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Freedom of Expression in China

By Maiping Chen
Special to The Epoch Times
Sep 04, 2005

Maiping Chen, chairman of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC). (The Epoch Times)
High-resolution image (301 x 360 px, 300 dpi)

The following speech was given by Maiping Chen, chairman of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), the worldwide association of writers, for promoting friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers and fighting for freedom of expression, in Stockholm, Sweden. The title of the seminar was "Communism and Human Rights in China"

Organizers included the Chinese Overseas Democracy Coalition, The Epoch Times, the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, and the International Society for Human Rights.

First, I want to say that I give full support to the two earlier speakers. I agree with them because I have my own experience and my own examples. I give Mr. Wei full support because he “opened my mind”. I worked for human rights for many years, but I did not see human rights issues from political or ideological perspectives. I defend human rights in general. I do not think about the politics, but now his statements here “open my mind”. It is true that, if you do not improve the human rights situation in China, it will get worse. If we let them keep the dictatorship, the one-party system, then we cannot avoid a war because there are many such examples. Then we are all involved.

Just a few days ago Russia and China performed very high-tech military exercises and you can think why they did this. They tested the satellite system. The U.S. has an agreement with Japan and Taiwan. If the Communist Party attacks Taiwan, both the US and Japan will get involved. Then, if the Chinese military’s monitoring system is destroyed, Russia will help China with the Russian satellite system. See what happened in the former Yugoslavia: Why did NATO bomb the Chinese embassy there? NATO first destroyed the Yugoslavia military monitoring system, and then the Chinese helped to re-establish it at the Chinese embassy. That is why NATO had to bomb the embassy. It is the same now. Russia will help China if the war comes. Russia will help China to keep the military operation and the information system.

They are preparing a war; and it is so alarming, but our governments and our mass media here in Europe are not alerting us. It is true that the political leaders here in Europe do not give people a true picture of what is happening. What we can see in mass media is often the prosperous Chinese developments. A few days ago, I saw a documentary program about China on Swedish TV, and I did not like it very much. It did not give a real picture. It raised only a false question. It seems that everybody there agreed that the economic situation in China is very good; it is only the political rights and reforms that have not changed. Everybody they interviewed in this document film believes that if you help the Chinese to develop a powerful economy, then eventually there will be political reforms. More than ten years have passed. Can you see any sign of political reform?

We can see that the Party still carries a high-handed policy. They do not open any possibility to have a democratic process. Therefore, I give Mr. Wei full support for his opinion. Human rights problems in China are not just concerning the Chinese people. It will also be concerning us, here in Europe. We are all getting involved if we let Chinese regime attack Taiwan. I think that here in Europe we have to not only think about human rights in China but also think about our own families, our children, their safety and their future. Human rights in China is also connected with our lives.

I also support Madame Guo about the recent developments in China, referring to the quitting-the-party movement. That is also very true. I have my own example. Recently I received a Chinese writer in Stockholm. He came from Beijing. He told me that many party members in different Chinese institutions or factories do not work these days. They have taken leave from their work because the party summoned them to have some study groups. They call this the “keep fresh” campaign. It is because the party is worried that its members are not loyal to them any longer. It is something like rotten meat in the refrigerator. They want to keep it fresh but there is no way to keep it fresh. You have to throw the bad food away. You cannot refresh old food but they still try to “keep fresh”.

I can give you another example that I heard from a Swedish professor. I do not want to mention his name. He told me that he visited Fudan University in Shanghai recently, and there was something very strange happening. He had been in China to attend many different conferences. These conferences are very academic; and you should just present yourself as a professor, in which field you work, and what you have done in your subjects. Yet at the conference in Shanghai, when a Chinese professor from this university gave his talk, he stood up and first said, “I’m a communist party member”. The foreign guests, representatives from universities of the Nordic countries, and about 50-60 professors from different Scandinavian countries, were all surprised over why this professor mentioned, “I’m a communist party member”. They did not understand it. However, I can tell, as Madame Guo said, they are forced to do so. Many people in China are, for very practical reasons, members of the Communist Party. Many people do not want to say it now. They do not want to tell other people. They are ashamed. Now the Party asks them to say in public that they are members. It is clear that the Party knows that their legitimacy is threatened. Even a professor has to say “I am a Communist Party member” first before speaking, although it has nothing to do with the conference. Therefore, I give what Madame Guo said full support about the situation for the Chinese Communist Party in China.

