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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Li Chengpeng 李承鹏

Li Chengpeng, former sports journalist turned popular writer and social critic, was born in Hami, Xinjiang, and lived in Chengdu, Guangzhou and Beijing. Baidu Baike (百度百科) wrote "After graduating from the Department of Chinese from Sichuan Normal University in summer 1990, Li Chengpeng was supposed to write literature or teach Chinese, but because of the special time he became a sports journalist 1990年夏天从四川师范大学中文系毕业后,李承鹏本应从事文学创作或语文教育工作,可是年代特殊的原因让他改行当了一名体育记者。"  I think this explains his "sudden change" in 2008 after the earthquake. In the prelude in his popular book The Whole World Knows (《全世界人民都知道》)published in the beginning of 2013, he explained why he decided to write. 

I am translating the beginning parts of the prelude here because I find it quite beautiful. The whole prelude in Chinese is here.

There is a story in the Chronicles of Zuo: there is an infamous womanizer in the country of Qi called Master Qi Zhuang. There is also a very gorgeous woman in the country of Qi called Tang Jiang. One day, Master Qi Zhuang saw beautiful Tang Jiang and couldn't help but tossing around at night and couldn't fall asleep. Eventually he won her over and slept with her. However, this was discovered by Tang Jiang's husband Cui Zhu. One day when Master Qi Zhuang and Tang Jiang were making out, Cui Zhu arranged some warriors and chopped him. 

Cui Zhu is a violent man, and also an important official in the country of Qi. He told the recording historian to just write that Master Qi Zhuang died of malaria. However, the historian was not cooperative and wrote, "In the summer in May, Cui Zhu killed Master Qi Zhuang". Cui Zhuo was very angry and killed the historian. According to the customs at that time, the historian's brother took over the position after his successor passed away. Cui Zhu said to the new historian that you should write Master Qi died of malaria. The new historian was also not cooperative and wrote on the bamboo slips that "Cui Zhu killed Master Qi Zhuang". Cui Zhu took his sword and killed the new historian. Afterwards there was the youngest brother, Cui Zhu looked at him directly and asked, don't you cherish your life?" The young historian also wrote, ?in summer in May, Cui Zhu killed Master Qi Zhuang." Cui Zhu smashed the bamboo slips on the ground, after a long time, he took a long sigh, and let the historian go.

Some people ask me why do I write and I told them this story. What I like to highlight is that it is this story that made me not writing in the beginning. It clearly shows that writing is asking for death. For a common person like me, of course I won't do something so taxing and dangerous, including that there are intellectuals in my family who led very sad lives, me, having a background of literature, played a risk-free game for a long time and I felt fortunate about it. However, gradually, I have found another kind of risk. The rules demonstrate clearly that there are two teams in a game, but actually it is not performed that way. A soccer star once told me, "that day I checked in and had a quick look and almost cried, because some team member kicked the ball to our own gate, and there are three teams now. Afterwards I started to laugh, because afterwards there were also members from our opponent who kicked the ball to their own gate, so there were four teams. Until the end I realized that there were actually five teams, because there was the judge. "

Under this circumstance I realized there is a thing called "dignity". There is dignity even in games.  I couldn't ignore that two teams became five and I couldn't accept my job was to perpetually explain five teams as two, and I had to justify it passionately. This constant defaulting system in my brain was very painful and I felt I lost the dignity of my intellect. From literature I hid to games. In a big house without any dignity, every corner is disgusting. I started to read the story in the beginning again and realized that there was an end: that young historian kept his life and brought his bamboo slips with him and went out. On his way out he bumped into another historian who records the history of the South. The young historian asked in surprise, how did you come? The historian from the South said, I heard that all of your brothers were killed and I was afraid of history being manipulated, so I came over to record with my bamboo slips." I find this ending more shocking. The previous historians died because they were just trying to do their job, but the historian from the South really was asking for death. This is what is called one after another. Some kind of fate just falls on you. There is nowhere else to hide. You might as well bring you bamboo slips and embrace it. 
It was until 2008, when I saw the little hand, still warm and alive, under the debris of the collapsed buildings, with the flowery sleeve ...... I eventually realized, it is time to come back. This, is where I come from. 
At the signing ceremony of this book in Beijing in the beginning of 2013, Li was punched and threatened because that person says he doesn't like what Li writes. During his book tour month Li was silenced by the authority, and in his book signing in Chengdu, he wore a black mask

Li Chengpeng once had 6.6 million of followers on weibo and had lots of readers on his blog but they are both deleted right now. Though some of his essays are still online and some are translated into English. 

His famous speech in Beida called 说话, in Chinese, in 2012. 
It was translated by Liz Carter in English. 

Li's essay on Patriotism with Chinese Characteristics published by the New York Times online in English.
Also another essay, To Know What's going on in her country, look at her Construction. English and Chinese version follows.

