Here is the Chinese version of Vaclav Havel, the Conscience of Humanity, which was written by Signers of Charter 08 in China.
Vaclav Havel, the Conscience of Humanity
by Signers of Charter 08 in China
News of the passing on December 18, 2011, of Vaclav Havel, the distinguished playwright and moving force behind “Charter 77,” brought shock and pain to Chinese citizens who three years earlier had signed Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democracy and human rights. While we join people around the world in grieving since that darkest of days, our minds are filled as well with indelible memories of Mr. Havel and with the immense respect that we feel for this great defender of universal human rights.We express our sincere condolences to his family and wish, in addition, that the more than ten million citizens of the Czech Republic will know that we join them in their grieving.The loss of Mr. Havel is not only a severe loss to the Czech Republic. It is a loss that extends through the world, a loss to all defenders of freedom, democracy, and human rights.
Vaclav Havel grew up under communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia and, over many years, persevered in a position of opposition to oppressive government and support of human dignity and basic human rights.He was active during the “Prague Spring” that surprised the world in 1968. In 1975, after he released an open letter to Czechoslovakia’s ruler, GustavHusek, that brilliantly evoked the stultifying atmosphere of life under dictatorship, Husek’s regime subjected him to harassment and persecution. Still, he persisted with his ideals. In 1976 he and some colleagues who shared his vision drafted, and in early 1977 published, their Charter 77, which called upon their country to honor the human-rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords of 1975. Havel received a prison sentence of forty months for this initiative. In 1979 he was sentenced again, this time to four and a half years, for “subversion of the republic.” These imprisonments established him as the spiritual leader of the movement for democracy and human rights in Czechoslovakia and established Charter 77 as the movement’s primary emblem. In 1989, when the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe crumbled, a triumphant“velvet revolution” carried Havel into the presidency of a new Czechoslovak Republic. In 1993, when the country divided into separate Czech and Slovak republics, Havel was elected president of the Czech Republic and served until 2003. For the people of Czechoslovakia, to see the departure of a man who did so much to effect a peaceful transition to democracy is obviously a tremendous loss.
But Havel’s influence extended far beyond his own country.He was unrelenting in his censure of dictators or autocrats of any stripe and was equally unstinting in his moral support of anyone who spoke for freedom, democracy, and basic human rights. He supported NATO in its removal of the dictatorial Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia and also spoke in support of the American decision to send troops to end the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. For China, he leaves a long record of moral support of democracy and human rights:
- He condemned the June Fourth massacre. In 1989, when the communist regime used tanks and machine guns to suppress a peaceful student democracy movement in Beijing, Havel went to the airwaves to denounce this cowardly violence in the strongest of terms. In 1999, on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, when students at Harvard University organized a memorial session, Havel—now as the president of his country—wrote an open letter expressing his support for democracy in China.
- He stoutly supported Charter 08 and its call for democracy and human rights. In December, 2008, Liu Xiaobo, Zhang Zuhua and a number of other Chinese, inspired by Charter 77 and by the counsels of their own consciences, drafted and published Charter 08 calling for “freedom, democracy, human rights, and constitutional government.” Havel immediately expressed his strong support of this initiative. On December 19, 2008 he wrote in The Wall Street Journal comparing Charter 08 to Charter 77 and praising its authors not only for their stand on democracy and human rights but also for their wisdom in calling for “better environmental protection, a bridging of the rural-urban divide, better provision of social security, and a serious effort to reconcile with human-rights abuses committed in decades past.”He referred to “the broad appeal of the ideas” of the Charter, as evidenced in the wide range of Chinese people who signed it.He denounced the repression of Liu Xiaobo, Zhang Zuhua and others who had worked on the charter and wrote that “the Chinese government should learn well the lesson of the Charter 77 movement: that intimidation, propaganda campaigns, and repression are no substitute for reasoned dialogue.”Later he wrote in The New York Times that “Charter 08 has articulated an alternative vision of China, challenging the official line that any decisions on reforms are the exclusive province of the state… It has encouraged younger Chinese to become politically active, and has boldly made the case for the rule of law and constitutional multiparty democracy.” On March 11, 2009, at an international human-rights film festival in Prague, Havel represented the selection committee of the Homo Homini Human Rights Prize in bestowing the prize upon Liu Xiaobo and all who signed Charter 08.
- He called for the release of Liu Xiaobo and all political prisoners. During 2008-2010, when the Beijing regime detained, arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned Liu Xiaobo for his part in Charter 08, Mr. Havel followed events continuously and closely.In an “Open Letter to President Hu Jintao” on January 6, 2010, he called Liu Xiaobo’s prison sentence “shameful” and wrote:
There is nothing subversive to state security or damaging to future prosperity when citizens act, guided by their own will and according to their best knowledge and conscience, or when they associate among themselves to discuss and express peacefully their concerns and visions about the future development of their society. On the contrary, a country's material and spiritual future is undermined when its citizens are not allowed to act, associate, think and speak freely.
We are also asking you and your government to end the house arrests and police surveillance which have been imposed on other Charter 08 signatories. We call upon you and your government to end the criminalization of free speech and to release all prisoners of conscience
- He nominated Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. When Chinese authorities sentenced Liu Xiaobo to eleven years in prison, Mr. Havel expressed his outrage in several ways. First he conveyed his sympathy and encouragement to Liu’s wife, Liu Xia; next he berated the Beijing regime for its moral failure in repressing human rights; and then he led an international initiative, involving Bishop Tutu from South Africa, the Dalai Lama, and other respected figures in the world, to join in nominating Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize.In January, 2010, the group wrote a joint letter to the prize committee in Oslo, and eight months later, on September 20, Havel and others published an op ed in The New York Times expressing the hope that the prize could go to the imprisoned Liu.
