As long as a totalitarian regime still exists in human society, it means that humanity has not passed the historical stage of barbarism. A totalitarian regime is a product of the evil potential in human nature, and the greatest obstacle in humanity’s march toward justice and civilization.
A common manifestation of totalitarianism is to spare no barbaric means to harm people, hinder people’s development and progress, and even threaten humanity’s culture, civilization, and universal values for the sake of one’s own personal interests. Therefore, in the globalized world in which we live today, if one thinks that the existence of a totalitarian system is the private matter of some other country and ought to be resolved by the people of that country, one cannot be more wrong. This is not a view that shows wisdom and foresight.
Technological advances have made the world ever smaller. The interrelations between nations have become closer. Intercontinental missiles can fly around the globe, and nuclear weapons could destroy humanity several times over. A click of the computer keyboard by a hacker from China’s cyber espionage unit 61398 in Shanghai will trigger a response from the Pentagon in the United States. After some Chinese people protested in front of the United Nations in Manhattan, their family members in China were “invited to drink tea” and threatened by the secret police.
When dealing with a government practicing violence and deception, if you don’t try to influence it with your universal values, such as freedom, equality, democracy, and constitutionalism, you are very likely to be affected by the wickedness of this government. As a result of such insidious erosion, your heart becomes distorted, and you start to set limits for yourself and give up your principles. It is evident that the humanitarian and human rights issues that happen in any part of the world will invade and become the content of our lives, and may even directly affect our lives.
In an age of information explosion, it is impossible for you, me, or anyone else to stay away from the world. If someone is convicted for defending human dignity and universal values, every one of us has inescapable responsibilities.
But how do people respond when they see bad things happen? Some may say, “We’re common people of little significance, and our opinions don’t matter. What can we do?” Don’t undervalue yourself. I’ve said this again and again: “Every person has infinite strength. Every action has an important impact. We must believe in the value of our own actions.”
When facing social injustice or inadequacies, many people complain about the problems with society, but they rarely reflect on what they have done to make our society a better place. In daily life, small things such as the look in your eye that supports good or despises evil, or a fair statement that you make, have immense value. Big or small, as long as we do it, we are contributing to the benefit of our community, village, city, nation, and even the whole human society. This is extremely meaningful. To a certain extent, we can say that our practical actions have changed the world and made it a better place.
Leaders of a nation, especially leaders of the world’s foremost superpower, the United States, not only have remarkable abilities to govern the nation, but should also have the grand goal of keeping world peace. Only in this way can the good flourish and the bad be eliminated. In today’s world, the greatest threat to human civilization is still the barbaric totalitarian system. Though such systems are few in number, they do great harm. This is especially true of massive dictatorships such as the Chinese Communist government. Therefore, to make the good flourish in this world, the defense of universal human rights and values needs to be the priority. To eliminate the bad in the world, the removal of totalitarian governments needs to be the priority.
The best illustration is the dictatorial government of a big country that not only challenges the world order irrationally, undermines international rules, and refuses to endorse the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, but also supports the dictatorial governments of small countries and prevents the United Nations from punishing them for slaughtering their own people. Domestically, this government also tramples on human rights blatantly with force, abusing and cracking down on its own people.
In the past few years, under the evil impulse to maintain stability with force, the law of the nation has become a joke, and justice is completely absent. Chinese society has nearly regressed to the days of the Cultural Revolution. Those who defend human rights, from all walks of life, are kidnapped, put under house arrest, beat up, forced to travel, or in more severe cases, are detained, sent to a labor camp, covered with a black mask over the head, detained in illegal “black jails,” or falsely accused of having a mental illness. In a black box in which domestic media are strictly controlled, the worldwide network is blocked, and journalists from other countries are forbidden to conduct interviews, wicked officials are able to do whatever they want without being held accountable by the law of the country, and as a result, they become more and more fearless. Hence the blatant forcible seizure of farmlands, the forcible occupation of civilian homes, and the presence of illegal “black jails” throughout the country. Common people, though greatly discontented, can turn nowhere to file complaints.
Ding Hongfen, a brave man from Wuxi who championed the fight against illegal “black jails,” rescued many petitioners who were illegally detained. In June of this year, when he went to a hotel to rescue his father who was held there by the authorities for the so-called purpose of taking lessons in law, he was seized and criminally detained on the charge of “gathering a mob to disturb social order.” In this “stability-maintenance” system where evil triumphs over good, public authorities have taken on the characteristics of underworld gangsters. As a result, discontent among the people is boiling, and mass incidents are widespread and happen one after another. On average, up to 200,000 anti-violence mass incidents involving more than 100 people happen each year.
In recent years, the Chinese authorities have been spending more money on maintaining domestic stability targeting their own people, than on national defense, and the cost is up to 700 billion Chinese Yuan, not including the expense on the “united front” work conducted overseas. Throughout the world, no other government has gone this far in persecuting its people with their own money, and dares to present itself as the representative of the people.
