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An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

By Rose Tang, published: March 24, 2014

The letter was originally posted by the author on her Facebook page. We thank her for her permission to allow China Change to repost it. –The Editor


Dear Michelle:

I wasn’t the only Chinese who was totally disappointed by your speech at Peking University on Saturday. You did not mention a word about the university being a birthplace of China’s major pro-democracy movements since the early 20th century and a base for some of the country’s most prominent human rights activists, including Cao Shunli and Xu Zhiyong. You didn’t say a word about them. Legal scholar Cao died six days before you landed in Beijing. Cao, aged 53 (only three years older than you), had been detained for six months after she was kidnapped by the police at the Beijing Airport last September when she was about to board a flight to Geneva for a U.N. workshop; Forty-one-year-old university lecturer Xu is serving a four-year jail term for leading the peaceful New Citizens’ Movement calling on the officials to disclose their personal assets. His two-month-old daughter Niu Niu has not met her daddy — having been born after Xu was thrown into jail. History has been repeating itself in China: my artist father had already been in detention before I was born in the Cultural Revolution, for criticizing Mao Zedong in his personal diaries.

In the speech, you said: “It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media. Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”

I hope you know the truth about China, Tibet, East Turkestan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southern Mongolia. I voted for your hubby and used to admire you guys for your tenacity and courage. It was my first time to vote in America and I knew it was a precious moment — many Chinese died just for shouting a few slogans in marches for this basic simple right. I was lucky to have survived that massacre in Beijing nearly 25 years ago. 

And now, while you and your daughters are strolling on a completely empty Great Wall that’s usually packed with tourists, you should know many Chinese dissidents have been detained or put under house arrest because of your visit. No wonder Beijing-based activist Hu Jia Tweeted: “(The tour of the Great Wall) was tailor made by the Party for Ms. Michelle. As long as she’s in China, I have to accompany her by being under house arrest (“党为米歇尔女士私人定制的。她只要在中国,我就得陪着软禁”).” 

Rose Tang (唐路) in Tiananmen Square in 1989,  among the last students leaving the Square in the morning of June 4th. She is a journalist living in New York City now.

Rose Tang (唐路) in Tiananmen Square in 1989, among the last students leaving the Square in the morning of June 4th. She is a journalist living in New York City now.

Michelle, you are in China to talk about education and women. You should know how horrible it is for Chinese women to live as women and even as human beings. You’re the wife of a Nobel Peace Prize winner,  you should know Liu Xia, wife of jailed Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has been under house arrest without access to telephone, the Internet, letters or family visits for more than three years. The poet’s only crime is to be married to Liu Xiaobo. Her apartment, her prison, is about two mile away from that swanky courtyard-style restaurant where you dined with Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan and posed with her and her doughy-faced President hubby Xi Jinping for photo opps, in your gorgeous dress of red roses. 

Michelle, you’ve been surrounded by beautiful Chinese women with stiff smiles. But you should know how many unlucky ones have been dragged off for forced abortions and sterilizations, and how many died, committing suicide or being tortured to death. Your two daughters are very beautiful, and lucky. You should know how many female Chinese babies have been killed or aborted just because they’re girls, including babies of my friends. You should know many many poor kids, children of migrant workers and peasants do not get to study in a school at all. And you should know how horrible eduction (brainwashing) has been in China — millions of students have been fed poisons and lies, to serve the Party and to hate America. Somehow, they’re flocking to America to study, as you mentioned in your speech. You know why? Sure, American schools and colleges are better, but the main reason is that their parents are sending them to a safer place with a better future, off a sinking ship where air, water and soil are full of toxins. Even the daughter of Chinese president Xi Jinping you just met lives in America and has refused to return.

Michelle, soon you’ll be in my hometown Chengdu swooning over pandas and eating at a Tibetan restaurant. Since when did you become so Chinese, having to send some subtle messages (Tibet?) through eating? Where are your teeth? You should know thousands of Sichuanese kids perished in the horrible earthquakes around Chengdu and near the panda areas in 2008 when their shoddily built classrooms collapsed.  To this day, their parents are still banned to visit the sites to mourn their deaths.

You should know pandas are from Tibet and the Tibetans are “endangered people”, who are not even treated as well as the pandas. And the Tibetan culture and environment have been raped by the Chinese Communist regime. So many Tibetans have burnt themselves to death and so many more are in jail — some are in prisons in Chengdu.

I hope your motorcade will pass through Tianfu (Hall of Heaven) Square where that gigantic ugly Mao statue stands. I hope you aren’t blind or brain-damaged and will see how odd the scenery is.

