(Image: Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” album cover, released in November 2008)
When Chinese people write blog articles, their meaning is often subdued and slightly nuanced, they are less willing be to direct and straightforward. Or, even if it seems that they are being direct, they will have hidden meanings embedded in what they say. While some topics are just sensitive no matter what in China, democracy is one of those that might be sensitive or might not, depending on the context. On one hand, for example, Yu Keping, the deputy director of the Central Translation Bureau, wrote an essay (and then a book) entitled “Democracy is a Good Thing” and this article was widely published and praised among Chinese media and officials. On the other hand, Charter 08, a petition advocating democracy in China caused the government to interrogate and threaten many of the petition’s original writers. Hence, most Chinese thinkers choose the more nuanced, indirect route. The following essay is written by a blogger who often discusses democracy:
How should we live before democracy?
by Yang Hengjun (杨恒均)
I saw this subject heading in an article in Blog China, although that article did not answer this question, it prompted me to think about the topic. Of course, I know that I too cannot answer this question. I have talked about the question of what we can do to make democracy come earlier (i.e. “Using a Harmonious Mindset to Drive Democracy in China”), however, that sort of “pointing fingers” is entirely different from teaching people how to truly live.
“Living” should be above politics; it should be above “democracy.” Democratic governments have only been around for little more than a hundred years, and before this, humanity was still “living.” Hence, even though democracy can change a part of our lives, make life more worthwhile, we still have to know how to live before democracy arrives – and, for most people, it will be “non-democratic living.”
Blog China has a blogger who criticizes promoting democracy, and says that advocates of universal human values (that is to say, Enlightened individuals) must be responsible to Yang Jia of Shanghai (Explanation: Yang Jia broke into a police station at night and used a knife and killed four police officers when he moved to Shanghai because he felt wrongly accused about something very minor). Their logic is, if you don’t excessively advance individualism and human rights and teach the populace to be hostile to the values of the government, would Yang Jia become that angry and resort to killing?
His example is a bit extreme, but still makes some sense. Indeed, if Yang Jia were merely a docile and submissive citizen, he would not have become so angry; he would not have resorted to killing, and also would not have been killed. Further reasoning: Talking about democracy and universal values makes everyone unsettled and misleads teenagers and adolescents. It makes people feel that they are already so-called citizens, even masters, with no respect to their elders, and demanding to put into place rights of citizens that simply don’t exist, wanting to challenge authority, monitor the government, petition, and expose corruption at every turn – would this society really be more “harmonious”? If we did not mention these topics, we would at least not have so many angry people，and even if people decided we were good-for-nothing, we would still laugh and hold our heads high.
According to this blogger’s logic, we can further infer: In the case of rape, we should not pursue the rapist, rather we should sweetly tell the rape victim that when she encounters another instance of rape, she should straighten her posture and make things more bearable…
To explain my viewpoint, I would like to use the example of curing someone’s sickness and saving their life. If you know that someone is sick, and he doesn’t know, should we tell him?
I feel that there are two situation to consider when deciding whether or not to tell him: The first is that we feel that telling him about the sickness will allow him to heal more quickly because his malady is curable, the earlier surgery is performed the earlier he will get better, if we let things drag on, his life will be in danger. The second situation is that this person has contracted a chronic illness that is incurable, regardless of whether I tell him, he will still die. In the second situation, I, like most doctors, will choose not to tell him，otherwise, we will only cause him to be constantly fearing death in the last moments of his life, which is even more horrifying than death itself.
With regards to China’s futre, democracy, freedom, and the rule of law, the situation is largely the same: When it comes down to it, does China have hope? When it comes down to it, can our society enter into a truly modernized civilization – civil society? Can rule of law, freedom, and democracy come to China? If they cannot, then preaching about democracy, rule of law, and freedom, or, things that will never come, and making them wildly exaggerated and unrealistically appealing, riling up young people and making them feel that they are unable to actually live under the current situation, is this just evil?
