A Human Rights Lawyer Lifts the Communist Party’s Spell
On March 14, 2016, at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva, I joined a forum to commemorate the second anniversary of the death in custody of human rights defender Cao Shunli. I couldn’t help but vent my anger at what a criminal gang the Chinese Communist Party is.
The same day I received the following email: “Teacher Teng: As ratified by the law school’s Communist Party committee, the Chinese University of Political Science and Law’s (CUPL’s) Party branch will on March 16, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. hold a general assembly on campus in Room 211 to reach a decision on the question of Teng Biao’s voluntary resignation of Party membership. You are hereby requested to attend.”
The note was signed by “Party Committee of the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, Legal Studies Party Branch.”
I didn’t attend the meeting, but I now feel the need to give the Communist Party a piece of my mind.
Most Peculiar Creatures on Earth
Almost every child born in the so-called “New China” is full of boundless enthusiasm and worship for the Chinese Communist Party. As the official propaganda would have it, in all emergencies and matters of life and death, it’s always Communist Party members who rush to the fore.
Those who save the children on the train tracks, those who go to silence the enemy guns during combat, those who drown themselves to safeguard national assets—even if they’re not Party members, on the verge of death it will be revealed that they had written out a pledge that they had wanted to join the Party. Or if no such pledge can be produced, they’ll be posthumously recognized as Communist Party members.
This brainless, crazed enthusiasm for the Communist Party isn’t inculcated in a day or two. This has been a process requiring the assiduous efforts, passion, and imagination of countless authors, engineers of the soul, political commissars, historical fabulists, visual propagandists, musicians, and brainwashed parents.
Members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are among the most peculiar creatures on earth. They are said to grasp the truth of the universe, the laws of history; they possess the ultimate ideals of mankind; and they are determined to establish heaven on earth.
They never seek to benefit themselves, but always to help others. They fear neither gods nor karmic retribution. They’ll kill their own family members if “justice” demands it. They all think with a single mind, and every Party member is an incomparably pure and innocent saint.
The moment a bad element sneaks into the Party, they’ll be expelled—this is what guarantees the Communist Party’s purity and advanced nature. Every time the Party makes a mistake, it simply turns out to be proof that the Party has an extraordinary ability at self-correction and stands as a testament to how the Party is “great, glorious and correct.” And this is why we know the Party so loves to make mistakes.
Joining the Party
I myself am an exemplar of the CCP’s system of education (or brainwashing). From primary school to middle school to when I matriculated at Peking University, I was always the most obedient student. I never contradicted my teachers, I never cut class, I always got good grades. My ideals were Party Red, and I had a pile of certificates and awards. In other words, I was almost ruined. I had never used my own mind to think.
The process of escaping this state of brainlessness was arduous, complex, and subtle. It required an understanding of the psychology of totalitarianism, the genealogy of propaganda and brainwashing, educational anthropology, social epistemology and political aesthetics. What affected me most personally were Peking University, some professors, some student friends, some books, some underground films, and a number of incidents I went through.
In elementary school and middle school, only the “most outstanding” students were allowed to enter the Young Pioneers and Youth League. Those who were backward in their thinking were left out. At university, the competition to join the Party was fierce, and I gave up on it. During graduate studies, the competition wasn’t as intense, and in fact there weren’t many “lagging elements” who hadn’t joined.
The Party Branch had me write an application letter, the meaning of which I apprehended fairly quickly: first, they wanted to see you express your trust in the organization. Secondly, they thought: You’re Peking University talent, so if you don’t join the Party and serve the Party, have you got a problem with the Party? Who are you serving?
I was half willing and half doubtful. At that point I was in the stage of my rapid awakening to the world, and I already loathed and felt estranged by the Party’s organizational form, speech style, and dogma. On the other hand, I’d never met anyone who joined the Party because they actually believed in it.
In two years I’d be out looking for work, so joining didn’t have any disadvantages, nor did I need to take it as a big psychological burden. And at the time I also harbored a rather naive thought: intellectuals in the 1980s often said that the easiest way to bring down a fortress is from the inside, so to a degree I actually thought that I would get myself into the Party with the noble mission of opposing the Party.
So I dug up a Party application template, copied it, and was admitted to the Party. But I was firm that I would not swear the admission oath. There were 40 or 50 new Party members that were to engage in a collective oath-swearing ceremony. The leader said that the TV station would also come, and everyone would go onto the lawn to swear their oaths while it was recorded. I hated the idea and slipped away.
Reform Versus Alienation
I want to address that naive sentiment I had, that joining the Party provides the opportunity to reform the Party, or even oppose it, from the inside. But in fact, the Party’s crimes are far too numerous, it has no will to change, and to this day it’s still going further along down the road to perdition.
I also realized that this Party’s survival mechanisms are adaptive; it has its own essence, and those who don’t go along with it essentially have no chance inside the Party. Anyone who can reach a high rank in the Party either comes from a top Party family, or knows how to pull strings and manipulate people, or is corrupt, or lies, or begs, or kills.
So there is not only an extremely small chance that a sincere and honest person will reach a high level in this system, but in the process, to use a Marxist term, they will be “alienated.” By the time they’re a bureau chief or a provincial governor, their human nature will have been corroded almost entirely by the Party’s nature.
If you want to be an element in the system, then everything of yours will have come from dictatorship. You will have found it impossible to not get involved in evil on the way up; you won’t be able to escape having safeguarded the Party-state system. And then even if you put up with it all and become a bureau chief or a provincial governor, you still have no ability or opportunity to change the system.
