NEW YORK—Husband and wife Chinese authors, Chen Guili and Wu Chuntao, were awarded the 2004 Ulysses International Journalism Award and 50,000 euros in honor of their book entitled Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants. On April 26, Chen and Wu visited New York to promote the English version of this book, which included a forum with teachers and students at Columbia University's Law School.
Adopting a journalistic approach, Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants presents the inception and implementation of China's tax reformation throughout the countryside. The subjects range from high-ranking leaders of various provinces and cities as well as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, to rural cadres and a great number of peasants.
The book reveals that the bulk of China's rural population has suffered at the hands of oppression, despotism, corruption, violence, an uncontrolled legal system, unfair tax laws and a variety of other problems. Initially published through a Chinese magazine in 2003, the work created quite a stir, but was soon banned by the Chinese government.
However, the book and its authors are well-know overseas. On May 22, 2006, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel met with the authors of Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants , as well as two other human rights activists, at the German embassy in Beijing.
'Our Life's Purpose Is To Speak For Those Without A Voice'
The teachers and students participating in Columbia's forum were all very familiar with Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants . Because the book is banned in China, someone asked if the authors had reason to be afraid. Chen replied that Chinese peasants account for 40 percent of the world's peasants. With 900 million peasants behind him, Chen claimed he had nothing to fear, adding that through their investigation, their courage has increased.
“Public opinion in China is very tightly controlled,” remarked Wu. “The media rarely report the public's true feelings, so the real voice of the people is generally difficult to know. We are journalists so our true purpose is to convey and promote the voice of the people. Our life's mission, and the most valuable aspect of our work, is to give a voice to those who have none.”
In an interview with Phoenix TV, the former provincial party secretary of Anhui Province claimed that this book damaged the image of people in Anhui. Chen responded to this accusation explaining that the book took over two years to complete and another year for fact checking so that it accurately represented the real situation. “If they say this book damaged the image of Anhui, it is the corrupted, inferior and evil officials that are responsible,” said Chen.”
Yet, after the foreign press reported Chen's response to the provincial party secretary, their house was smashed with bricks for 22 days, terribly frightening the children. In 2005, the family was forced to leave Anhui.
China's Future Depends on Genuine Rule Of Law and a Constitutional Government
When asked what reason Chinese authorities gave for banning his book, Chen said that he was given no reason or documentation; he simply received a phone call. He said that although his book is banned, 800 million pirated books have emerged. They lost their money but gained a wider audience.
Responding to questions concerning local elections in rural China, Wu Chuntao explained that false elections have gone on for almost 20 years. “Basically, only the director of the village committee can be elected, but the branch party secretary is appointed. So these elections are really a sham since the branch party secretary is the real leader of the village. That's why these rural elections are a mere formality after so many years,” said Wu. “You pay five yuan (US$ 0.6) to buy a vote, you can even carry a ballot box to go door-to-door to collect votes or persuade people to let others fill in the forms for them, etc.” Chen explained that, while there is law, there is no rule of law in China; and while there is a constitution, there is no constitutional government in China. “China will only have its future if you can change this,” he said.
Many Chinese students participated in the discussion. One such student said that he'd read Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants when he was in China. He said he was shocked to find Chinese peasants living such a brutal existence. At the same time, he said he admired the authors' courage and toughness.
“All the issues discussed in the book are issues that we all care about,” said the admiring student, “Many people are paying attention to those problems but there are only very few who would risk discussing it. If these problems were openly discussed with such frankness and sincerity in China, that would be a real progress.”