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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.

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