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Three Chinas and Liu Xiaobo

Yang Jianli Speech at Democracy and Human Rights in Asia forum – Prague, Czech Republic

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Yang Jianli meet in Prague, Czech Republic

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Yang Jianli meet in Prague, Czech Republic

 

Mr. President Havel, Your Holiness the Dalai Lama, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to share a panel with such a  group of world human rights leaders and speak to the audience whose velvet revolution I profoundly admire as a Chinese activist.

Exactly one year ago, I attended the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony to honor my friend and colleague Liu Xiaobo. He was being awarded the Nobel Prize for his pursuit of democratic reform in China. Sadly, he spent the occasion locked alone in a cell. Liu Xiaobo’s  wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest. Today, a year later, Liu Xiaobo is still imprisoned and his wife is still under house arrest.

This past Thursday also marked the 3rd anniversary of the release of Charter 08, a manifesto in which Chinese citizens demand political reform in their country. Charter 08 was mirrored after Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 of the 1970s, which Charter 08s authors admire greatly.  As of today, 12,777 people have signed Charter 08 with their real names. Those who have signed are taking a brave risk; Liu Xiaobo advocated for Charter 08, and that is why he was imprisoned.

Why is China, a seemingly increasingly assertive world power, afraid of a single man like Liu Xiaobo? Why is it afraid of a moderate document like Charter 08? The answer can only be that the rulers of China understand just how unjust, therefore weak, their system is.

Liu Xiaobo and his colleagues recognize there are two Chinas. They have tried to bring together these two severely separated Chinas and construct a society built upon universal values of public political life.

Why do I say two Chinas?  I am not trying to distinguish “mainland China” from “Taiwan.” Geographically there is only one entity of mainland China, but politically, economically, sociologically, and even sentimentally, it has largely broken into two separate Chinas.

These two Chinas date back to 1989, when the widespread pro-democracy movement, which stood against government corruption, was violently crushed.
The Tiananmen massacre created a strong sense of fear of political engagement among ordinary people. Any hope for a public system of checks and balances against governmental abuse was swept away by this bloodletting.

But 1989 also created a sense of fear and crisis within the Communist regime. The massacre brought unprecedented public awareness to human rights and democratic causes. Life was no longer the same for rulers who now faced a changed domestic and international environment. The regime was forced to develop new tactics to meet its “overwhelming” need to preserve the status quo.

Then the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Eastern European Bloc fell. This cast an even heavier cloud over the heads of Chinese Communist officials. How long could the communists stay in power?

Shortly after Deng Xiaoping’s famous Southern Inspection Tour in 1992, Communist bureaucrats at all levels realized three realities:
First, the Chinese Communist Party’s stay in power had nothing to do with communist principles.
Second, continued economic growth was the last, best hope to keep the ship afloat.
Third, the elite must be spoiled to retain their loyalty.  Corruption was now accepted, endorsed—even demanded.

Understanding these realities, over the past 20 years, the CCP regime established a two China structure and one of the two Chinas, which I call China, Inc.  China Inc. is formed by
1. Red Capitalists
2. Marriage between Power and Capital
taking advantage of:
—-low human rights standards
—-low environmental protection
—-low wages
—-banning collective bargaining power
3. China Inc. shares open to domestic and foreign capitalists
4.    China Inc. shares free to intellectuals

In today’s China, power (political elite), capital (economic elite) and “intellect” (social and cultural elite), are bonded together with corruption as the adhesive, forming an alliance that maintains the existing political order. This alliance owns and runs China Inc., dazzling the entire world with its wealth, might and glory. It dominates the public discourse, making its voice loud enough that outside observers believe they represent China, that they are China—the whole of China.

The truth is there is another society named China, a society constituted of over a billion Chinese who are virtually slave-laborers working for China, Inc. I call this second China the under China.

What is the difference between China, Inc. and the under China?
1. Unprecedented wealth gap between the Chinas.

For example, .4% of the families owns 70% of the nation’s wealth.

