 15th anniversary of when I was abducted and imprisoned. On this special day, I’ve made a special prayer that I’d like to share with all of you:

To my Holy Creator, my Lord in Heaven, God, Heavenly Father, Holy Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit:

Your servant Wang Bingzhang (王炳章) prays to you. On June 27, 2002, 15 years ago now, I was abducted and from that day on have been imprisoned in solitary confinement.

I thank you for staying by my side for these 15 years, offering me support and guidance. I thank you for making use of me, and for giving me a special mission: from the time you created humankind, setting out that it was my mission to help promulgate the natural laws, norms, standards, and truths you established for man to live by, as shown in ancient civilization, the classic texts of the world, and in the works of our ancestors. I have come to realize that you have a grand plan for the salvation of the world and humankind; to make this mad world return once more to norms you established, and to help the lost world of man return to your embrace. I feel greatly honored that I can make a small contribution to the grand plan you have laid out. I know that everything of mine was given by you, and that all glory belongs to you.

I will absolutely not fail in the mission you gave me. I’ll continue to cherish myself, I’ll keep my mind and body in good order, and live the years you allotted me. Under your teaching, inspiration, and guidance, I do your work every day. I guarantee that your selection of me, your deep love, your accompaniment, your divine inspiration, and your grace encourages me to be braver and work without fear, even if I have to spend another 15 years in jail. I will redouble my efforts and leave behind a record that renders glory to your sacred name.

Amen.

I love you all,

Wang Bingzhang
From solitary confinement in Shaoguan Prison
June 27, 2017

 

Dr. Wang Bingzhang was among the first Chinese students sent overseas to study science and technology by the Chinese government when Deng Xiaoping opened up the country in 1977. He studied medicine at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, from 1979 to 1982, and became the first Chinese from the mainland to receive an overseas Ph.D. after the Cultural Revolution. He was the pride of China and a source of inspiration; his success was reported in the Chinese-language newspapers, both inside and outside China. But no sooner had he completed his degree than he abandoned a medical career for something uncharted and illusive: starting a movement to transform China into a democracy.

In November, 1982, he founded the China Spring magazine and made an announcement in the World Journal (《世界日报》), the largest Chinese newspaper in America: “The new emerging democratic movement in contemporary China needs activists. From now on… I will lay down the cherished scalpels of a surgeon and pick up those of a social reformer to remove the ulcers and tumors of Chinese society. The road ahead will be thorny and arduous, but it will be the road to light and hope.”

The magazine laid out five goals for political reform in China at the time when Brezhnev was the head of the USSR and Taiwan would not be lifting its ban on a free press and other political parties for another five years:

  • Abolition of one-party rule;
  • Separation of party from the  government, military and judiciary;
  • Separation of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary;
  • Direct election of national leaders; and
  • Federalism.

It also laid out five goals for economic reform:

  • Establishment of a market economy;
  • The co-existence of multiple economic systems;
  • Protection of private property;
  • Independent unions; and
  • Farmers’ land ownership and usage rights.

In the next two decades, Dr. Wang Bingzhang moved between United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and founded and led the Chinese Alliance for Democracy (中国民主团结联盟) in the 1980s. He also snuck back to China to form a clandestine opposition party – the Democracy Party of China. Their activities were little known to the English-speaking world. The New York Times only found out in May 1987, with its story “China Opposition Thrives in Queens,” after Beijing denounced the activities of Dr. Wang and colleagues.

Dr. Wang published a pamphlet titled The Path to China’s Democratic Revolution (《中国民主革命之路》), also known as the Handbook of the Democratic Movement (《民运手册──中国民主化运动百题问答》), answering 120 questions having to do with China’s democratic transformation. His essay Rebuilding the Republic of China (《重建中华民国》) advocated “uniting China with democracy” and restoring the Republic of China as a simple and convenient replacement for the CCP regime.

 

Wang Bingzhang_composite

 

On June 27, 2002, while near China’s border with Vietnam with two others, Dr. Wang was kidnapped, according to accounts by his companions, and taken to China. On December 20 of that year, the official Xinhua News Agency announced his arrest, giving few details of Dr. Wang’s supposed crimes, “other than to say that he had passed state secrets to Taiwan and posted essays on the Internet related to terrorist acts, which threatened state security.”

On February 2003, Dr. Wang was given a one-day trial held behind closed doors, during which he was not allowed to speak, no evidence was presented, and no witnesses were called. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Shenzhen People’s Intermediate Court, the harshest sentence handed out to a political prisoner since 1978.

On February 28, 2003, Guangdong Supreme People’s Court maintained the sentence by the first trial court. When the verdict was read, Dr. Wang Bingzhang shouted, “I was kidnapped! I protest the illegal trial!” His youngest sister, allowed to attend the trial, met with him, and he asked for a copy of the Bible. Since then he has been imprisoned in Shaoguan, Guangdong province.

