"With its history dated longer than any western country, the western idea of democray might not be suitable for the east... We should not judge so early that the Tiananmen crack down was wrong. Let history judge...What the authority did was, I think, correct."
"What is the actual defination of 'freedom'
in every different society and culture?"
That protean word "freedom!""Those who value liberty for its own sake believe that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human."
It seems unable to resist almost any interpretation.
Sir Isaih Berlin
DO CHINESE PEOPLE NOT DESIRE THIS?
Chinese students at a pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
How many pictured here did not survive the violent end of the protests?
"We should not judge so early that the Tiananmen crack down was wrong. Let history judge...What the authority did was, I think, correct.""Whatever happens, I truly doubt history will judge the Chinese leadership favorably for Tienanmien Square. Too many unarmed people died, too many soldiers killed civilians in cold-blood, and it was broadcast into every corner of a horrified world. I never said that the decision by the Chinese commissars to crush the demonstrations was an easy one, but I will say now that it was not the correct one - Tienanmien Square need not have happened as it did. Don't forget about that initial emotion of horror you say you felt, Chan, and think about how someday China might be a place where such a thing could never happen again. Reform is infinitely preferable to revolution. And history very well might judge the protesters at Tienanmien Square to be the true patriots of China and the clique of communist party dictators the villains."
X-From_: email@example.com Tue Jun 17 21:55 PDT 1997
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 18:54:53 -1000
Subject: China and Democracy
Well I was look for some information on Deng Xiaopeng for a research paper I am doing the topic (The fallen star: Deng Xiaopeng). After searching for a long time I actually did not found any material that is new or useful about Deng. However I cannot said that I know alot about Deng. As I surf into your web page, it catches my attention. I am a Singaporean studying in America. As for the incident that happened in 4th June 1989, I witnessed it over the media. I was like million of others who was devastated by China's crack down on those students.
But it took me many year to realise that was a tough decision that the Chinese authority had to make. After so many years I learned to look at the incident at a different point of view, from the Chinese authority's point of view. What other choice of action could the authority take at that time? Allow the student to tear the country down? China home 1.5 million of the world population, how was it possible to call for a change in the political and economical system from communist to capitalist at a go. Well you might argue that not at a go, but look at the way the students rushed it. Who could be held responsible for the down fall of China similar to that of what Russia is today. In my point of view, cracking on the student was the only way out at that time. With Russia being a living example for the whole world to see, how could China follow her footstep?
What the authority did was, I think, correct. What we saw now in China is a gradual process of changing and opening. At least all changes could be done "in-control" not harewirely like Russia. China in its history never has democracy. With its history dated longer than any western country, the western idea of democray might not be suitable for the east. Like what the former prime minister of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that American or the western idea of human rights and democracy is only suitable for their own society. The America government should not insist that every country in the world adopt their system of human rights and democracy.
Hence I think we should not judge so early that the Tiananmen crack down was wrong. Let history be the judge. In another 20 years time compare China with Russia then shall we judge. Finally I would like to ask you how many ways could we define "Freedom". What is the actual defination of "freedom" in every different society and culture.
Think about what your gut was telling you when you first were so aghast at seeing the students being cut down at Tienanmien Square and trust that emotion. There can be no doubt that the students at the time were rash in their demands and immature in their actions. I would have understood if the Chinese government were to have done what almost every other decent government would have done in their place: launch tear gas, quell any violence with police with clubs and shields, arrest those responsible and charge them with disturbing the peace, etc. But the Chinese response in opening up on student protesters with automatic weapons and rampaging through the streets of Beijing shooting at anyone who stuck their head out their window clearly shows both the true nature of the Chinese government and how much it needs to be changed.