His translated essay on Watermelon vendor died pursuing the Chinese dream, translated by the Daily Telegraph.
You Can Expunge the World, but not dignity, translated by Human Rights Watch.

Li Chengpeng on political openness of Taiwan, The Taiwan You Can See, English, Chinese.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Xu Zhiyong 许志永

Xu Zhiyong, leader of the New Citizen's Movement, jailed for four years in 2014 for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order", was a lecturer in law at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications until 2009. He received his PhD in law from Peking University in 2002. According to the Guardian, "The charge stems from a series of small protests he organized in 2012 and 2013 to champion rural children's education rights and official transparency." Xu was listed the 100 top World Thinkers in 2013 by Foreign Policy. 

Xu's closing statement to the court was translated by a group called China Change. 
The Chinese version is here; and the English version is here. 
It was very well written and gave a good and detailed explanation of his political stance and the history of his detention. 

He has published a manifesto of the New Citizen's Movement in his blog in Chinese:
And here is the translation in English.

His autobiography To Be a Citizen, compiled by his friends and lawyers Teng Biao and Hua Ze, was published in Chinese in Hong Kong in 2014.

Xu married Chinese journalist Cui Zheng, who works in Caixin, and they had a daughter in the beginning of 2014, two weeks before he was sentenced to prison. Cui Zheng used to be a researcher/news assistant at the Guardian and CNN.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cui Weiping 崔卫平

Hi all, 
Happy New Year. I hope to introduce Cui Weiping, an influential female writer and academic. 
The China Story has an entry of Cui Weiping:
"Cui Weiping is a public intellectual and a professor at the Beijing Film Academy whose work focuses on literary theory, political philosophy and eastern European intellectual and political culture".
Born in 1956 in Jiangsu province, Cui Weiping received her Masters Degree in Chinese Literature from Nanjing University in 1984 and has since then been teaching at Beijing Film Academy. She became a professor in 1999. Cui Weiping has close to 250,000 followers on Sina Weibo.
Based in Beijing she is also a freelance writer, translator, movie critic, and political essayist.  Her books include Prior to Justice (2005), The Narratives of our Time (2008), Thoughts and Nostalgia (2010), and Attractive Lies (2012).  She has also translated Václav Havel’s Toward a Civil Society and Collective Works, both of which have been published underground in China.
Again according to China Story, "in the mid-1990s, Cui began translating Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless (Moc bezmocných) and other essays, circulating them privately among friends and colleagues. They’re now available online, as well as in a print edition published in Taiwan, but they have not been printed in an officially-approved edition on the mainland. She has also translated Ivan Klima’s essay collection The Spirit of Prague 布拉格的精神(1998)".

I have been reading one of her books called Thoughts and Nostalgia in Chinese and find it very interesting. It was published in 2010 by Beihang University Press. In this book she collected articles on current affairs, combined with review of Western philosophy. I have picked up some excerpts to share with you. 

Thoughts and Nostalgia
Cultural Modernism like a maze

There are many forms that people look for as their "spiritual home" - religion, traditional culture, all kinds of Qigong, etc. They always hope to find a spiritual haven that could make them happy ever after. They hope to submit themselves once and for all, so that they will never need to bother, especially tolerate conflicts from everyday's different spiritual values and they don't need to answer all sorts of new questions that come up all the time. The deceased writer Wang Xiaobo commented on this in the end of the 20th century. He is very suspicious of the notion that "knowing how to recite religious rituals means you have a spiritual home". Or rather perhaps the concept of "spiritual home" is quite inappropriate. Spiritual activity is a kind of pursuit, inquiry. It is a journey to the unknown. It is to create order from chaos, and it is to shape form from mud, rather than rush to a place to settle. Circling a piece of land as their own and drawing a place as a prison is pre-modern. 

Compared to other Chinese writers, Wang Xiaobo is a rare and conscious modernist. He borrowed the expression from Hans Christian Andersen's The Thorny Road of Honour and described his own proposal: "the humanistic undertaking is like a road of thorn on fire, and smart and enduring people walk on fire". Walking on fire means people rather endure the pain and torment of not having a "home" than selling themselves short or settling themselves carelessly on any kind of haven or utopia. It is not that he is not eroded by void. It is not that he does not feel the hollowness and dullness of the ridiculous modern life. But he rather likes to stay silent. He endures. He is able to endure. 

We need a lower version of humanistic value

I call the leading principal of the humanistic value in our society a "higher version" of humanistic value. It is "high" because it has a relatively higher level of evaluation or estimate of humanistic values. Sometimes it is even so high that it lacks necessary consciousness of the defect or limits of human beings. 

In the contrast divide between different classes, the working class is considered the most noble and exemplary - they are selfless, willing to sacrifice, etc. This symbolizes a highness of humanistic values, which is also a benchmark that is set up for everyone to follow.