When the prestigious award did indeed go to Liu, it had a tremendous effect in raising the visibility and influence, both within China and internationally, of Charter 08 and the cause of Chinese democracy and human rights.The prize helped to establish Liu Xiaobo as the spiritual leader of China’s movement for democracy and human rights and caused Charter 08 to be seen as its core document and primary emblem.
For all these reasons we feel the passing of Vaclav Havel to be a huge loss to the movement for democracy and human rights in China.
And yet, whether one speaks of the Czech people, of the Chinese people, or of all of the people on the earth, the spiritual legacy that Vaclav Havel has left behind is limitless in its resources and inexhaustible in the avenues through which it will continue to nurture human life.Havel made sacrifices to build human rights and democracy in his own country, supported human rights and democracy throughout the world, and wrote about the human spirit and the human conscience with an eloquence so powerful that no reader can doubt that he was writing about—and for—every human being, everywhere.
In grief, we here offer him our final salute. Esteemed Mr. Havel:
--The universal human rights that you defended are identical to those that we defend.
--The freedom and democracy that you pursued are the very ones that we pursue.
--Your Charter 77 and our Charter 08 are iron cousins.
We pledge to you that we will persist with Charter 08 in China and with the ideals of democracy and human rights that you and we share.We call upon our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, to set aside small differences, to embrace the broad goals of the Charter 08 citizens' movement, and to join in bringing a great new day to Chinese society.We are confident that the dream of a free and democratic China, under a constitution and the rule of law, is achievable in the not-too-distant future.
Rest in peace, dear Mr. Havel.You are not alone.
Last Friday, China's state-run news media announced that human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng would return to prison to complete his full three-year sentence, supposedly because he violated the terms of his probation. The news was a surprise because the police have illegally detained Mr. Gao for the last 20 months, making it difficult for him to violate anything.
This article is a summary of my recent interview in the United States with Geng He, the wife of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Gao was 'sent back" to prison last week for violating the terms of his probation. Critics have said the decision shows the arbitrariness of the Chinese legal system as Mr. Gao has been in police custody for the past 20 months. In the interview, Ms. Geng describes the family's harrowing escape from China in 2012, and their pain in the absence of any information about Mr. Gao since he was abducted in 2009 shortly after their departure.
Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), a rights activist and citizen journalist from Beijing, was released on the morning of December 20 from the Chaoyang District Detention Center in Beijing, where she served a nine-month sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” The following background information was published on the web site of China Human Rights Defenders.
Wang’s son, Qi Jianxiang (齐健翔) posted a public message on Twitter Tuesday asking supporters not to greet Wang outside the detention center, saying that his mother would temporarily be staying at “another place to recuperate for a couple of days.
Wang began her rights defense activities after her retirement, advocating women’s rights and the rights of vulnerable groups. She won the respect of the rights defense community, whose many members respectfully address her as “Elder sister”.
Wang was detained on March 21, 2011, tried by the Chaoyang District People’s Court of Beijing on August 12, and convicted on September 9. The prosecution’s charge was based on Wang’s alleged role in organizing a protest outside a courthouse in Fujian on April 16, 2010, where the “Three Netizens,” Fan Yanqiong (范燕琼), You Jingyou (游精佑), and Wu Huaying (吴华英), were tried after they helped expose a police cover-up of a rape and a murder. The government alleged that the protest resulted in disorder inside the courtroom and traffic confusion in the area.
The following article about Wang Lihong was written by Ai Xiaoming and was translated by me.
“So Free, So Rich, So Beautiful!”—Missing Wang Lihong | Human Rights in China 中国人权
[Translation by Paul Mooney, Abridgment by Human Rights in China]
It has been more than 100 days since Wang Lihong lost her freedom. It’s really an unimaginable thing. She and I live in the same world, but Lihong not only is being held in a detention center, but has also been formally arrested. She was originally charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” (寻衅滋事). The charge was later changed to “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” (聚众扰乱社会秩序) [sic].
In the middle of the night, I often think about friends who have lost their freedom. Among these, for me, Lihong has been my closest sister. She is two years younger than I am, about 56. She has a serious herniated disc and needs a metal brace for support; she is also very nearsighted. In her own words: “When I take off my glasses, I’m just like a blind person.” But at the detention center, you weren’t allowed to bring in a back brace and you had to take off your eye glasses. Dear Lihong, how are you able to cope with the hazy world around you? Lihong, who once suffered from depression and insomnia, how many sleepless nights must she now endure? Was she prepared for this long detention and even arrest? Will she be filled with trust when she thinks of us, her friends, confident that we would run to help her as she would for those who were suffering? And how disappointed will she be in our inability to help her!
Let’s look back forty years, to a time when Lihong was an educated Beijing youth sent down to Yan’an. The 18-year-old young woman walking on the winding mountain road covered in loess dust suddenly heard a sound. A loudspeaker on the highway was playing a piece of Western violin music. In her memoirs she wrote: “At that moment, my soul was touched. Although at that time, my clothes had patches upon patches, a straw rope was tied around my waist, my back was bent over from the load, and I had just four fen [less than one cent] in my pocket, my soul felt so free, so rich, and so beautiful! I was bathed in the brilliant sunlight of humanity’s highest intelligence, immersed in the most beautiful music mankind had been able to create! The music was so familiar, so intimate—it has always stayed in my heart and never left me, but was waiting to be roused to take flight. It was magnificent beyond comparison!”