I come back to my own topic about the freedom of expression. I am working for PEN; we are associated with International PEN and have members in China. We defend the freedom of expression in China. I want to add something to Mr. Wei’s statement. He said that the situation in China regarding human rights or freedom of expression had not changed or even deteriorated, it has become worse. In referring to the freedom of expression, it is very true. Maybe some Chinese friends and some Chinese writers say it not true; they may claim that the situation in China is much better, “We can say what we want and we can write what we want”. I disagree with them! Yes, it is true that you can write more. It seems that the topics you can write becomes more and more, and people say that when you meet Chinese people in trains, taxis, in cities like Shanghai and China, they seem quite open. There are many cafés and restaurants there where you can hear people criticize the government. They dare to say many things and they can even criticize the Communist Party–but only in private! You never see them criticise in public or in the mass media. That is not the freedom of expression in our definition. There is the fear, and the fear is spreading even to outside China. So many Chinese people in Sweden do not dare to criticize the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese government in the Swedish mass media either. If a Swedish journalist interviews a Chinese student here, he will not dare to criticize the party publicly either.

Freedom of expression is not just something in a room, in a toilet or in your private home. We are talking about the right of you speaking publicly. Many Chinese writers say you can write what you want. I asked them, “Can you write about the massacre on Tiananmen in 1989?” No, you cannot. You cannot write about political issues. There was a debate in Shanghai Literature Magazine recently about this. One writer published an essay in that magazine recently saying that the main problem for writers in China now is the commercialisation; it seems that he does not see political and human rights issues as the main problem. Another quiet famous writer, Li Rui, who had quite a few of his novels translated into Swedish, recently published something against this opinion. He maintains that freedom of writing is still a problem. He wrote, “You are wrong to say that we can write what we want. I know I cannot. Although I do not dare to write about certain things, I know it, I know what I do not dare to write.” People just get used to avoid some topics, and they know what the taboos are.

The belief, that if the economy develops, the political and human rights issue will also improve, is an illusion. Like Mr. Wei mentioned about the Second World War, you can see how Germany before the Second World War developed the economy, but the human rights issues became worse. You know how they persecuted the Jews and the people who were against Hitler’s policy. Therefore, it is not that if you improve the economy, you will necessarly improve human rights issues too. There is not necessarily a connection. On the other hand, in later years, we can see the situation getting worse and worse. I can give you some examples. After Hu Jintao took over the power last year, the punishment of arrested writers got seriously worse. I thought Jiang Zemin was a very bad leader already, but Hu is even worse. If a writer got a five-year prison sentence in Jiang’s time, the same case or even a minor case gave ten years or fourteen years recently. In the cases that the International PEN now works for, many writers are arrested under Hu Jintao’s administration. Therefore, it is apparent that the situation is getting worse.

If you look at the homepage for our Independent Chinese PEN Centre, www.penchinese.com we have a detailed list of writers arrested in China. In March, we had a seminar on human rights in China in the Swedish parliament. There, I mentioned a case, and I will mention the case again because I want to raise your attention to those who work as journalists. The arrested person is Shi Tao, a poet, but also a journalist. He worked for a newspaper in Hunan, Changsha city. One day before the anniversary of the June 4th massacre of 1989, the chief editor had a meeting with them and read a document from the Party, warning the journalists and all workers there not to report on the massacre in Beijing. It was the fifteenth anniversary last year, and it was an important anniversary for Chinese people. That document from the Party forbade any report about the massacre that happened fifteen years ago. Shi Tao reported this on the internet, an outside international website. He was arrested, and then sentenced to prison for ten years, on the charge of exposing “state secrets”, referring to the national security. Can you imagine that? A journalist can report it here without any problem because it has nothing to do with national security. In China, the prosecutor charged him for exposing “state secrets”. He got ten years jail and the judge still said, “We are quite nice” because ten years is the minimum according to the law for exposing state secrets, otherwise you could have life sentence or even death sentence. The judges said they were nice because ten year was the minimum they could give!

