Below is a translation of this post by Zhang Wen commenting on the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo. Zhang Wen discusses how the lack of more people like Liu Xiaobo will ultimately keep democracy from flourishing in China.
Chinese people’s worst self is too deeply rooted.
Earlier this evening, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was announced. It is said that the recipient is China’s Comrade Liu. Amidst my cheering, I’d like to express some thoughts which have been pent up for some time.
As I’ve familiarized myself with Comrade Liu, I’ve gradually moved through a process of understanding. When I was young, I admired his political essays; sharp and profound. I hoped that one day I could, like him, give direction to the country. As some people approach their middle years, they hope to, through their own hard work, surpass the way one [like Comrade Liu] wrote with such morality. However, when it comes to practicing what one preaches, most are too inferior to bear comparison.
Like him, could I face tens of years without freedom? Like him, even was I to suffer the same plight, could I as before cherish hope and love? Could I look forward to reconciling differences with my adversary in order to live together peacefully?
Comrade Liu should be treasured just like a bottle of wine; with the passing years, it only becomes better and better. So many people look to him for guidance; in their hearts they have enshrined him. But none of these people are willing to invoke even half of his spirit and take action.
Early on, Mr. Lu Xun profoundly penned the very heart of this type of observer—this “ugly” citizenry. This [ugliness] has persisted for thousands of years, and to this very day has not yet waned. Heroes often stand isolated and without help, and at the moment of truth they have only themselves to sacrifice.
Actually, invoking the spirit of Comrade Liu really doesn’t require much sacrifice. Speak truthfully, and, according to the law, defend and fight for your rights. In reality, there are very few people who have suffered punishment because they spoke the truth in order to safeguard their rights, [and those] are only a small number of cases. Those unwilling and too cowardice [to do so] are those who, by the specters of history and the fear in their hearts, are scared into hiding, and can only, in a secret place, vent their grievances.
Everyone believes themselves to be a “grass citizen”, [exclaiming ] “The words of the lowly carry no weight”, “one’s own strength is not enough”, they are “afraid to attempt the impossible”. As a result, a peculiar image appears, one that we can say is distinctly Chinese: On an ordinary day, people sit around drinking and complaining of the government. One after another, [those sitting] trump the one who spoke before them with a more horrendous case [of injustice]. Amidst all of this complaining, it is only once one suffers personal injury and misfortune that he or she races off to find help.
Today, “to say one thing but do another” is the Chinese’s common failure. Everyone shirks responsibility, and this is one reason why China is so slow to reform. When something happens to a stranger, we merely look on as a passerby. Yet when something happens to us personally, we find a way to solve the problem. When something affects the masses, we place hopes [of a solution] on others. This type of cowardly and cynic citizen stands alongside the foolhardy government, each shining more brilliantly due to the other’s presence.
At work, I was once asked by an intern how I felt about using my real name online to express my opinions. “I whole-heartedly support it”, I responded to his surprise. But this is something I’ve mentioned many times before. I feel with intense sorrow China’s worst self, and I hope that [others] will use any means necessary to take responsibility.
By using one’s real name online, one must take responsibility for what they say. For example in criticizing the government, does speaking truthfully inevitably have to result in retaliation? Although this has happened, instances of [such retaliation] are very few. Moreover, under the supervision of public opinion, such cases can be made right. I cannot believe that speaking truthfully, with adequate reasoning and evidence, with conclusive facts, will result in someone doing something [unjust] to you.
It is really quite lamentable that some people have been scared by thoughts of province-wide hunting and capturing missions. But these people are intimidated by an unnaturally large fear which they’ve placed in their own hearts. Of the 300,000,000 people all over the country on the web, the chances of being hunted province-wide and eventually captured are smaller than if you were to walk down the street and be smashed over the head with a flower pot that fell from the top of a building.
There are too few citizens willing to sacrifice as Tan Sitong of the former days and Comrade Liu of today have. Without support, those with brave and courageous spirits cannot put adequate pressure on the government to reform and begin its life anew.
Sometimes I think of Mandela and Gandhi, and I’m grieved that my Chinese as a whole are not as good as either South Africans or Indians! Mandela and Gandhi advocated non-violent demonstrations. And although they endured much hardship, and made many sacrifices, with vast support and cooperation from their compatriots they achieved success. By contrast, look at China. With there presently being so few “clever” citizens, who can look at China and maintain any semblance of optimism?
Even were the situation so, the backdrop is too horrible to allow people to be optimistic. Cowardice would still prevail amongst the personalities of intellectuals, just as it exists within the common citizens. This type of citizenry characterized by the unwillingness to dare and the shirking of responsibility is no different than imperiousness and cruelty—both are enemies of democracy.
I believe that it will not be until most people understand and are willing to, according to the law, defend and fight for their rights that democracy will succeed in China. I therefore want to say that appreciating and admiring Comrade Liu is the right thing to do, but more important is that you first love yourself and those around you. Only then, when you or your loved ones’ rights are infringed upon, will you be courageous enough to make a stand and fight.
In a word, the success of democracy in China hinges upon its creation by the Chinese people. The Chinese people must come to know the intrinsic value of democracy and at the same time be willing to take action as modern citizens.