Lihong was the daughter of a general. Her father was a member of the Eighth Route Army1 during the War of Resistance against the Japanese, and worked for the navy after 1949. As a young girl, she also learned to play the violin. She wrote: “As I stood on that noisy dirt path in northern Shaanxi, my violin was lying motionless and cold in my cave dwelling; its bowstring gnawed away by a mouse. The fingers that I had placed into position each day had become impossibly stiff. I had not opened the violin case for a very long time, but my heart was incredibly sensitive to the dream-like sound, the sacred and beautiful music made by the violin strings.”
Lihong did not pursue arts. After spending three years in a production brigade in Yan’an, she passed the entrance exam for admission to the Chinese literature department of Yan’an University, and returned to Beijing after graduation. In the 1980s, Lihong worked in a government office in Beijing. In the spring of 1989, like cadres in many other government units, she marched with the protesters. She has kept, to this day, the clothes she wore during those demonstrations, which are emblazoned with the words: “Long Live Freedom.” One can well imagine why Lihong left her job at the beginning of 1991.
The world of mortals surges on, and our destiny rises and falls. Lihong was materially satisfied but not happy, until a few years ago, when she, Laohu Miao,2 and others got together and launched a volunteer effort to help petitioners who came to Beijing but had no place to stay. Lihong reawakened that soul that had longed to be “so free, so rich, and so beautiful,” and recovered the ideals, friendships, and intrinsic richness of her youth.
Lihong drove me to visit the painter Yan Zhengxue. We chatted in the car about our experiences during our lives. I got to know her on the Internet because she and my friend, Wang Keqin, had been following the death of Li Shulian, a female petitioner from Shandong.3 Lihong had posted exhaustive details about the case on the Internet, and she personally traveled to Shandong to gather information. There was also the Deng Yujiao incident4—she and Tufu5 had gone to Badong County6 to get information. One could say that the path of Lihong’s life was changed because of the Internet. The Internet has coalesced people’s ideals, and enabled those who are concerned about the fate of the disadvantaged groups to go from online to offline, and to strive to change the actual destiny of people.
The 23 letters Wang Lihong wrote to Sun Chunlan, the Party secretary of Fujian Province
In order to write Lihong’s story, I spent yesterday reading her blog. Many people witnessed her running around trying to raise concern about the Three Netizens of Fujian.7 But how did this all come about?
In September 2009, Lihong was in Geneva, Switzerland, taking part in a human rights training program. At the time, the Three Netizens, who had helped Yan Xiaoling’s8 mother produce a video [about her daughter’s rape and death], had already been arrested. She wrote on her blog that day:
I once heard Laohu Miao tell a story that sounded like a children’s fairytale. A person in Fujian set aside a portion of his small salary every month in case one day a person, facing a tragedy, came to him for help. I really couldn’t believe it. Could there still be such a pure person today?
I really couldn’t believe this. Under our special national condition today—where filth is painted as something pure and holy, the corrupt are hyped as heroes, and morality has already reached a bottomless low—are there actually people who persist in doing good despite being called foolish!
You Jingyou,9 I really wish you weren’t in there but here in Geneva. The air is clean here, and the tree-shaded roads fill people with dreams. You Jingyou, you’re just a high-level bridge engineer, you’re not God! Please don’t be so good; please don’t make us feel so ashamed!
Later, in her letters to Sun Chunlan, the Party secretary of Fujian Province, she wrote:
Frankly speaking, the first time I heard his story, I was a little skeptical. I’ve met too many swindlers in my life, and was tricked too many times. But then I saw and heard: You Jingyou was really someone who put into practice his belief that kindness can provide warmth to others, and that love can change society. I was very moved by him.
In the masses, Lihong is an ordinary person, and the same is true for You Jingyou. These two are not famous scholars, artists, or distinguished people with high social status. Nor are they members of legal circles. But because they met on the Internet, they began to practice what they preached by taking up the responsibilities of a citizen. There are probably very few experts and scholars in China who dare speak out for the people from the lower rungs of society. But the participation of countless ordinary citizens as netizens has brought forth a new form of politics. This is the beautiful life that this country has never had before but that has begun, with citizens joining together through the Internet and playing a role in public affairs. Regardless of their social status, people are gathering under the name of “netizens.” There is no need for knowing each other or using their real names. They only need a shared interest.
Instead of a sense of powerlessness and apathy, netizens believe that an ordinary person can achieve something—even if it is just raising one’s voice for innocent netizens who have been imprisoned. The idea of “Changing China by Watching” (围观改变中国) is now spreading on Twitter. It is precisely this idea that led netizens from all over China to gather at the entrance to the Mawei District People’s Court in Fujian Province [during the trial of the Three Netizens], and more than 5,000 others to sign an online petition in 2010. Herzog Days, produced by Beijing independent documentary filmmaker He Yang,10 documented in detail this unprecedented political event: with their simple conviction, people for the first time since 1989 (at least it was the first time that I had seen this since 1989) marched in the streets shouting: “Speech is not a crime, long live Freedom!”
Lihong’s effort to promote this action to fight for freedom of expression on the Internet is the socalled crime of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order,” with which the procuratorate has charged her. . . .
