Washington, D.C. was fortunate last week, on May 3, in having four of China's high profile writers and lawyers speak about the obstacles to their work in China, and the strategies they have adopted to break through the severely limited freedom of expression, religious freedom, and the rule of law allowed by the Chinese Communist Party.
The four originally came for a conference sponsored by the Hudson Institute, and subsequently were asked by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC), to freely speak and answer questions for the media and the public about China's human rights conditions.
Yu Jie and Wang Yi describe a tense battle going on daily against a dictatorial regime that is being challenged in non-violent ways by fearless, determined young people, who are often Christian and possess a vision of a new democratic China. The government seeks to control the writers through harassment and ostracism—writer's employment, publishing outlets, meeting places—arrests, imprisonment, and persecution of one's family and self. Christians are even arrested for the “crime” of meeting in their homes to pray.
These human rights activists placed themselves in grave danger by participating in these conferences held in Washington, D.C.
Christian Writer in a Hostile Environment
Author of several national best-selling books, and prolific essayist, Yu Jie is a fierce critic of the Communist Party culture and the regime. Yu Jie, 33, is one of China's most famous writers and one of the founders of the Independent PEN Center. Committed to working for democratic change within China's political system, he has earned international acclaim for his passionate, bold voice and willingness to take up controversial issues. Yu's most popular works are not allowed to be reprinted despite their high sales of 500,000 or more. His books have been banned from publication in China and his latest work, Son of Tian'anmen, was published in Hong Kong in 2005.
Yu said that many of the younger writers like himself have become Christians. His identification with Christianity is inseparable from his pursuit of social justice and “practicing” freedom. The House Church Movement requires one “to practice freedom in every corner of our life—freedom of religion, assembly and speech.” For example, in his church the participants are encouraged to talk freely. “It can be about social justice, the June 4th Tiananmen Massacre, or Mao.”
The group that he belongs to has no church built and must rent a place to worship. Whenever they find a place, the police exert pressure on the landlord, and they have to move, which they have done four times in recent months.
Yu and his writer friends in their church would not apply to the Chinese communist regime for a legal permit. “The right to practice one's religion comes from God [and not the state],” he said. By being defiant on this matter he said there were risks. For example, a Christian editor was involved in printing some Bibles and was sentenced for three years. “Twice, on Jan 18 and 25, the police came to arrest us when worshipping our God.”
Yu draws strength from his Christian faith. He is well aware that Christianity was instrumental in overthrowing communism in Eastern Europe. Many Chinese and even Western commentators like to view China as a special case where democracy would not work in such a largely populated country. Yu will have none of this:
“I acknowledge that we Chinese …have suffered from the ideology of Communism for a long time. Perhaps it would be more difficult for China than any other country to transform into a democracy. However, as a writer full of passion for freedom, and a Christian with faith in God, I firmly believe that China is not a region abandoned by God, and that the Chinese people deserve a lifestyle better than servitude.”
Yu said “the worsening situation will continue for the next few years,” and that he “didn't hold out hope from Hu Jintao,” the current Chinese dictator.
Yu said that Western pressure could improve human rights in China, and should not limit itself to only its trade interests. He observed “the betrayal by Yahoo!” in assisting the Chinese communist regime in the arrest of several Christian writers.
When asked about Yahoo's defense that it had to comply with Chinese law, Yu said he did not believe it, and that Yahoo! was engaged in illegal conduct to please the mainland regime. In fact, he argued that Yahoo! signed a contract with the client and therefore was obliged to protect the privacy of the client. Moreover, Hong Kong law, which had jurisdiction in this matter, “is not under the control of the Mainland legal system, except for very rare exceptions.”
Human Rights Attorney Advocates Mild Approach
Wang Yi is Professor of law at Chengdu University and a pro-democracy writer, according to the Christian Wire Service. He is particularly famous for his web log where he regularly offers his views on “current events through critical, eloquent essays and commentaries.” The Chinese communist regime shut down his web log in the Fall of 2005, and regularly blocks access to it.
As a member if the Independent Chinese PEN Center, he said it is the only independent society among intellectuals in China. Wang was banned by the Chinese communist regime from teaching for 18 months, but was reinstated in March 2005. Wang lends his legal expertise to the defense of Chinese Christians experiencing persecution.
Wang described his affiliation to a book reading society, whereby the group read and discussed whatever they felt like. They have managed to keep it going for two years, but the police frequently question them, and force them to keep moving their location.
Wang Yi spoke of three models that Chinese intellectuals have used to promote freedom in China. In the traditional way, Wang said the intellectuals tried to get close to the leaders, but this approach failed in the 1980s. A more direct way was the pro-democracy movement that culminated in 1989 with the Tiananmen Square massacre. However, many intellectuals, says Wang, still try to follow this route, but “have become marginalized.”
The third way he says is to limit the scope of their activities to human rights and free speech. Attorneys aid the persecuted and oppressed by taking their cases to court for justice, and by making their cases known via the Internet. He said this third approach is the “most civilized” and “milder than the pro-democracy method of the past, but also quite “strong.”
However, Wang acknowledged that this third approach has meant that the human rights attorneys, who defend the oppressed, end up being targets of the regime too. They are “arrested, their licenses suspended, sent overseas in exile, or beaten up badly.”
Since Hu came to power, he estimated that 60 writers from the Independent PEN Center are now in jail.
If this mild way of emphasis on freedom of speech and human rights fails, Wang can't see any hope for China. He calls upon our “American friends” and the European governments to become more supportive of their grassroots efforts instead of building their hopes on changing Chinese officials.