All countries have political problems to one degree or another and most have protests. Last month I was in Chile where right in the heart of downtown Santiago I witnessed day after day of protest on the Alameda Blvd. in front of the Palacio de Moneda. A mine had been closed and the miners had come to the capital to seek redress and fought with bitterly with the Carabinieri (Chilean military police), throwing rocks and engaging in fist fights amidst the tear gas. Of course, I saw other troublemakers who were not miners but had simply come out of the woodwork to fight with the police. Finally, the government came to an agreement with the miners and everyone went home and the protests ended. (All this in a country that 10 years ago was a military dictatorship and where any protest would have been dealt with severely in the manner of Tienanmien!) Most demonstrations around the world are of this nature with violence stopping well short of deadly force, and campus demonstrations can be the most strident of them all as student protesters can be extremely immature (taunting police, looking for a fight, extreme and unrealistic in their demands) since they lack perspective and life experience. This is normal in all countries since students are young, idealistic, and often irresponsible - I say this even as I respect their earnestly held opinions. The Chinese students at Tienanmien were no different, but the outcome was different because of the nature of the Chinese government.
Even the best governments are going to upset segments of the population from time to time. The better way is to let them have their say and then go on. If you have a legacy of shooting them and/or placing them in jail for long periods, then all you do is make it so next time someone opposes the government they do it by rifle, bomb, or terrorism. By making the government inflexible to protest and/or change with a closed political system, you make it much more difficult to reform a government and open the door to revolution. Such has been the historical legacy of Chinese politics. Could it be different in the future?
Everything I read and hear from the Chinese government today suggests that there are no problems and that everything is well within the country. Nobody is unhappy with the government, and if they are than they are criminals and malcontents who do not love China and belong in a re-education through labor camp or worse. The Chinese leaders want to concentrate on the economy and make themselves and the country richer. I have no problem with people making money, but man does not live by bread alone and in sidestepping political questions they are at least very self-serving. Slave labor is used to make products for export? A person cannot speak their mind or live a life of their choosing? Censorship? Lack of personal freedom? In China, freedom is considered by the government to be the freedom to obey the country. Freedom cannot be so simple a thing.
Freedom (like happiness and goodness) is perhaps so all-encompassing and abstract a word as to be interpreted in any number of ways. For example, despots have routinely explained coercion on their behalf as the attempt to "make people free" to obey the government and fulfill their patriotic duty to the country. They reason that anyone who holds a concept of the "good life" which is not in agreement with the sort of life the government demands of the citizenry is by definition harming themselves and the rest of society; the government chooses and the people enjoy the freedom to obey. I would agree with the definition of political freedom in the words of Professor Ding Zilin: "Each and every citizen living in this land not only should have the freedom from fear, adversity and misery but should have the right to choose the kind of society, political system and individual lifestyle that is compatible with human dignity. These were the dreams of those who gave their lives at Tiananmen Square. There are the goals for which we, the living, strive."
A lifestyle compatible with human dignity. That means being able to read the books you want, communicate with the outside world, speak your mind freely without fear of being stuck in some labor camp in the middle of nowhere year after year. It is the ability to be an adult without your government treating you like a child. And many people in China feel the same as Professor Ding Zilin; some are courageous enough to go to jail for saying so out loud, many more believe in their hearts what they don't dare give say openly.
"Those who value liberty for its own sake believe that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human."
Sir Isaiah Berlin
It is not so simple a question as east-west. There are many people in the West who also would like to restrict personal freedom. For example, when I was just in Chile I met many people who disliked their nascent democracy; they wanted General Pinochet to come back and make their decisions for them and forgo all the messiness, inefficiency, and hypocrisy of voting and democracy. They believed fervently in the Catholic Church, the Chilean military, and the business elites of the country. They wanted to go back to a country where there was very much less freedom and let a fewer amount of more "enlightened" people lead wisely. And in the United States many times in the past freedom has been in jeopardy, with passions only being checked by law and independent courts. It is not a east-west phenomenon, the struggle between order and freedom. Those people so disparaging of democracy I met in Chile were the soul brothers of the leaders of the Communist Party of China in preferring the masses to be tightly controlled and led for their own good. It is a point of view paternalistic in conception, and much deeper than a simple east-west difference. It is a human dilema having to do with power and social relations among men.