. . . If we say that Lihong is guilty of disturbing social order, then she is not the only one who committed this crime. Countless netizens around China took part in online discussions of the Three Netizens’ case; and many well-known lawyers, legal experts, and scholars also raised questions and issued appeals. There were also CCTV, local TV stations, and many newspapers. The visibility of the Three Netizens’ case was made possible by these media and the Internet. Most of the people who gathered in front of the Mawei court did not know, or had any close ties with, any one of the three netizens. People came together only for a common goal—protect citizens’ right to freedom of expression. Just as Lihong said during the birthday celebration gathering for the imprisoned You Jingyou:
Who says we’re trying to rescue you? We’re fighting for ourselves. You are our conscience, and we don’t want the last bit of conscience to be buried by cowardice. It’s you rescuing our conscience, our courage. It’s you who are rescuing the last remaining space for our speech.
Wang Lihong and Zhao Lianhai's Wife and ChildrenWhy did Lihong become the initiator of the action to show concern for the case of the Three Netizens? In order to understand her motives and purpose, I sincerely request those who are concerned about Lihong, especially those who ordered her arrest, to read and re-read her letters.
She began writing these letters on December 4, 2009, National Law Day. Five days before this, Sun Chunlan was transferred to Fujian to replace the previous Party secretary, Lu Zhangong. Lihong had some hope for this transfer. She believed that with this new beginning, there would be a change for the better for the Three Netizens.
In her capacity as a citizen of Beijing, Lihong introduced the case and described its repercussions. She wrote:
It’s said that there are 300 million netizens in China now, and so who can guarantee that every word written on the Internet is 100 percent correct? If these three honorable people who take pleasure in helping others are imprisoned for their postings on the Internet, how many of us 300 million netizens should expect to be caged?
From December 4, 2009 to June 15, 2010, Lihong wrote a total of 23 letters to Sun Chunlan (for the complete set of letters, please see Wang Lihong’s blog). From the inscriptions at the bottom of the letters, and their time-stamps on her blog, we can see that many of these letters were written in the middle of the night, and posted just before dawn. . . .
I really believe that Sun is a fortunate woman because a citizen far away in Beijing was concerned about the exercise of her power in Fuzhou [capital of Fujian]. Lihong’s genuine intentions came across vividly on paper. Lihong wrote in the first letter:
The official name of our country is People’s Republic of China, a name that was paid for with the lives and bloodshed of countless martyrs for the past 100 years. Although there are many things still unsatisfactory today, the tide of history will only march forward. If we were still in a feudal society, a citizen’s appeal against the government would itself be a crime, and haughty officials would be untouchable. In that situation, if one were to complain about the government, he or she must first be willing to be rolled on nail board, caned, or even imprisoned. And if the complaint were found to be “not factual,” one would even risk beheading. But we are now living in the 21st century; our political system is a republic, and a people’s republic. Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”
Each time I read these letters I’m very moved by Lihong’s persistence and compassion. Where did she get the strength that allowed her to spend sleepless nights to persevere in writing letter after letter to Secretary Sun? I feel that many people are compassionate and intolerable of evil, but what we generally lack is action. Furthermore, we do not believe that action is effective. Every day there is tragic news on the Internet, and over the course of time, our feelings of powerlessness become habitual and we turn a deaf ear.
Lihong’s love is uncommon because she believes in action. In her letters and blog postings, she frequently mentioned that You Jingyou saved a fixed amount from his salary each month to help those who might be in need. This action may seem like a small thing, but it can be done. The volunteer action to help migrants that Lihong participated in used donations from citizens to help a young man seek treatment for a leg infection that had never healed since his childhood. This aid enabled him to stand and travel again, and to be reunited with his family. From these activities, Lihong saw the possibility for action to change one’s fate, and so she believed action was useful. And because of this, she deeply cherished the spirit of the Three Netizens—realizing that they were all the same kind of people, striving to use their meager strength to comfort others. Helping one another in adversity is the citizen’s spirit that Lihong admires. She cannot tolerate people like this being thrown in jail. And because of this, in the middle of the night, she repeatedly urged the provincial party secretary to show her sense of justice and conscience:
One letter not delivered, two letters not delivered, three letters not delivered . . . . This is my ninth letter. I’ll continue writing. Maybe it will take my 100th letter to move you? . . .
Today, a woman from the Fujian Provincial Office in Beijing told me that Secretary Sun will not read the letters. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “she won’t let them get anywhere.” I used to work for a government office and I know the way documents are circulated. But I still want to write. Otherwise, the heat of the grief and indignation flowing through my veins will make my blood vessels burst. I may write 100 letters, or even 1,000. . . . This land of China has already suffered too many miseries; we really don’t want to see any new wounds inflicted.
For nine consecutive days from February 6, 2010—from the final days of the lunar year to the first day of the new lunar year—Lihong sent a letter a day to Secretary Sun, asking her to show concern for the Three Netizens and to allow them to return home for the Chinese New Year holiday. She wrote:
People like them are like the white blood cells protecting humanity itself ! They are so rare in the world, and we should protect them—not fabricate charges to destroy them. . . .
On the 29th day of the 12th lunar month I made steamed buns. There was good news today: Feng Zhenghu11 came home for Chinese New Year. In his Chinese New Year speech, Premier Wen Jiabao stressed that everything we do is to make the Chinese people’s lives happier and to allow them to have dignity. As we approach the New Year, would not releasing the innocent Three Netizens be a good way to harmonize the society?
Children of the Three Netizens Holding Support Banner on Day of Trial (Photo by Wang Lihong)Today, the Three Netizens’ case has become part of history. In a few days, it will be one year since You Jingyou walked out of prison. I believe that, apart from He Yang’s documentary, Lihong’s 23 letters will be remembered in the annals of history. Many years from now, when Chinese citizens are no longer hounded for posting on the Internet, can supervise the authorities without fear, and can take part in public affairs, they should know that all this began with the efforts of ordinary citizens. That seven months after the Three Netizens’ case ended, Lihong could be detained and then formally arrested is a testament to how brutal the environment is for the fight for freedom.
