NEW YORK—An earnest group of Chinese gathered on Sunday to mark the five-year anniversary of the publication that sparked perhaps the largest Chinese dissident movement in history, the movement to renounce Chinese communism.
It started in November 2004 when The Epoch Times published the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, a scathing critique of communism, particularly the Chinese kind.
The Commentaries made a splash. Within a few months most people in the mainland knew about them despite the regime’s tight media control. The book-length editorials were a sensation in Hong Kong, and over a million copies were sold and distributed within the first week.
A month later the natural conclusion of the Commentaries, the idea of “tuidang,” had come about. Tuidang is at once an idea and an action. Tui means to renounce or quit; Dang is the Party. The annals of those who have renounced the CCP now tally close to 64 million, with tens of thousands added every day. If they were printed on paper the stack would be over 300 miles high.
Over the last five years the “Great Wave of Tuidang,” as it is called in Chinese, has become a unifying beacon for Chinese dissidents of all stripes. And so have the ideas that underpin it.
“Falun Gong figured it out early,” says John Kusumi, executive director of the China Support Network, referring to the spiritual group that did much to popularize both the book and movement under discussion. He spoke in an earlier interview.
“Just about everyone protests the Communist Party in one way or another, but Falun Gong took a lead on this matter, which was a boon for everyone else who’s seeking freedom from Beijing,” he said.
The Commentaries are “the most deep and most thorough unmasking of the Chinese Communist Party in history” according to Tang Baiqiao, a prominent dissident who spoke at the forum. Tang has been involved in these activities for a long time; earlier this year he was beaten to the point of hospitalization by a group of Chinese men he thinks were acting on behalf of the CCP.
“Many of us wrote essays where the starting point is spreading democracy, or expressing righteous indignation, emotion, or a fervor to expose the CCP,” he said at the forum. “But what is the starting point of the Nine Commentaries? It comes from humankind’s most original sense of justice and conscience. This is what gives it such a strong life force, and what means that people from all walks of life identify with it.”
The basic thesis of the Nine Commentaries is that the Chinese Communist Party’s rule is based on two methods: “one is pressure and violence, the other is spiritual brainwashing,” in the words of David Gao, president of the worldwide volunteer group which solicits the renunciations of the CCP. He also spoke in an earlier interview.
“They tell the Chinese people that there is nothing divine, there are no Buddhas, Gods, and Taos, that this is all fake, and that you shouldn’t believe it. Just believe in the Communist Party, just believe in money, just believe in the material world,” he says. “This is how the CCP tells them to do things.”
When making membership vows, Chinese youth are expected to swear their lives to the CCP, and are told that the Chinese flag is “dyed with blood.” Most all of the 1.3 billion Chinese in the country have been implicated in one way or another.
It is in this context that the meaning of tuidang is something “no movement can replace,” Tang said at the forum.
“After ’89 everyone lost hope for democracy in China. The CCP is brutal, and people are terrified of it,” he said. “But after the Nine Commentaries and tuidang, people started to think about many issues anew, and their fear became less and less.”
Nowadays in China popular expressions of mistrust, disdain, or outright hatred toward Communist Party officials are more commonplace, and the country is rocked by hundreds of thousands of “mass incidents” (riots) each year.
Why Tui the Dang?
Different people have different reasons for renouncing the Party.
For the common people, it is often the only means of expressing their dissatisfaction. For many overseas democracy activists, it’s a matter of principle.
“I think it’s very significant to quit the party. And if you want to be a real democrat … you don’t want to be a double thinker, you have to quit the party,” said Yang Jianli, founder of the NGO Initiatives for China, in an earlier interview.
For Wu Fan, president of the China Interim government, the significance is twofold.
“Firstly, it can disintegrate the party in a peaceful way, without spilling the blood of the people,” Wu said. “Secondly, mentally, it can help people free their minds of the communist ideology.”
The CCP delineates three forms of membership: the Young Pioneers of China (for children ages 6-14), the Communist Youth League of China (for ages 14-28), and full membership. At some point in their lives, almost every Chinese citizen joins one of these three organizations.
Though official membership expires after people grow beyond those age limits, tuidang is understood more as a spiritual affair.
“When Chinese people read the Commentaries they will realize that people in this world have kind returns for good deeds and evil returns for bad deeds. Quitting the Party is to realize from your heart that the Party is very bad, to realize how good traditional culture is,” says David Gao. “It’s about saying: ‘I want to be a person with morality. I don’t want to be a bad person; I want to be a good person.’”
In renouncing the Party, then, the only thing that counts is the spark of individual understanding, conscience, and wish for redemption, tuidang organizers say. Every renunciation is recorded in the database at tuidang.epochtimes.com, with more streaming in every day.
“Tuidang has become a movement,” said human rights lawyer Ye Ning at the forum on Sunday. “A large scale movement opposed to politics.” He said that the Nine Commentaries are “sacred, a grand thought” and that it is an “enormous grace to the Chinese people who have been suffering for a long time.”
In China now, the book is printed on the black market and circulated in secret. It gets left on park benches for people to read, and slogans from the book get spray-painted on light posts and stamped onto currency. A few months ago a state-run newspaper was suspended after printing a front page with the text “Heaven destroys the Chinese Communist Party” written in graffiti on a pole in the corner of an image.
For some, the Commentaries and tuidang are a movement of prescience. Wu Baozhang, a journalist who spent 27 years working at China’s state run Xinhua news agency, said to The Epoch Times separately: “For these past five years, I have kept the Nine Commentaries at my bedside and read it again and again. In its words, I vaguely see a blueprint of a democratic free China.”
The Nine Commentaries and tuidang don’t advocate a new political system for China. They merely give a simple message: “The Chinese need to help themselves; they need to reflect, and they need to shake off the CCP.”
Speakers at the forum in Flushing underscored this point many times in the afternoon, and said they’ll carry the message forward, until the end.