 

Wang Bingzhang_composite2

Shaoguan Prison, Guangdong. For more photos of Dr. Wang Bingzhang and his communications, visit: https://twitter.com/Free_WangBZ/media

 

Over the past 15 years, Dr. Wang’s siblings and grown children visited him a couple of times every year from North America for a 30-minutes meeting. The most outspoken among them have been denied visas over the years. He has been able to write letters home, and each one evinces a heart-wrenching longing for the day when he can walk out of China’s prison, alive and free.

The loved ones of Dr. Wang sometimes wonders if it’s all been worth it: 35 years after he and his colleagues laid out the goals for political and economic reform, none of them has been realized under communist rule. And now, those in power are richer than kings. Meanwhile, with money, the state-capitalist China has been exporting corruption, censorship, and political influence that undermines democracy.

Dr. Wang is 69 years old. He has been treated for cardiovascular and gastroenterological conditions while in custody. Relatives described symptoms of a mental condition, too. Years of campaigning and diplomatic efforts have not availed. It was an illegal act by a state actor to kidnap Dr. Wang in Vietnam, and the trial has no legitimacy by international standards, or even by China’s own procedural and criminal laws. Fifteen years of solitary confinement is beyond the pale by any humanitarian standard.

China must free Dr. Wang Bingzhang, and governments around the world, the Canadian government in particular, must renew their efforts to bring Dr. Wang out of jail and out of China.

 

 


Related:

In the Prison of China – The Journey of Dr. Wang Bingzhang (1)

In the Prison of China – The Journey of Dr. Wang Bingzhang (2)

In the Prison of China – The Journey of Dr. Wang Bingzhang (3)

 

Inside These Walls, a CBC documentary, August 6, 2017.

 

 

 

 

A Comprehensive Bibliography of Liu Xiaobo’s Writings

Hermann Aubié, September 5, 2017

 

Liu Xiaobo_biblio

 

 

During the eight and a half years that Liu Xiaobo spent in Jinzhou prison, only intermittent attention to both his fate and Liu Xia’s detention kept him from becoming gradually invisible, despite being the world’s only imprisoned Peace Nobel laureate. Now that Liu Xiaobo has passed away of liver cancer on July 13, 2017, there is an even greater danger that what he expressed and stood for will be either poorly remembered or completely forgotten.

In the absence of a comprehensive bibliography of his writings, I compiled this list of Liu Xiaobo’s texts that were found on various Chinese websites, magazines, journals and books that had mostly been published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as part of my dissertation that provides the first comprehensive academic study in English of Liu Xiaobo’s human rights struggle from a socio-historical perspective. In addition to several interviews with foreign media, Liu published eleven books and about one thousand articles covering an impressive range of topics. After translating all the titles of his texts into English, I added brief annotations and footnotes about the general topic of each text when the titles did not provide any obvious indication on their own.

Because only a few translations of Liu Xiaobo’s writings are available in English (in total less than 1% of all his writings), the discussion of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights in Western media and academia has often been limited to a small set of quotes that are not representative of what he stood for as a whole. As a result, there is still a gap of understanding between Chinese and foreign writings on Liu Xiaobo. Hopefully, this bibliography will inspire future researchers to look deeper into his work to improve the public knowledge and understanding of what Liu Xiaobo gave his life for.

A note on the hyperlinks: All the text that is hyperlinked in blue was originally linking up to the text of his articles or translations, but many of them might have changed since then. If the URL is no longer functional, a simple Google search will turn up valid substitutes.

 

A Comprehensive Bibliography of Liu Xiaobo’s Writings (Chinese and English)

 

 

Hermann AubieAbout the author:

Hermann Aubié is a lecturer in sociology and policy at Aston University in Birmingham, England; he completed his PhD at the Centre for East Asian Studies of the University of Turku (Finland) in 2016 with a dissertation titled “Liu Xiaobo’s Struggle for Human rights: A Contextual Analysis from a Historical Perspective” which is forthcoming as a book.

After doing his BA and MA at the University of Western Brittany in France and the University of Glasgow, he spent five years working in China as a teacher, researcher and consultant for the EU-China Civil Society Dialogue.

His research focuses on contemporary politics, human rights, and civil society transformations in China and East Asia, with particular attention on how citizens use the law and media to promote socio-political change, and to redress injustice for individuals/groups who are persecuted and discriminated against.

 


Related:

From Brittany, in Memory of Liu Xiaobo’s Spirit and Voice of Conscience, Hermann Aubié, August 9, 2017

Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.

The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.