Resisting Banality: The Soul of Poetry
I first met Lihong one day in September 2009. That day, I originally planned to give a talk about my documentaries in a media research class at Peking University. It was during that trip to the school that I found out that my lecture at the university had been canceled. (The day before, I was giving a lecture at Capital Normal University when someone burst in and interrupted my lecture. I told a teacher at Peking University that I likely would not be able to deliver my lecture there. The teacher who had invited me said: “This type of thing could never happen at our university.” But that evening, he received an order informing him that I could not speak in his classroom.)
That evening I met Lihong for the first time. With my lecture canceled, I had a lot of free time and we were able to talk leisurely. Lihong talked with me excitedly about the German movie, Der Vorleser (The Reader). We talked about the the banality of evil shown in the movie; Lihong even took out her recorder and began taking audio notes. At the time, I thought she was planning to write a review of the movie, but she did not have time to do it. On October 8, Lihong and a group of others, including Xu Zhiyong,12 He Yang, A'er,13 and the Butcher, were all detained because they had gathered for a dinner to celebrate Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize. They were taken to a police station, where Lihong was kept for eight days.
Lihong later wrote about her eight days in detention:
The deputy chief of the police substation said smugly, “You are all just fooling around; you need to spend more time reading books! You see, I like reading, and I especially like the classics, such as the Guwen Guanzhi anthology.14
My glasses didn’t fall off, and I was in no mood to laugh. Although I didn’t really believe at all that he’d actually read Guwen Guanzhi; even if he did, I’m afraid he would never have understood it. I just told him: “Your knowledge is obsolete; someone working in law enforcement should be reading Sociology and Politics. You should go online and check to see what “banality of evil” means. Why are you law enforcement people so violent? Is it necessary?”
Lihong wrote a series of poems, entitled Eight Days, about her experience in detention. They are the only poems on her blog. Moreover, it appears that these were her first attempts at writing poetry:
Separate Action I am so young With lush hair on my temples Stepping into the iron cage of my “bridal chamber” For the first time—I learn To put words in rows In the pale yellow of autumn Against white walls and black windows I am a bride awaiting marriage without guile
From a layman’s point of view, this collection of six poems is exceptional. They provide a sketch of a courageous woman, and describe the agony of the soul. They are sharp, simple, unique, and allow others to see a back which refuses to bend, as in the following poem:
Prisoner of Conscience
From now, you and I are the same You are the past and present prisoners You all have the same name —prisoner of conscience
From now, you and I are intertwined Brutal hands break the roses of iron and blood Leaving hardened thorns Nevermore to sway in the wind
From now, I, like you With sharp cold eyes Dissect a country poisoned That locks my body in ice With my boiling heart I embrace the land of my flesh
From now, standing on one side of the egg I have a band of brothers in righteousness Hey, how are you! Let me in—since the revelry of the world’s end has begun
For many years, I haven’t read contemporary Chinese novels or Chinese poetry. But Lihong, who is neither a writer nor a poet, made me feel the enchantment of poetry. In a time when banality and evil are so prevalent, poetry is actually possible, emerging from clarity of thought and purity of the soul amid extreme difficulties. By purity, I mean a firm adherence to moral conviction and responsibility. The poetic sentiment in Lihong’s works exactly reflects herself: her actions and beliefs are one and the same. Her suffering is not just talk, but is rooted in the suffering of the people in this boundless land. Her poetry is neither narcissistic nor self-pitying, but channeled toward others. Therefore, when she saw Yao Jing, a young female petitioner from Shandong, suffering from fluid accumulation in her spleen resulting from a beating by a hefty man who was sent by the authorities to intercept her, Lihong would stand on the street together with Xu Zhiyong and others to solicit donations for Yao. And in her writings on her blog, she would cry out loudly for people who cannot, such as Li Shulian and Wang Jingmei.15
In writing this commentary on Lihong, I am trying to describe her character, kindness, and goodness. I know that Lihong herself would much rather make films than write poetry. At opening of the Three Netizens’ trial on March 19, 2010, Lihong using a small handheld camcorder, recorded scenes that are deeply moving. If you watch He Yang’s Herzog Days, the scene shot from a camera closest to the police was filmed by Lihong. Previously, in a review of Ai Weiwei’s video, Disturbing the Peace (Lao Ma Ti Hua), I mentioned that the camera was right there at the front line of the faceoff between the petitioners [and the police]. Lihong’s camera did the same. He Yang said this about the scene: “It was really amazing. In the history of independent documentaries in China no one has ever filmed anything like this or as good as this scene, where the cameraperson is running in pursuit of the police while shouting, ‘Why are you hitting people?’”
We Must Protect Wang Lihong
Although I’ve written so much on her here, if you were to ask me “Who is Wang Lihong?” I would find it difficult to answer you at first. Wang Lihong is retired, she is over 50, and you would not be able to distinguish her within a crowd of older women playing mahjong on any street or lane. She writes poetry but is not a poet, plays with a video camera, but only in her spare time. She passionately promotes the public good but does not belong to any public interest organization.Wang Lihong is a netizen, a person whom her friends respectfully refer to as “Older Sister.”
