Chen Guangcheng on freedom, violence, and the possibility of a revolution in China.
- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is Asia editor at Foreign Policy, where he edits, reports, and writes stories from across the region. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, Isaac wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea, a country he has visited twice. A fluent Mandarin speaker, Isaac spent seven years living in China prior to joining FP; he has traveled widely in the region and in China. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, Al-Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
In terms of foreign policy, the United States places too much importance on interests. It should place importance on humanity’s values. Democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism, human rights, especially human rights — they should make that number one!
Before my escape, many friends among human rights activists, common people, and intellectuals felt a very strong sense of powerlessness. Some friends told me that after this thing happened, this voice of powerlessness is almost entirely gone. I think it’s really great. I’ve always wanted the common people to believe that one’s own strength can change everything.
When China’s leaders talk about reform, they mean go slowly and change a little bit as you go. The precondition is that you definitely want to change, but you don’t want to change too fast, or too thoroughly. [Laughs] Step by step, going slowly. But if you don’t actively reform, you will passively get reformed.
The central government definitely knew I was illegally detained at home. As for how the local authorities invented lies to frame me to put me in prison, as for how they persecuted my entire family, [the central government] didn’t necessarily know about the details. Yet now, six months later, I still haven’t seen the central government follow the country’s laws and keep its promise and investigate and deal with those officials who recklessly and illegally committed crimes.
If ordinary Chinese people heard about what happened to me, I don’t think they would be able to believe the level of cruelty. The shamelessness of the powers that be would exceed their imagination. Just like they don’t know they have a lot of strength to change the future of their country.
If I met Xi Jinping, I would very clearly tell him that any "powers that be" that don’t follow the will of the people and depend instead on oppressing the common people and suppressing the will of the people to protect their rule absolutely cannot last for long. The Communist Party is no exception.
Throughout Chinese history, has any emperor said they want to hand over power? Every emperor wants his power to last generation after generation. But can they? The Communist Party cannot monopolize all of the power in the country forever. This is a reality they must accept.
I think China needs a leader like Chiang Ching-kuo [the son of Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek and the Taiwanese president from 1978 to 1988 who laid the groundwork for Taiwan’s democratic transformation]. Someone who can keep up with the trends of society. Someone who knows that to use power is easy, but knowing when not to use power is difficult. The level of the Chinese people’s determination seems very similar to the situation in Taiwan in the late 1970s. Society is in a near-lawless state of affairs. The rights of the common people have been violated.
Confucius had a common standard of evaluation. Universal values. Principles of fairness and impartiality. Principles of transparency and freedom of speech. If you go against these, it’s not correct. If it is not correct, it’s evil. If it’s evil, can other people not interfere? The relationship among countries and the relationship among families are very similar. If you treat your wife and kids badly, even hurt them or kill them, should your neighbors not intervene? If I were his neighbor, I would rush over without hesitation and seize the weapon from his hand. Of course he can say, "This is my household affair; you cannot meddle." But this is not his household affair. He’s gone past the limit, and now it’s the world’s affair.
The possibility of China facing a revolution in 2013 is pretty big. This is something that the powers that be in China understand more than anyone else. It’s a pity that international society still does not understand this and has still not prepared. America should immediately start moving from dealing with China’s powers that be to dealing with the Chinese people. It definitely won’t be like 1989.
China is at a stage where it has to change. We’re already at a crucial historic moment. Whether it’s civilized or government-driven, and potentially violent, a transformation is inevitable.
Ben Pauker is executive editor at Foreign Policy. Ben came to FP in May 2010 from World Policy Journal, where he was managing editor from 2007-2010. A native of New York, he grew up in Brazil, Australia, and Thailand and has written for Harper's, the Economist, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. He is the co-founder of the Gastronauts, the world’s largest adventurous-eating club, and, in the course of reporting but mainly to see if it was possible, has smuggled small arms out of Central Africa.| Interview |