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Liao Yiwu, December 10, 2018, International Human Rights Day, Berlin
I’ve so often said that my courage and everything about me comes from prison. This is how I differ from other Chinese writers. In prison, I was tortured ‘til I could no longer bear it, and tried to kill myself twice. But I learned to write secretly; and I learned to play the xiao (ancient flute) from an over-80-year-old monk. From the sound of his xiao, I realized that freedom comes from the soul.
A man of inner freedom is the natural enemy of a dictatorship. His political views come in a pale, second place.
The key is that, only after experiencing the horror, sadness, and pity of losing freedom and being trampled upon, does one fight for the freedom of others with all one’s heart, and moreover turns the fight for freedom into a kind of personal faith.
Most of the time, outside of writing, I’m a failure. For example, my friend Liu Xiaobo, four times jailed, was murdered in a cage on July 13, 2017. We did our best to rescue him, but it was all a failure. Although his wife, Liu Xia, was eventually released and allowed to come to Germany, the price was too painful and too great. And soon it will all be forgotten.
China is still the world’s largest capitalist market, and with the US-led trade war against China and the constant thrashings-about in the news, already the memory of Liu Xiaobo and his wife is being diluted and lost. It’s a vulgar and cruel world that no longer needs a martyr like Liu Xiaobo to strive and be jailed for the cause of democracy. I understand all this. I know that though the records already are numerous, I must continue to write. It’s just as, over 2,000 years ago, when Plato recorded the philosophical debates in Socrates’ cell before his death; without those words Plato left behind, Socrates would have been erased by time, and his death left a vague mystery. His words would no longer stir us so deeply.
Yes, I wrote “June 4: My Testimony” and “Bullets and Opium,” both of which are part of a single whole describing the victims of the Tiananmen massacre nearly 30 years ago, many of whom died, many of whom were destroyed by prison. (Although, even when released from prison, they went on to die in a larger prison without walls.) The idea that “the internet will destroy autocracy and open markets will lead to democracy ” has been a popular notion for American politicians, and coincided with the administration of then-US President Bill Clinton. It’s this phrase that lubricated China’s entry to the WTO, and helped grant it most-favored nation status over 20 years ago.
But it’s clearly not the case that “the internet undermines dictatorship.” Instead, it’s the authoritarian regimes that have made extensive use of Western network technology to comprehensively monitor the entire Chinese populace. No matter where you are, as long you’re a dissident, you’ll be tapped and tracked; all your trips to the bank and online speech will be recorded, and in a moment’s notice, all will become evidence of your intent to harm the state. At hotels, train stations, and airports, your face will be automatically identified by the police using their mobile phones and computers — technology invented by Westerners and augmented by the internet and open markets, all of which has given a tremendous boost to the dictatorship.
What follows naturally is that the dictatorship will challenge Western democracy. For instance, China has the Great Fire Wall, and if you circumvent it and visit foreign websites, this is called “illegal” and perhaps you’ll be arrested. Western countries have no firewall, and almost all overseas Chinese, and many foreigners interested in China, are free to use WeChat, Weibo, and Huawei cell phones — but then they’re silently monitored and tracked too. And if you say ‘extremist’, suspicious, sarcastic, or subversive remarks about China, WeChat administrators will issue a warning that your account may be cancelled — or simply cancel it without a word. Or maybe you’ll temporarily go “missing”, and your family and friends in the country may also find themselves under a cloud of trouble. Dictators not only borrow the propaganda of “counter-terrorism” to carry out concentration camp-style forced brainwashing of millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang, but also use the internet to prevent those in the free world from actually being free.
Many dissidents around me also use WeChat and accept the regime’s control and surveillance without really thinking it over. So today, I, a writer among dissidents, not only refuse to use Chinese-made smartphones, but I refuse to install any software from China, and I only publish my work in democratic Taiwan and the free West.
More importantly, I don’t flinch, I don’t succumb to silence, I continue to fight for the freedom of others, and in this oft-failed struggle, I’m drawing from a passionate need to make a record of this era.
Coming up next, I shall prepare another book; I shall get ready to turn defeat into victory in the history that will soon be upon us.
“1984” itself makes one hopeless — but the act of writing “1984” is already a flickering of hope from the depths of despair.
Also by Liao Yiwo:
‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom To Liu Xia, May 2, 2018.
Acceptance Speech for the 2018 Annual Disturbing the Peace Literary Prize for a Courageous Writer at Risk, Liao Yiwu, September 27, 2018, New York City
China Citizens Movement Outstanding Citizenship Award Selection Committee, December 10, 2018
Today, we offer our respects to an outstanding citizen. She is a loving mother, a strong mother, and a great mother. She is eighty-five years old this year, an age at which she should have been enjoying a peaceful retirement with her family. Instead, at her venerable age, she has been thrust into a situation that no mother should be forced to experience: she has had to see her son imprisoned and brought to the verge of death for committing no crime at all. In her quest to protect and support him, she stakes out a trail of blood and tears upon the great but troubled land that is China.
Using all the strength that her frail person has to offer, she has stood up against constant harassment, surveillance, and intimidation from the state. She overcomes tribulations using gentleness, patience, and tolerance, acting with firm yet nonviolent determination.
Courageously, she persisted in seeking all possible help to gain her son’s freedom and is praised by all for her conscientiousness. She has demonstrated the best example for all citizens who are dedicated to justice, and will inspire more citizens to pursue justice.
Her pure love has awakened a humanity that is in shackles: no matter how society changes, no matter how cruel the world is or how deluded the people are, a mother’s love is the eternal light of spring that consoles the hearts of every citizen and illuminates their path.
This admirable mother is Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清), and her son is Huang Qi (黄琦), a prisoner of conscience who is currently serving a third sentence for his unyielding determination to expose human rights abuses in China.
In thinking of Ms. Pu Wenqing, we are reminded of Themis, the Greek goddess of divine justice, and her son Prometheus, a hero who sacrificed his eternal freedom so that humanity could learn the secret of fire.
Today, we are honored to present this year’s Outstanding Citizen Award to Ms. Pu Wenqing in acknowledgement of her efforts to live as an upright citizen in the pursuit of her civil rights. In her extraordinary efforts, we see the warm strength of humanity overcoming the forces of tyranny, moving us ever closer to a society of freedom, justice, and love.
Here, on the International Human Rights Day, we express our sincere wishes: that Ms. Pu Wenqing may enjoy good health and longevity, and that Huang Qi may regain his freedom and be reunited with his family!
85-Year-Old Mother Fights For the Release of Her Son, Renowned Human Rights Defender, Yaxue Cao, October 15, 2018.