There is simply no justification for the arrest of Lihong this time based on her personal behavior. After she was detained for eight days last year because she took part in a celebratory dinner for Liu Xiaobo, Lihong was put under house arrest for three months with no freedom of movement. It was not until January 21 this year that the guards downstairs from her apartment were withdrawn. While she was under watch, I would occasionally see her on Skype and we would exchange a few words. Did we discuss national politics? No. I most often tell her to eat the leaves of the goji berry plant which are good for her blood, that she should take care of herself, and talk to her about the changing world outlook on health care, etc., etc. The questions she would ask me were: What kind of hairstyle should I have? I feel short hair is nice. What about shaving my head? Too radical. I have a lot of white hair. Don’t dye your hair, it’s poisonous. . . .
During this period, she was required to write a letter of guarantee, and in the end, to my surprise, she wrote “a letter of non-guarantee.”
. . . [F]rom a legal point of view, making a citizen write a guarantee letter pledging to not do things that are not illegal in order to have freedom of movement is illegal and a mockery of the law.
I am a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. I have the right to live on the land of my own country and the right to freely move around.
I am a person with conscience and I cannot guarantee that I will remain silent in the face of suffering. I cannot guarantee that, when I face the stories of Qian Yunhui,16 Tang Fuzhen,17 Li Shulian . . . I will pretend not to see. . . .
If I remain silent when confronted with suffering and wickedness, then I will be the next person beaten down by evil. You as law enforcers, the restriction you place on my freedom is illegal and has seriously affected my life. I hope that law enforcement and related departments and personnel will quickly correct their illegal actions and give me back my freedom.
—Wang Lihong, citizen of the People’s Republic of China.
After Chinese New Year, Lihong made a trip to Henan. First, she went to visit netizen Wang Yi,18 who had been ordered to serve one year of Reeducation-Through-Labor for re-tweeting a statement by someone else. Following that, she went to Xincai to visit the parents of Tian Xi,19 who had contracted HIV through a tainted blood transfusion. She also wanted to go to Shangcai to visit Tian Xi, who had been sentenced to a year in prison. I remember we spoke once on the phone and she said, “I may not be able to go! My back problem is flaring up again and I’m thinking of returning to Beijing.”
Shortly after returning to Beijing, on March 21, the Chaoyang District police took her away and searched her home. She was formally arrested on April 20. By now, she has been in police custody for 102 days. Since the end of February—from Ran Yunfei’s20 detention and arrest, to the disappearance of Ai Weiwei21 and others—a series of events has occurred that has left people unsettled and shocked. Eventually Teng Biao,22 Jiang Tianyong,23 Ai Weiwei, and others have been released, while the situation Lihong is facing remains unchanged. Each day on Twitter, I see only a very small number of netizens who still tweet information about Lihong. One persistent tweet is, “Let my mother come home to eat!” by Lihong’s son, Xiao Qi.
When Ai Weiwei was detained, there was news about him every day around the world, and there were even websites that collected discussions about him. There was no such effort on behalf of Lihong. Aside from the blog posts of netizen Qiu Mazha,24 I saw no other commentaries about Lihong. One real problem is that Lihong’s friends have been beaten and warned individually. Some no longer use Twitter, while others continue to go online but keep a low profile. I think, perhaps, it may be more difficult to speak out about Lihong than Ai Weiwei. This is because, when you speak out for Ai Weiwei, the artist’s international reputation gives you a powerful protective screen. But Lihong is a just an ordinary Beijing citizen, and netizen, that’s all.
But we must protect Lihong and the reason is simple—because she is a good person, a good citizen, and a good older sister. If netizens such as her could be seen as enemies of the state, then my worries for the country are far greater than those for the enemies themselves. Even though in the face of the powerful state machinery today, each of us are small and weak, my fear will not overpower my friendship with Lihong. I hope more friends will stand together with Lihong’s son, to let him know that he’s not alone. I also hope Lihong knows that we miss her. I thank Lihong’s friend, the poet Yin Longlong,25 for writing this poem. I hope that all our friends will shout out, “Lihong, come home to eat!”
Nine Lines, Cold Weapons—For Older Sister Wang
I want to write a poem about pain; in it is Older Sister WangI want to write a poem about Older SisterWang; in it are transparent breathsI want to write a poem about air; in it is freedom
I do not say what I have seen; you can hearI do not give what I have finished; you dig up a modern proverb: “was suicided”I do not believe it is my fate; you strip a layer of skinOnly the general’s daughter claims this shame, this honor
There is only the smell of gunpowder, as if in New Year. For the people who have thrown off their armor. There are only poems, left unwanted in the street like nonsense.
July 1, 2011
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been held incommunicado by the Chinese authorities for the past 20 months, has been sent back to jail, according to a report on December 16 by the official Xinhua News Agency. The news comes just several days before Gao would have finished his five-year probation. Xinhua said that the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court had withdrawn Gao’s probation and ordered him to complete his three-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power,” a ruling originally made on December 22, 2006. What's absurd is that the court was quoted as saying that the decision was justified because Gao had “seriously violated probation rules” several times. It would have been quite difficult for Gao to have violated the terms of his probation as he has been under police detention at an unknown location for the past 20 months. China Human Rights Defenders said that the decision highlighted the arbitrariness of the law in China.
Also interesting is that when the Gao family repeatedly asked the police about his whereabouts, police claimed that Gao Zhisheng had been released months ago. This announcement indicates that Gao was in police custody all along and that police intentionally misled his family.
Observers are not sure what to make of the decision, which came unexpectedly. On the one hand, this is the first time in close to three years that the police have admitted to holding Gao, and if he's in a prison, that means his whereabouts should be known and that he should be allowed occasional family visits, depending on whether or not the authorities will allow him to have any visitors.