On the other hand, there are those that love freedom - that need freedom! When I say freedom, I mean it in the way that Ding Zilin said it: "...the right to choose the kind of society, political system and individual lifestyle that is compatible with human dignity." That means having not being treated like an inferior by my leaders who think I need to be protected from "outside influences" or "corrupting thoughts" or "impure ideas." That means that I need to walk the earth free to think what I want or follow any idea wherever it might take me as long as I don't cause physical harm to anyone else. It means being able to criticize my government if I do not agree with them and still be able to walk the streets without fear of being dragged away to some labor camp in the middle of nowhere for years. It means being able to have some say in how government makes policy and runs the country through elections and free speech. Since you asked, that is what I mean by freedom. It is not necessarily an "American" thing, as you will find persons with exactly the same point of view in many many countries around the world and in many other eras. And you will find them in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and yes, even in mainland China (although they be in the laogai). Saying that "freedom" as I and others have described it is a simple way of never having to truly open up a political culture so that it is inclusive and democratic; it is entirely too convenient.
Whether China reforms herself into a more legitimate and less oppressive country is yet to be seen. I very much hope she does so peaceably and by reform, rather than through violence and revolution. I recently read an interview of Qiao Shi, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, who sounded like any other liberal politician in the world: "The Cultural Revolution was not democracy, it was turmoil that brought about great suffering. An important reason why the Cultural Revolution took place and lasted 10 years was that we had not paid enough attention to improving democracy and the legal system... To ensure that the people are the real masters of the country, that state power is really in their hands, we must strengthen these institutions and give them full play." If such words became reality, then China would be a very different place than it is today. Upon such a day, I will take down this "Freedom for China" website with pleasure. However, it will necessitate the hard decision by the Chinese Communist Party of giving up their monopoly on political power. Few leaders of authoritarian governments give up power willingly, absolute power tending to corrupt absolutely. If they do not open the government up more to the people, God knows what might happen in 20 or 30 years....
The Soviet Union made no real attempts at reforming itself until it was too late and today it flounders in its freedom for reasons that are hugely complex (lack of individual initiative, rampant corruption, etc.). Still, there are very few people who honestly want to go back to the bad ol' days of Stalin or Brezhnev and gulags and psychological clinics for dissidents. And history is still out on what will inevitably happen in Russia. Perhaps the Chinese leaders will be wise enough to reform their country so that it does not finally fall under the enormous weight of the accumulated lies, crimes and ignominy of decade after decades of dictatorship, oppression, and murder as happened to the Soviet Union. Under Mao, China had a good start towards such a similar goal with the madness of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution and various mismanagement of the economy and agriculture. The times call for decisive and imaginative leadership from the Chinese leadership and not a simple retreat to the commissar culture and more control and oppression.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew would have everyone believe that Singapore is a nation sui generis in human history: a regime unthreatened by corruption or nepotism, a populace singularly enamored of their government and interested mainly in being hard-working, orderly, business-like, disciplined, etc. No country or people in the world is that way; men and women are just not that simple. They need art, creativity, free thought, individual questioning of the status quo, exposure to outside forces, etc. Mr. Yew is like the high school principle or business manager who wants his subordinates to do their work and not make trouble. In fact, he might now even like you and I having this conversation over the Internet! - claiming that such debate over democracy and history is "irresponsible" and "dangerous" to the public welfare. Mr. Yew claims such a heavy control of Singaporean society is what raised that country from the 3rd world to the 2nd world ("We cannot afford the luxury of elections and free speech! It is inefficient! Get back to work!"). But it will not bring Singapore from the 2nd world to the 1st world. To break into the ranks of the truly great countries worldwide a nation needs the free-flowing creativity and individual initiative that only an open society and culture brings to a country.