Quitting the Party
My wish to quit the Communist Party arose not long after I joined it in 1997. Anyone with eyes to see would have noticed the following phenomena in society: forced demolitions, torture, black jails, corruption, miscarriages of justice, collusion between officialdom and organized crime, controlled elections, willful slaughter of innocents, forced abortions, religious persecution, literary inquisitions, violent urban enforcers (“chengguan”), secret police, internet censorship, tofu dreg buildings, poisoned milk, contaminated vaccines…
The more I understood about the innumerable crimes of this gang of bandits, the stronger was my determination to overthrow the government. Once, while talking and drinking with Liao Yiwu, I said that the reason I hated the Party was aesthetic rather than political.
Everything the Party does is just so ugly—from their Politburo reports to the behavior of Party officials around the banquet table; from their materialist dialectics to their hammer and sickle flag; from the tone of News Simulcast to the People’s Daily editorial page; from the Spring Festival Gala to the red songs and dances in public plazas.
It’s all utterly ridiculous—reeking of blood, numbing the spirit, and acting uncouth. From the beginning, I refused to join in almost all the Party’s mobilization events. Though my body was in the bandits’ den, my spirit had long been in rebellion.
In 2003 when I became a professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), I thought my opportunity had finally arrived. Peking University informed me that I needed to submit a request to transfer my Party affiliation. I refused to do so and stopped paying Party dues.
I thought this would be sufficient to cut off Party ties. It never occurred to me that a year later, the Party branch at CUPL would seek me out asking for Party dues. I asked them: haven’t I already left the Party organization? The woman said: How could that be? The Organization continued your membership, so come on now and pay your Party dues.
I was shocked. I told her that I wouldn’t pay. The young woman didn’t understand what I was talking about. I explained again: “Tell your superiors that I’m not paying Party dues. I haven’t been to Party ‘organization life’ events in years. This is how I want to quit the Party.” But it didn’t work. They started deducting the Party dues from my salary.
‘You Are the Communist Party Member’
Beginning in 2003 I was involved in human rights law full-time: there was the Sun Zhigang incident, founding the Open Constitution Initiative, the Chen Guangcheng, Gao Zhisheng, Hu Jia cases, defending Falun Gong, prosecuting child slave labor brick kiln operators, poisoned milk powder, participating in the Beijing Bar Association’s elections, Charter 08, the Tibet 314 incident in 2008, the commemoration of the June 4 massacre with Beijing intellectuals in 2009, the Three Fujian Netizens case in 2010, the Jasmine Revolution in 2011, the New Citizens Movement in 2012, a speech in Hong Kong in 2014, and more.
Anything that made the Party angry, I loved to get involved in. The Communist Party also kept up its end of the bargain: I was blocked in the media, had my classes suspended, put under house arrest, had my law license canceled, had my passport confiscated, was expelled from CUPL, kidnapped, disappeared, tortured, and saw my family members treated as guilty because of my actions. My trip down the road to being an anti-Party “reactionary” didn’t happen in one or two days.
The email requesting my attendance to discuss my voluntary resignation from the Party that I received not long ago was a reminder: I’d once had an indecent relationship with that Party.
This is how I understand what an appropriate relationship with the Party and Party members is: Party members have the right to vote in direct elections for secretaries and general-secretaries at every level; they ought to know how their party dues are being spent, or if the dues have been embezzled; the goal of a party is to seize political power, but this should be conducted through competitive elections with other political parties, not through locking up the members of competing political parties—that way of winning is too shameless.
Now I wonder whether there has ever been a CCP member to have a normal relationship with this, the biggest political party on earth.
The CCP’s email to me also came at a time when they had just conducted the mass arrest of lawyers on July 9, 2015.
Though it wasn’t in the least funny, it put me in mind of a joke: An old fellow riding the bus saw a pregnant woman standing and offered her his seat. She thanked him profusely, then asked: “You’re a Communist Party member, right?!” The old fellow was flustered and responded: “Who’s a Party member? You’re a Party member! Your whole family are Party members!”
I’m very interested in how real Communist Party members interpret this joke. This is how I understand it: The Party hasn’t changed, but people’s attitudes toward it have changed. They’re no longer interested. The gang that has stirred up so many revolutions using the people is now facing being overthrown by the people.
In the past, people joined the Party because of their faith in communist ideology. Even though it led to ideological madness and barbarism, it still retained some form of cohesion. But now, people join the Party for power, wealth, sex, or a better job—so even the cohesion that once held it together is no more.
The internet and market forces are increasing the Chinese public’s general knowledge and understanding on a daily basis, as well as increasing the conflicts between the officials and the public. On top of that are the global processes of increased democracy and freedom. All of these are exerting centrifugal force on the CCP.
This essay serves as my own, official lifting of the Party’s spell, and my complete renunciation of the Communist Party organization. I was once a member of this evil gang, and I once proactively, and later passively, paid party dues to support them doing evil. These are stains I carry, and which I will make up for from now into the future.
Of course, I am putting the matter in the starkest terms—for years now already I’ve done a great many things to oppose the Party. When the Hong Kong journalist Jiang Xun was accused of being a Communist Party member, Jiang sued and was awarded 850,000 yuan (US$128,000) in compensation.
If anyone calls me a Communist Party member now, even though I won’t sue them, I will make a sharp retort: “You are the Communist Party member—and your whole family are Communist Party members!”
Translated by Matthew Robertson.
A resident of the United States, Teng Biao was most recently a fellow at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies. For his work as a human rights lawyer and activist in China, he has received the following awards: China Aid’s Religious Freedom and Rule of Law Defender (2012); the China Democracy Education Foundation’s Prize For Outstanding Democracy Activist (with Jiang Tianyong, 2011); Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammett grant (2010); National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award (with several Chinese activists, 2008); and France’s Human Rights Prize (with Mo Shaping and Li Jingsong, 2007).