The following background details comes from China Human Rights Defenders:
As a former lawyer and director of the Beijing Shengzhi Law Firm, Gao Zhisheng took on “sensitive cases,” defending, for example, Falun Gong practitioners and individuals persecuted for their involvement in unofficial house churches. As a result of this and other peaceful activities he engaged in as a human rights defender, the Beijing Justice Bureau revoked his law license and shut down his law firm. Gao was also outspoken in the overseas media about human rights violations in China. Gao was detained on August 15, 2006, and arrested on September 21, 2006, on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” His trial took place on December 12, 2006, and on December 22 he was sentenced to a three-year prison term, suspended for five years, and one-year deprivation of civil and political rights. While on probation, Gao was disappeared on September 22, 2007, by Beijing police officers. Gao was disappeared again on February 4, 2009. He then suddenly resurfaced in late March 2010 and gave several media interviews in which he described the torture he had suffered while held in secret detention. Gao was disappeared again in late April 2010, just after visiting his family in Shaanxi Province.
I interviewed Gao in April, 2010, during his very brief release. During the interview, he told me that police snapped at him saying he should not even dream about the luxury of being allowed to be in a prison. That segment of my interview is here:
As his family struggles in his absence, Gao continues to endure his own nightmare at the government's hands. He provided details of his time in captivity, focusing on the irony of the fact that he could not have the "luxury" of actually going to jail."I'm a bit special among China's 1.3 billion people," he said. "I can't enjoy the privilege of being in prison in China. I can only have the option of disappearing. I often said to the people who detained me that the relationship between us was a legal one and that they should identify themselves as the government and treat me according to the law, and not just use mafia methods. They replied, `If you want to go to jail, you're just dreaming. Prison has proved ineffective in dealing with you'."My family in Shanxi said that if I were under house arrest or legally arrested and sent to prison they could accept it, because they would know that I'm alive."
For more background details, please read my story, Beijing's mafia justice for lawyer they won't lock up but can't set free.
Category: Duration: (00:22:06)Uploaded: 2011-12-07 06:01:11
This very disturbing video, apparently shot by a police officer, or someone trusted by the police, shows a brutal roundup of rural Tibetans in 2008 by a roving band of heavily armed police.
Tibetans Burn for Their Faith and Freedom, which poignantly describes the spate of recent self-immolations in Tibetan areas, was written by Woeser, an outspoken Tibetan poet, writer and blogger and it appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 6, 2011. In the article, she defends the actions of the brave Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for their religion, saying that it's Chinese Communist Party despots who are responsible for igniting the flames. The article, which was translated by me, is based on a longer unpublished article that follows.
Tibetans Burn for Their Faith and Freedom
By Tsering Woeser
6 December 2011
The Wall Street Journal OnlineThe Wall Street Journal
Leaving Lhasa for Beijing one month ago, I was relieved to no longer be living under martial law, with soldiers and police everywhere. But for Tibetans the pain follows wherever we go: The news that another Tibetan has set fire to herself arrives.
Thirteen monks and nuns have committed suicide as a protest since 2009. Most distressing of all is the sight of Palden Choetso, a 35-year-old nun, burning herself last month. The video runs no more than three minutes, and as soon as it begins one is surprised. The young woman's entire body is wrapped in flames, but she stands erect, looking like a burning torch. I covered my face with my hands because the tears flowed like rain.
At first I imagined that she'd actually walked forward from within the flames, at the same time calling out the Dalai Lama's name. Only after looking more closely did I realize that she had not moved a single step, but was bending from the waist while doing her utmost to stand straight. Meanwhile, the people on the street were screaming, looking on helplessly as the raging fire sapped her strength. When the young nun fell, she still held her hands together devoutly.
I wish I was the girl in the video wearing the Tibetan clothes who never screamed. Instead she proceeded toward Palden Choetso, who was engulfed in flames, and she threw a pure white khata to her as a sign of respect.
The Communist Party does not understand why this is happening. The despots only believe in guns and money. They not only have no faith themselves, they can't even understand the power of faith to motivate acts of great selflessness.
Tibetans are not so foolish that they value their lives lightly. Rather it is the despots who have ignited the flames that engulfed these monks and nuns by pushing them to the point of desperation.
When a truly great disaster threatens any religion, there will always be a few believers who take the responsibility of becoming a martyr to protect it. During the Cultural Revolution, monks at the Famen Monastery near Xi'an committed self-immolation to stop the Red Guards from destroying their pagoda.
The Chinese cadres and police are in all of the monasteries of Tibet. They were sent by the Party to brainwash all the monks and nuns, make them denounce the Dalai Lama as a demon, and raise their hands to recognize the Communist Party as their savior.
The Chinese government is afraid that Tibetans who sacrifice their lives will inspire the living to resist. But no matter how it tries to hide the self-immolations and distort their meaning, the truth continues to get out. Even in that high elevation, where Tibet stands at the end of a muzzle of a gun, there will always be Tibetans ready and willing to become "burning martyrs."
Their sacrifice has two meanings, one to protect their beliefs and the other to fight for their freedom. As they died, the burning Tibetans shouted, "Tibet needs to be free!" "Let the Dalai Lama return home!"
Ms. Woeser, a Tibetan poet, writer and blogger, lives in Beijing. This article was translated from the Chinese by Paul Mooney.