Faced with the reality that people’s minds have been enlightened, the Chinese Communist government does not go along with the trend and will of the people by carrying out reforms, but rather goes against the trend and uses force to maintain stability. The authorities constantly fabricate facts and provoke hatred among the public and between ethnic groups, attempting to subdue the enlightened people with force. While Gao Zhisheng, Guo Quan, Wang Bingzhang, Liu Xiaobo, Zhu Yufu, Peng Ming, Chen Xi, and Qi Chonghuai are still in prison, the Communist Party has been seizing human rights defenders and suppressing internet speech with a vengeance during the past half year. According to incomplete statistics, 150 people have been put into custody. Among them are ten activists, including Zhao Changqing and Ding Jiaxi from Beijing, as well as five activists, including Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua from Jiangxi, Yuan Xiaohua from Chibi, and Yuan Fengchu. Guo Feixiong was seized again in August after being released less than two years ago, and his lawyer was denied visiting him five times. The list can go on, and includes Xu Zhiyong, Wang Gongquan, Song Ze, and others. Ms. Cao Shunli, who engaged in sit-ins outside China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs persistently for more than three months, demanding participation in the drafting of the National Human Rights Report that is to be reviewed by the United Nations, was seized and detained on her way to Geneva to attend a UN human-rights meeting. This is no less than giving the UN a slap in the face.
After forced abortion was reported by the Washington Post in 2005 and received extensive media coverage, I started to suffer unlawful persecution. The more heartbreaking and infuriating thing is that, eight years later, in China today, this kind of systematic anti-human crime is still happening in an organized manner under the leadership of the Communist Party. At 4 a.m. on September 27, a group of twenty officials from the Family Planning Commission, including sixteen men and four women, forced their way into the home of Zhou Guoqiang and his wife Liu Xinwen, a couple in Weifang, Shandong Province, while they were sleeping. They kicked down the door of the family’s home, held down Zhou Guoqiang and dragged his wife to a hospital by force for an abortion. A six-month baby was killed by a poisonous injection in the mother’s womb. It is more accurate to say that the baby died of the evil system rather than the poisonous injection. Let’s imagine how the parents must have felt when they saw their child being killed and yet they could do nothing to stop it. Reading this news report brought back to my memory the stories and the crying of those helpless women in 2005.
As cold-blooded and ruthless as the Communist officials are, the Chinese people have now been awakened and see the true nature of the Communist Party, whose leaders have abducted the country and the government and appointed themselves the leaders of China, though they are actually robbers and kidnappers of the country. Facing the red terror, people refuse to be intimidated. Though a subdued silence pervades the nation, before October 1, Chen Jianxiong, Xie Wenfei, and a few others in Guangdong still courageously held up a banner with the words “Abolish One-Party Dictatorship! Establish a Democratic China!” The public is gradually—yet more and more quickly—overcoming the fear in their hearts and boldly demanding the rights that are due to them. Freedom belongs to brave people.
A government without moral responsibility, legitimacy, and legality is like water without a source. We shall not be daunted by it.
As long as we drop our self-serving motives, collaborate in our will and efforts, abandon indifference, overcome fear, and persist in our actions, we will be able to free the country and government from abduction. Put an end to the history of the Chinese Communist Party seizing power and using it to enslave people, calling themselves leaders of the nation while they are actually kidnappers of the nation. Establish a civil society of true freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights. Our children shall not continue to live in fear, lies, and violence.
I want to emphasize again that nothing is impossible in this world. The development of society is not dictated by the will of those in power. The historical trend of constitutionalism and democracy cannot be reversed by dictators. A reform is bound to happen in China. We should shift our hope and attention from Communist officials and government agents to ordinary human-rights defenders among the people, and stand on the side of the people.
President Barack Obama recently said, “The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows.” He also said, “To those who would tear this world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you.”
One must be true to one’s word and firm in one’s actions. I earnestly hope that the United States, the most powerful nation in this world, will offer maximum help to people in dictatorial China—people with disabilities, women, children, human-rights defenders, and all those who seek freedom. I also hope that the United States President does not hear only the voice of the Chinese Communist Party.
It is not wrong to object to the use of violence, but the just behavior of those who rightfully exercise self-defense must be supported and defended, be it an individual or a group. In particular, when the dictatorship repeatedly uses violence against the people, revolution is the corporate exercise of the right of self-defense, which by nature is not different from the American Revolution.
In May 2009, Xia Junfeng, a street vendor from Shenyang, was taken to the office of urban management officials. As soon as he entered the room, he was struck by two stocky urban management officials on the back of his head and his ears with stainless steel cups. Unable to tolerate the violent beatings from the two officials, he drew out a knife in self-defense and stabbed the two officials to death. In spite of the cause of his use of violence, he was still sentenced to death and was executed.