He is 33 years old and has a young beautiful wife. How can his wife wait for ten years? His case was also an example to show how ridiculous and inhuman the law system in China is. Shi Tao was arrested on November 24 in a railway station in Taiyuan. He was on his way to visit his mother, then suddenly several people in civilian costumes–they were actually secret police, they were not dressed in police uniform–just came to arrest him and took him away without showing any documents. His family members were not informed. It is like kidnapping. After two days, they went to search his home, take his computer and warn his wife not to tell the mass media. Without any legal documents, they took him to Changsha because the newspaper he worked for was in Changsha. The police came from Changsha, Hunan Province. They came from another province to arrest him without any legal procedures. It is like kidnapping! Also according to the law in China, you cannot keep a person without charges longer than a certain time, but they kept the journalist in prison at least six months without any charges, which means his freedom has been taken away for a long time already. This is what happens now in China.

There is another case about a university student Lui Di, which is quite well known. Lui Di was a fourth-year student in Beijing Normal University. She was arrested for her internet publication that criticized the government and the communist system, and she was detained secretly for one year; even her parents could not know where she was. No family member was allowed to visit her. International PEN worked for her case and started a petition, asking many famous writers, including Nobel Prize winners, to sign. After very strong pressure from International PEN, she was released.

Anyway, these two cases show strong evidences that the situation in China has not improved, at least when we are talking about the freedom of expression. What is even worse is that the dictator in Beijing is infringing our freedom of expression abroad. I know that the Chinese embassy tried to stop some radio program here. If news reporters publish something negative about China, they will receive a protest or threat. Even on this tour for Mr. Wei Jinsheng, we have examples. He said that this is the eighth country where he gave his lecture. In Denmark and Norway, the Chinese embassies tried to stop the seminars. In Denmark several members of parliament first promised to come, but later only one showed up. That parliament member said they all received calls from the embassy, and they dared not come because they thought about going to China and worried if they could get visas.

I can also mention here why we see a very different program today. Some speakers choose to stay at home today. I cannot spread a rumour that, maybe, they were threatened by Chinese embassy and that is why they declined, if I do not have evidence, but at least I can say that it is very strange. We have prepared this seminar for a long time. When we send out the official invitations that many of you may have received on Wednesday or Thursday, things suddenly happened on Friday. Somebody declined to come as if he had received a warning. I think it is a pity that a dictatorship can threaten even our freedom of expression, even here in Sweden. The reason maybe “Falun Gong…We do not want to have anything to do with Falun Gong”, as it is said. Why? What is wrong if somebody here is from Falun Gong? International PEN defends only freedom of expression; we do not say we defend certain parties or certain religions. We defend all people’s freedom of expression. Even if you were a Communist Party member, I would defend your freedom of expression. Here we represent ourselves as speakers for human rights. I do not think about whether you are a Communist Party member, or you are a Falun Gong member or you are a conservative person. This seminar talks about human rights issues in China. This is a principle. It is for this principle I am here, and I cannot stay home.

It is a pity that some speakers, for some reasons, had to stay home–or stay away. I thank you all participants here for coming here and showing solidarity with the speakers here. We are not facing an empty auditorium; we have seen so many friendly faces. I see many old friends here and I am very touched. I think I will not say anything more. I just want to say something in Chinese to those who may not understand English…

When I talked in Chinese just now, I was talking about the many books that are banned in China. They are very good books and got a great readership even in China before they were banned. I can ask those who claim that the situation of human rights in China is better now. How can the situation be better when the Chinese Communist Party has banned so many books, and arrested so many writers? As soon as these books are touching sensitive issues, they are stopped.

I hope that our friends here can forward our messages to the mass media and to the Swedish people that human rights issues in China concern not only Chinese people, but also concern us. It is about peace in the whole world, and about our children.

Thank you.

Mr. Maiping Chen, poet, writer and former chief editor of the Chinese literary magazine Today, is the vice chairman of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), the worldwide association of writers, for promoting friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers and fighting for freedom of expression.

Mr. Maiping Chen works tirelessly to rescue writers jailed for their independent views, speeches, and writings in China. His involvement in human rights activities forced him into exile in Sweden since 1986. In 2001, he received the Human Rights Watch /Hellman award. www.penchinese.com/wipc/index.html.