To deify a certain class is a consequence of the influence of a generally deifying society. People in that kind of background tend to look at the society from a perspective of awe. They use this kind of perspective to look at their reality and future, and other people. Not only in terms of skills and capability, but also on moral standards, they enter into a phase of miracle. 
将一个阶级加以神化,与一个社会普遍存在的神化气氛是相互影响的。在那种气氛之下的人们,习惯运用一种人间奇迹的眼光,来看待自己的现实和未来以及看待人们自己。...... 不仅在能力上是如此,而且在道德上也迈进了一个神奇阶段。

People who are beautified and deified most are heroes and leaders. No matter they are heroes from real life that are broadcast from mass media, or heroes in arts, they are all made of special materials. Usually they can tolerate unbearable pain and test unattainable by ordinary people. They also have another common feature: they don't have emotional needs that are also shared by all human beings. Their lives come from half way in the sky, instead of from the ground. In terms of the crazy admiration of leaders, it was performed to an unimaginable degree. All the wonderful features are captured in one person, and this person is considered the "god". One sentence he utters out is worth of "ten thousand of sentences". When he passed away everyone was shocked, because since the red sun always rises from the east, he will never die. 

The so-called "lower version" of humanistic value hopes to adjust the existing understanding of humanistic values. 

From the surface, it seems to mean widening people's understanding of humanistic values with a more relaxing attitude to accept all kinds of human performances. There is enough estimation and preparation to all kinds of chaos and degradation in human life. This is contrast to the quick critique that we regard things as not possibly be conducted by human beings. We believe that human beings are capable of doing anything, even the most compromising things. They are still human beings and their humanistic nature is probably not that far from yours. In terms of the possibility of shocking others and shocking to yourself, or more bluntly, in terms of the capability to conduct evil deeds, everyone is equal, there is no difference.

However, this does not mean that we give up moral requirements on people. To the contrary, this kind of "lower version" of humanistic values is to further constrain and regulate human nature. It is to highlight -- no matter to master or transcend human nature, we need to first have a proper understanding of human nature. We need to have a good recognition of the dark sides in human nature, in stead of singing a high tune from unrealistic standpoint, or just indirectly address the issues but not confront them. The so-called "low" means that we have lower expectation and could see more human behaviour. We have enough awareness of the dark sides of human nature, therefore we will be fully awake, alert and suspicious.

Today, "taking human as the foundation" is a notion of rich significance. It clearly outlines a new historical phase of our nation. It means that same as other nations in the world, we have entered into a modern society, or a secular society. This is a world of the people, a world based on the benchmark of human beings, instead of on God. It is no longer a world centred on the will of the God. This is an incredible step.

However, pointing our gaze on human beings themselves, in the world of the people, we need to further ask the question: "what is the people". If we say people are complicated, multi-faceted and multi-layered there are different shifts and shades among different channels from low-tune to high-tune, then what kind of people should we be based on? What kind of people should be the benchmark? After taking over the position of god or godly powers, do human beings really have enough awareness and consciousness of their own defects, limits and degradation? We don't need to overwhelm the notion of human nature based on the principal of "the people". Of course, this question can only be asked after the notion of "based on the people". Contemporary experts and scholars need to shoulder some responsibility. Maybe we could also ask, how come "human nature" became an important notion?

Postscript: Thinking is processing one's darkness

The path of my work has always demonstrated that thinking is actually processing one's darkness and blind spot: thinking is self-education. We always open up our mindset bits by bits. In terms of academic pursuit, it is after thought, based on the foundation of thinking. Thinking is the plough, academia is the field. 

How does thinking process one's darkness? It means, not only do you need to understand this world, but you also need to feel yourself. You need to capture your fleeting feelings, sometimes it is continuous, but it is also a silent yet stubborn feeling. Due to all kinds of pragmatic concerns, people often choose not to respond to their reactions. To achieve a certain goal, it is even better to bury oneself and never voice their heart's opinions.

Actually I started from observing myself. When people try to acquire some real and tangible knowledge on this world, I try to acquire probably the most unrealistic knowledge -- the knowledge on one self, meanwhile on human nature and humanistic nature. In my article I write about Han Han's shift of personal perfection to civil humanism, and actually this is my own path, at least it is the case in this volume. 

From observing one self, from listening to the timid voice inside us (including consciousness), we could listen to this world, including the oppressed and excluded voices and the obscure and blurry fields. To me, voicing in the public sphere is not just a cry of integrity. To the contrary, I avoid loud cry. I hope to find some reasons, and hope to find a perspective that is not articulated yet. I hope to find a dimension that is covered up -- why are things (feelings) this way? What are the reasons behind them? Using the terminology of public sphere, we call it widening the public platform. For me this is still called "imagination", to upgrade the things that lack a shape to a clear feature.