2.Citizens of the under China are citizens only in name. They are unable to enjoy basic benefits or constitutionally afforded civil rights.

3. The elite’s monopoly over power, capital, and information, makes mobility from one China to the other nearly impossible.

4. The two Chinas no longer speak a common political language.

5. The two Chinas have almost no common political life.

6. The underclass have grown more and more distrustful of the elite. In recent years, China’s official media has adopted a new phrase: “conflicts caused by non-stake holders.”

Then how does the CCP regime maintain its market Leninism system, namely the two China structure?
On top of the traditional lies and violence, which every autocratic ruler uses, the CCP regime has developed new tactics. It is comprised of:

One body: sustaining economic growth at all costs to maintain the regime’s ruling legitimacy

Two wings: appeasing the elite with corruption and suppressing the powerless with rogue police

Two claws: purging citizen advocates like Liu Xiao and blocking public opinion.

Nevertheless, it is not enough to just see the severe division of the two societies of China. We must expand our gaze. We must envision the emergence of a new, democratic China: the third China.

Despite the unprecedented division of the two Chinas, there are two often overlooked areas of consensus among Chinese from both societies. The first is that the present China is not “normal.” The second, although agreed upon to a lesser degree, is that China will eventually become a normal country through democratic means.

But people are disagree over how China can go from  an “abnormal” state to a “normal” state.

Where can we find a common ground to lay the foundation for a democratic China? First, we must create a political language that can bridge the gap between the two Chinas. We need to gradually develop a consensus based on universal values. And that is exactly what Charter 08 intends to accomplish.

Change is unlikely to happen from within the CCP.  Most of its members come from extraordinarily wealthy families. They value stability-above-all-else and will do everything possible to delay the process of democratization. The persecution of Liu Xiaobo and many others who have exercised their freedom of expression is evidence of this.

Nevertheless, the concept of democracy has prevailed in people’s minds. When something does change and people have to make a choice, most people will choose the right direction.

A breakthrough for such a change will surely come from the people.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo has a remarkable impacts on the hearts of many people inside China and over the past year the civil movement has become increasingly mature, skillful, and resilient as evidenced by two cases: Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei, both took place amid the latest round of heavy handed crack down on the dissent early this year right after the Arab Spring.

Despite the CCP’s best effort to impose strict control over the media, the Internet has allowed people to connect, to share information.

Following the release of Charter 08, grassroots support for the document was immediate and unprecedented, even though the CCP regime tried to block its spread. Those who signed the Charter with their real names came from diverse segments of society. Because of this, signers could function as a de facto minor-parliament. Their diversity would allow them to effectively represent a wide spectrum of society.

The Charter is a banner. Backed by its real-name signers, the Charter could transform individual protests into a long-lasting movement that demands across-the- board, systematic change. The Charter could produce a quasi-organization with numerous new leaders. And that is only the beginning.

With a clear direction of the political resistance movement, the people will grow to exert greater and greater pressure on the Communist regime. As the non-governmental forces grow and the civil protests escalate, the struggle for power among different factions with the communist regime will become more pronounced. Once the external pressure reaches a critical mass, the rival factions within the CCP will have no choice but take the voices of the citizens seriously and seek their support to survive.

The release of Liu Xiaobo will help signal the coming of that change.

When a large scale movement takes place again, as it did in 1989, we will need a group of civil leaders to play the role that the Civic Forum led by Mr. Havel played in the velvet revolution 22 years ago. We we will need a group of leaders who can disrupt the political order and establishing itself as the legitimate voice of the people in negotiations with the state. Liu Xiaobo, as a widely accepted leader both at home and abroad, will surely play a unique role in forming such a group, which was most needed but lacking in our 1989 Tiananmen movement.

Therefore, working toward his freedom is vital for a democratic change in China.  I am particularly encouraged by the strong support for Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08 from world human rights leaders such as Vaclav Havel and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma last November. For the first time, there is hope for reform in Burma. In seeking the Liu’s release, we hope and struggle for the same in China.

Thank you.

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