Of course, I do not believe that China has no hope. I believe that democracy, freedom, and rule of law will surely come. I believe that most readers will read my blog and feel hopeful and inspired, and live earnestly and optimistically. However, I must admit, there will be a group of young people, who will be “misled,” and when they think that they see things very clearly and with understanding, they will become confused and no longer have joy in their lives.
In the two hours before I began to write this blog article, I opened a private message from Hexun Blog and it said: All of my useless thoughts come from your blog. I used to be a person with simple and joyful thoughts, and now I am filled with resentment and anxiety, and it is all because of you. Is this an excuse that I can use to become your friend?
If this was the only message of this kind that I received, I would not be writing this essay. However, this kind of message from young people, I have not received just one, nor just a hundred, but there are more than a thousand in my e-mail and inbox for this blog. Just yesterday when I opened my e-mail, there were two young people wrote a letter that said basically the same thing, “Teacher Yang, I have been reading your essays, will democracy ever come? I feel that it is impossible for me to continue living here, can you tell me how to leave the country? Can you help me?” And there are even more extreme examples: A young adult had been reading my articles for one or two years, finally becoming weary and not able to take it anymore, saying: You let me think about democracy and freedom everyday, but I must live under in the reality of the G8, if you don’t bring democracy and freedom to China soon, I will be ruined! I have already lost joy in living…
To be honest, if we don’t set right our ideals and thoughts in relation to reality, if we don’t moderately separate politics and life, then we will truly have a substantial obstacle. Perhaps there are people who want to blame me, saying I say one thing and do another, or that I am inconsistent. It’s true, I have not careful in dealing with my young readers, and I do have misgivings. I want to say this to my readers: You can think like a great man, you can write like a great thinker, but you best “live” like an ordinary person.
So how does an ordinary Chinese person live? I will give an example. My readers and I are resolutely opposed to corruption, and I used to call for everyone to be against corruption, but at the same time I deeply felt that if we used modern standards of “corruption,” then, this kind of corruption had already thoroughly penetrated every corner of our government, society, and lives, even into your own skin and mind. Under this circumstance, if I were to really convince my readers to expose the corruption in their workplace, to set an example, and not to be involved in any type of corruption and malpractice, to be honest, from my understanding of China, these readers will come to my door and request that I feed them. This is the reality of China, this is the life of ordinary people.
Of course, I can’t tell young people to choose a certain kind of lifestyle, even more, I can’t tell them not to live a life that they did not choose to live. If you really want to live as a “citizen” in a society that is far from being a civil society, live as the master in another person’s home, I will not oppose you, I will even respect you, applaud you, and be moved by your actions. But do you know how difficult that road is? Do you know what price you will pay?
I know how it is, especially the guilty conscience for loved ones, these are things you will never clear up for your whole life. So, no matter when, when young people ask me how they should live, I will tell them to live as they should, to live life as a Chinese person would. I really don’t want to mislead young people, and let them sacrifice the life they have now for a more glorious life, and let them live an extreme life that is alien to society. Although, I know that it is our society that is extreme, and not them.
Today’s topic is a bit heavy, I don’t really want to continue, so let’s talk about something more light-hearted.
Before democracy comes, I know how to live, besides working for my three meals a day, I will seek democracy for China in my free time, and I will not rely on others, only have expectations for myself, and as much as possible, allow my “writing to mirror the writer.”
I really enjoy my life now, but I am a bit worried – after democracy comes, how will I live? At that time, what can I write? What can a promoter of democracy still promote?
I have been thinking, if I have money, I will open a small shop, maybe a bookstore; if I don’t have money, I will go to the roadside and open a little stand – I hope that when that day comes, I will still be young enough to have the strength to set up the stand. I also hope that when that day comes, if you pass me on the road, you will stop for a moment and reminisce with me back to the time when I blogged…