As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Liu Xiaobo — And What the U. S. Can Do

By Yang Jianli, July 22, 2017

“The U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them—banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country—and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as ‘Liu Xiaobo Plaza.’”

 

Liu Xiaobo_Yang Jianli

Photo: The Royal House of Norway

 

 

The world lost a hero when China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, died of liver cancer in Chinese custody on July 13, 2017.

In life as well as in death Liu Xiaobo represents the best of what China can ever be. He possessed a moral authority unimaginable to his persecutors, and his legacy of love, justice, and sacrifice will surely far outlive the deeds of those who persecuted him. His spirit will be an uplifting and unifying force that will inspire more Chinese people to fight to realize his dream—indeed, the common dream of the Chinese people. To the world, he represents the universal values that all democracies embrace, and he stands for the unwavering struggle of unfree people. Liu Xiaobo is a representative of universal ideas that resonate with millions of people all over the world.

Chinese human rights and democracy advocates had all hoped that Liu Xiaobo would one day complete his unjust prison sentence, and then reengage in his passionate quest for human rights and democracy in China, and also perhaps one day be able to savor the fruits of his life’s work. But instead, he is gone. Now, more than ever, it is critical to demand justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death, to lend a helping hand to assist his widow, Liu Xia, and other members of his family, and to fight in every way possible to honor the legacy of his courage and sacrifice.

Many suspect that the Chinese officials intentionally concealed Liu Xiaobo’s illness from him and his family, and intentionally hastened his death by denying him proper care. Liu Xiaobo’s cancer was reportedly diagnosed on May 23 during an emergency hospital visit because of internal bleeding. However, the news of his late-stage cancer did not become known until late June. During this time, his tumor enlarged from 5-6 cm to 11-12 cm. As early as 2010, Liu Xiaobo was suspected of suffering from hepatitis B, but the Chinese authorities never allowed him to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, Liu Xiaobo reportedly had two CT tests in 2016, which likely would have revealed large liver tumors. Medical parole in China is a political, rather than a medical, decision. In Liu Xiaobo’s case it was up to China’s top leaders to decide. What they chose was a thinly disguised death sentence.

Liu Xiaobo had been held incommunicado since December 2008 until he became terminally ill and was eventually allowed a visit by a German and an American doctor following an international outcry. During his entire imprisonment, he was not allowed to discuss current events, nor the persecutions that his wife Liu Xia and her family suffered. When Liu Xiaobo’s worsening condition became public, 154 Nobel laureates, human rights activists around the globe, and a handful of world leaders called for his immediate release and medical treatment overseas. Liu Xiaobo himself also expressed his wish to seek medical treatment abroad and to die in free country. Tragically, the Chinese regime callously disregarded these requests. After persecuting him for so many years, the regime didn’t give a second thought to denying him his final wish.

Without a doubt, the Chinese communist regime is responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. However, the policy of appeasement carried out by democracies towards China’s human rights abuses has made them accomplices to Liu Xiaobo’s slow and stealthy murder. It is a sad and disturbing fact that many leaders of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, have been less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others. If the world continues to acquiesce to China’s aggression against its own people, Liu Xiaobo’s tragedy will be repeated, and the democratic ideal and the security of all free peoples will be in jeopardy.

The tragic death of Liu Xiaobo should give all of us a stronger sense of urgency in helping prisoners of conscience of China. It is a legitimate concern that now we can expect more human rights activists will languish and disappear in Chinese prisons: Wang Bingzhang, Hu Shigen, Zhu Yufu, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jingling, Wu Gan, Guo Feixiong, Liu Xianbin, Chen Wei, Zhang Haitao… the list goes on. If American advocacy for human rights and justice is to mean anything at all, the U.S. government must do more to support these political prisoners and to hold accountable the Chinese government and individuals who so brazenly abuse the fundamental rights of its people.

The U.S. can also do more to help Liu Xiaobo’s family. The Trump administration should make it an urgent priority to help Liu Xia leave China for a country of her choosing. The U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them—banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country—and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”

To fight for the ideals of human rights and democracy, Liu Xiaobo sacrificed his career, his freedom, and now, his life. But we cannot give up on him. We have to seek justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death at the hands of the Chinese regime, and we have to prevent the tragedy that awaits his widow, Liu Xia, if we do not act immediately to help her get out of China, and we have to preserve the legacy of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for a democratic and free China.

 

 

杨建利博士

Dr. Yang Jianli (杨建利)

Yang Jianli (杨建利) is the President of Initiatives for China, a Washington, D. C.-based NGO devoted to promoting human rights and political change in China. 

 

 

 

 

 


Related:

Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.

The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.

As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.

Liu Xiaobo: Walking the Path of Kang Youwei, Spilling His Blood Like Tan Sitong, Wang Dan, July 20, 2017.