This is not an isolated case. My cousin Chen Kegui had a similar experience. My oldest brother often faces danger and torture orchestrated by corrupt officials. On October 9, he was close to being caught in a deliberate car accident and almost became the second Qian Yunhui. In the words of the Communist officials, “If I beat you up, it is an action of law enforcement, but if you resist, you are interfering with law enforcement or assaulting the police, and you are committing intentional harm and murder.” But they won’t talk about what caused people to resist and harm law-enforcement agents.
I hope that kindhearted American people from all walks of life will stand on the side of justice, will choose to stand by the Chinese people instead of the Chinese Communist officials, and will support the Chinese people in getting back the rights that originally belonged to them. I call on the governments of democratic countries, especially the United States government, the primary champion of human rights, to set a good example by shifting the focus from economy and trade to human rights, and from price to value, when dealing with dictators. Attaching importance to economic interests alone will keep the United States further away from fundamental ideals such as freedom, democracy, and human rights, which are the founding principles of the nation.
Citizens of the twenty-first century need to embrace a comprehensive mentality that the world is one family, and understand that humanity won’t have peace if totalitarianism remains. To assist the Chinese people in getting onto the path of freedom, democracy, and constitutionalism as soon as possible, the most urgent task now is to achieve internet freedom, because the Chinese Communist authorities undermine and restrict the free access of information through censorship. Internet censorship is overwhelming, and a large number of internet management agents are hired to censor, block, and delete postings online. This is a blatant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; according to Article Nineteen of the Declaration, everyone has the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.
Hillary Clinton once stated clearly that it is the policy of the United States government to support an internet that allows all the members of the human race equal access to knowledge and thoughts and to dedicate itself to the promotion of internet freedom. The successful implementation of this United States policy will be vital to internet freedom in China and the rest of the world.
It is time to move forward to provide assistance to the freedom-loving people in totalitarian countries. We must tear down the internet version of the Berlin Wall.
First, I suggest the legislative and administrative organs of each free nation increase government funding to encourage the research, development, and distribution of software that breaks through firewalls, such as FOE, Freegate, or Ultrasurf, which are all very effective. I learned that the United States Congress has a $700-million-dollar budget for this, but that less than 3 percent is spent on breaking through China’s firewalls. It is urgent to increase the budget for internet freedom in China.
Second, judicial and administrative organizations must join hands in establishing a deterrent mechanism for human-rights violators. Set up a global database of human-rights violators, including the “610 Office” of the Chinese Communist Party and the Family Planning Commission at all levels of government. Expand, establish, and strictly implement current laws similar to the Magnitsky Act, which prohibits the entrance of Russian rights-violating officials into the United States. Freeze their assets in the United States and abroad. Put an end to the history of wicked officials enjoying freedom overseas while exercising tyranny in their home country. For example, Zhou Yongkang, a notorious official who has committed the most heinous crimes, orchestrates stability maintenance and suppresses the Chinese people, while his family members purchase luxurious homes in the United States, enjoying freedom and a good life. This is the practice of many Chinese Communist officials.
Third, set up a trans-congressional human-rights alliance of free countries. Convene regularly and invite civilians, human-rights defenders, victims, their families, and authorized agents to share their stories.
Fourth, demand that the Chinese Communist Party stop persecuting religious believers and respect religious freedom. One hundred twenty Tibetan monks have immolated themselves. People in Xinjiang fighting against tyranny have been shot, one after another. And we all know the indescribable persecution Falun Gong practitioners have suffered. Nonofficial, independent Christian house churches and Catholic churches are still being restricted or outlawed by the government. These ethnic and religious groups can get along with other Asians, Europeans, and Americans, and earn their respect, so why can the Chinese Communist government not tolerate them?
Fifth, I call on lawyers and legal experts of the United States and the American Bar Association to advocate for the human-rights lawyers of China and make joint efforts to provide them with some legal support and assistance.
Sixth, I hope the annual US-China Human Rights Dialogue will be practical in advancing human rights and dare to be open and honest. Human-rights dialogues should not become a matter of formality and empty talk.
And last, I would like to call on the American people to take actions to urge the officials and congressmen you voted into office to apply all resources and means to help terminate China’s evil one-child policy and forced abortions. Forcing women to abort their babies is a violation of universal human rights. It tramples on women’s rights, the right of free choice, and also the sacred right of life. This wicked policy results in a severe imbalance in gender ratio and a rapidly aging population.
I plead earnestly with you, kindhearted American people, to take actions right now to contact your representatives and officials through text message, Twitter, Facebook, and other means, asking for their support on the human-rights issues mentioned above. Caring for and supporting human rights is caring for and supporting ourselves, our children, and the generations to come.
Chen Guangcheng is Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the Witherspoon Institute, Distinguished Visiting Fellow of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, and Senior Distinguished Advisor at the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. The above is a lecture delivered at Princeton University on October 16 and translated by Jessica Zheng. It is reproduced here with permission of Public Discourse, the journal of the Witherspoon Institute.