The original longer Chinese version, and an English translation, follows:
The First Burns Eternal
On November 3, 2011, a 35 year-old nun set herself on fire in eastern Tibet. She was the 12th Tibetan to commit self-immolation in Tibet since 2009: 10 men and two women. All of them were wearing the deep red robes of the Tibetan Buddhist clergy, except for two of them, who had been expelled from the monastery by cadres who had invaded their monasteries, and who had no choice but to die wearing the sheepskin jackets of herdsmen. In raging flames, six people sacrificed their lives in burning flames, and another five were dragged away by the police or military; one remains in a monastery, but is on the verge of death.
Did you know that nowadays the shadows of cadres and police are in all of the monasteries of Tibet? These people were sent to the monasteries by the Party and their job is to brainwash all the monks and nuns, make them denounce the Dalai Lama as a demon, and raise their hands to recognize the Communist Party as their Pusa.
One week ago, a video appeared on YouTube and other web sites with footage of the self-immolation of Palden Choetso.
I hesitated for a very long time, not daring to click on the video. Previous photographs and videos floated in front of my eyes, all images of monks and nuns on the streets and grasslands of Tibet enveloped in flames or even scorched by the fire. They were all local Tibetans who had given their lives to make the truth known, to let the world see what’s happening in Tibet. The images were too horrible to look at.
One month ago I left a Lhasa densely covered in soldiers and police to return to a Beijing shrouded in pollution. While the natural environment is worsening in Beijing, the political climate is warmer than Lhasa, and it’s relaxed enough for me to rest my slightly taut nerves. But then came the news of the 11th Tibetan to set fire to herself, totally smashing the mask of Beijing’s flourishing age. The person was 20-year-old Tenzin Wangmo, a young woman who went from a herder’s home to a convent. She left behind just one photograph of her scorched body.
The video of Palden Choetso’s suicide runs no more than three minutes, but as soon as it begins one is surprised. The young woman’s entire body wrapped in flames, but she stands up erect on the street, looking exactly like a burning torch .... I covered my face with my two hands because my tears flowed like rain.
Palden Choetso, who is just 10 years younger than me, was burned alive. It was not metal or a stone, but a person with flesh and blood and bones, and it was enough to make the most hard-hearted tremble with fear.
My eyes were blurred with tears. At first I imagined that she’d actually walked forward from within the flames, at the same time calling out the Dalai Lama’s name. Only after looking more closely did I realize that she’d not moved a single step, but was in fact standing erect, at once bending from the waist, but also doing her utmost to stand up straight. Meanwhile, the people on the street were screaming, looking on helplessly as the raging fire knocked her down to the ground. In the photos that have been distributed, when the young nun fell down to the ground, her face staring up, her handsamazingly still held together devoutly.
I wish I was that girl in the video wearing the Tibetan clothes. She never screamed, but instead proceeded toward Palden Choetso, who was engulfed in flames, and she threw a pure white khata to her as a sign of respect.
There are some who say they don’t understand why this is happening. But these words have not come from the mouths of the Party. The opposite. They come from sympathetic Tibetans themselves, as well as from abused Chinese rights defenders.
Could it be that Tibetans are so foolish that they have no good sense and treat their lives so lightly that they would see self-immolation as some sort of game? You should know that it’s the despots who have ignited the flames that engulfed these monks and nuns.
These despots only believe in guns, only believe in money. They have no faith, they don’t even believe that there are people in this world who will burn themselves for their faith. These despots think all people are like themselves, that if you have guns and money you can handle any problem. And so they fabricate venomous lies that “the Dalai has used money to buy these corpses.”
In reality, regardless of whether we’re talking about a Buddhist or the follower of any religion, every time a disaster or catastrophe is about to happen, there will always be people who will dare to take the responsibility of becoming a religious martyr to protect their religion. Even in modern China, there were monks at the Famen Monastery during the Cultural Revolution who committed self-immolation to stop the Red Guards from destroying their pagoda. The Tibetan sacrifice has two meanings, one to protect their beliefs and the other to fight for their freedom.
It seems that the Tibetans who committed self-immolation will soon become just numbers.
Between the first and the second suicides, there was a two year period. From the second to the 12th, there was a span of just eight months. Even more suddenly came the 12th, in just the short space of more than 70 days.
These are not just cold numbers. But in another two years it could it be that these 11 people who committed suicide will become relegated to zero, as if they never even existed?
By that time it will already be too late for people to distinguish between right and wrong, and it will be too late to see clearly that the Chinese government is not afraid of Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives, but that it’s much more afraid of ones who are alive. And by that time, it may also be too late to count how many people actually committed self-immolation. But in that high elevation, where Tibet stands at the end of a muzzle of a gun, once again there will be Tibetans who are ready and willing to become “burning martyrs.”
Did you hear this? Did you hear what the burning Tibetans shouted? “Tibet needs to be free!” “Let the Dalai Lama return home!” Do you think that this is asking too much?
After I finished writing this article, news came that another Tibetan had self-immolated. He was the 13th one to commit suicide in Tibet by setting fire to himself.
The following photographs were pubished on 2 December 2011 by the Chinese language website Boxun.com, based in the USA.
Boxun says that the photos were leaked and are taken in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province. Kandze Autonomous Prefecture and Ngaba Autonomous Prefecture comprise the Tibetan area of Sichuan. Boxun provides no more information about the locations and dates of the photos taken. Free Tibet can however confirm that Photos 6,7 and 8 were taken in Ngaba; we are unable to confirm the date of the photographs or the locations depicted in the other photographs.
The paramilitary People's Armed Police (in green) and the Special Branch of the People's Armed Police (in blue) can be seen in the photographs.