I hope you’ll remember what you’ve seen in China and will say something one day. President Xi and his propaganda humming bird wife Peng Liyuan wouldn’t give a damn about what you said to them or to anyone else, though she might be jealous of your red dress. You should know that dowdy looking pale awkward lady with a beehive hairdo sang songs of praise to the troops in Tiananmen Square (I believe you’ve been there) shortly after they mowed down unarmed innocent students in June, 1989. Twenty five years on, you can’t even see a single picture of that event on the Chinese Internet.

And I don’t give a damn about what you say or wear. We don’t need you. People in that strange piece of land called China are waking up and rising up…the murderers and their cronies whom you met, toured and dined with will be held accountable.

tang luHappy travels and stay safe — you never know what’s gonna happen in China, because mass violence is a daily ritual there…

Take care.

Sincerely yours,

Rose Tang, a U.S. citizen born and raised in China and a Tiananmen Massacre survivor.




The Audacity of Hopelessness

By YANG Jianli, published: March 18, 2014


Dr. Yang Jianli (杨建利)

Dr. Yang Jianli (杨建利)

Michelle Obama will be a terrific goodwill ambassador when she visits China later this month. She will put America’s best foot forward. The Chinese people will watch her appreciate China’s rich culture. They will see her interest in and concern for all segments of its diverse society — especially the youth — just as she has shown here in America.

She and her daughters will experience the stimulating sights and sounds of my homeland, as they walk the Great Wall, gaze out over the Terra Cotta soldiers and visit the Forbidden City.   Perhaps, as they view the vastness of Tiananman Square, they will also ponder its tragic history and the looming 25th anniversary of the Massacre there. 

I wish them a wonderful trip. At the same time, I find myself considering its potential impact in the context of foreign travels by previous First Ladies. As the Post noted in its recent review of those such trips, each First Lady has focused on her particular priorities, sometimes including human rights. On her China trip, Mrs. Obama reportedly will emphasize education and cultural exchange, rather than potentially more controversial topics

I respect her predilection. Nonetheless, she should remember that even “soft” subjects, such as education, are inextricably linked to politics in China. For example, Dr. Xu Zhiyong and his colleagues in the New Citizen Movement, are already jailed or facing trial simply because they sought education for the millions of children from rural areas now not allowed to enter schools in cities to which their parents have migrated. Ms. Obama could inquire not only about the plight of these children, but also about the persecution of their advocates.

In addition, if it is not too audacious, I would ask her to consider seeking to relieve a desperate situation, whose near hopelessness might also justify an exception to her plan.

Liu Xia, a 53 year old poet and photographer, is seriously ill with a bad heart condition and other chronic ailments. She has been recently hospitalized — not for the first time — because her condition continues to deteriorate, intensified by anxiety and depression over cruel punishment she does not deserve. As a Washington Post editorial observed she:”[H]as been kept under house arrest for five years, although she has not been charged with a crime, and the lawless confinement appears to be taking its toll.”

On top of that, largely cut off from friends and contacts in the community, Mrs. Liu has also witnessed her brother being sentenced to 11 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges, in order to tighten the screws on her.

What has Mrs. Liu done to merit such cruel treatment? She is the devoted wife of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who is now serving an 11 year prison term for co-authoring a call for democratic freedoms in China. When he won the Nobel Peace Price four years ago, the Chinese Government would not allow him to accept the award. (He remains the world’s only imprisoned Peace Prize winner.)  Still, the images of his Empty Chair when the award was made in absentia went viral and focused attention on his wife, as well as him. She has remained loyal to her husband and continued to visit him on the few occasions permitted, thereby earning the enmity of an embarrassed regime. For these “offenses” the authorities have put her physical and mental health increasingly at risk. Even the circumspect State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights for 2013 explicitly referred to her torment and its adverse effects on her health.

For Mrs. Liu Xia, unlike Mrs. Obama, being the wife of a Nobel Peace Prize winner has brought pain as well as pride.

Under these compelling circumstances, Mrs. Obama could ask to bring Mrs. Liu Xia back to America for thorough and truly conscientious medical care. But, if that would seem too ‘intrusive” on China’s domestic affairs,” she could, at least, privately urge President Xi Jinping to allow this innocent victim to come here under less-public other arrangements.  

Such a humanitarian request by Mrs. Obama would be a teachable moment for her children, and would indeed make their China trip complete.

By YANG Jianli, President, Initiatives for China, former political prisoner of China (2002-2006).