Look at the modern world where communications are bringing cultures and peoples closer together every day; where Americans routinely eat Chinese food, practice their martial arts, and view Hong Kong movies where none of that was the case 50 years ago. Look at Michael Jordan's face everywhere, the omnipresent blue-jeans, CNN in nearly every hotel worth the name worldwide. The increase in technology (Internet, movie videos, international pop music, etc.) only makes this trend more likely in the future and governments like mainland China are fighting against the tide if they want to stop all this. Traditional elites all over Asia are clamoring for protection against foreign influences (as some in the United States do also; "isolationists" threatened by the "outside world") that threaten the status quo or old way of thinking. Maybe it is time for them to step aside and let the future happen - or do their best to accommodate it and help their peoples adapt.
Let the generation of tomorrow all over the world grow up cosmopolitan in way their parents rarely were. Let China take those basic personal freedoms that most human beings desire and encapsulate them into a societal arrangement of Asian character. South Korean, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines have done so, and they are as "Asian" as mainland China. Chinese society is maturing, but can one say the same about the Chinese government? There are signs, but let us wait and see if words are backed up by actions. Political power has traditionally been let go by small groups of people or single party organizations only with great reluctance - usually through revolution or coup d'etat. One wonders if it will be any different with the Chinese Communist Party.
Nobody will argue that China is as bad as the Soviet Union in the worst days of the Stalinist nightmare, but China cannot seem to move beyond that inconvenient communistic tendency of sentencing people who protest, write "subversive" essays, demonstrate on the streets, and perform any of a variety of so-called "counter-revolutionary activities" to far-away labor camps where they live in squalid conditions and work themselves to exhaustion. As Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin explained the practice at the dawn of communist power: "Proletariat coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period." Currently Chinese political prisoners in the vast laogai system produce products with their labor which are then sold internationally (including the United States) for the profit of their masters. How ironic that "communism" has come to such an end! Chinese political prisioners sentenced to long terms of confinement for actions which hardly would have evern raised an eyebrow in the other two-thirds of the earth where political freedom is enjoyed to one degree or another.
I don't think the American government is arguing that China adopt the U.S. constitution as its own. I most assuredly am not. But myself, my government, and a majority of the world now all agree that a government should try to guarantee a minimum of personal freedom to its citizens: the right to a fair trial, a minimum of personal liberty, and the right to think one's own thoughts and speak one's mind without being jailed, the right to protest peacefully for redress against the government. What about humanism, honest criticism of society, and a call of just governance? All these are presently lacking in China. As Wei Jingsheng wrote in 1979: "People's rights cannot be protected by a dictatorship which strips them of their rights." As pro-democracy activist Martin Lee summed up the antiquated communist Chinese view of "rights": "There is only one right in China - the right to be fed. It's the sort of right that all dogs and cats enjoy." In trying to bring democracy, the rule of law, and a respect for human rights to China, Mr. Lee and Wei Jingsheng are as Chinese as anyone else.
This is what I mean about freedom, Chan, and people in the East and the West have traditionally been willing to die to get it. If I woke up one day in a place like mainland China, I hope to God I would have the courage to go to prison like Wei Jingshen for what I believe in with the hopes of one day living in a free country. If tomorrow the United States found itself led by some non-elected political dictator issuing forth unctuous blather about how it was my patriotic duty to obey and be a good little American citizen and go punctually off to work and live my life unquestioningly, etc., then my place should be in jail. I would go to jail because I loved my country. I would do so in order to try to bring back a government which respects the will of the people by submitting its rule to the approval of a vote, and vacating government if they do not win. To his credit, in contrast to what some would call his many crimes, General Pinochet of Chile finally allowed a referendum election of his military government and a majority of the people said it was time for him to go. So he stepped down from power and now Chile is a democratic country again. Could the authoritarian Chinese leaders of today perform such a selfless act?
Whatever happens, I truly doubt history will judge the Chinese leadership favorably for Tienanmien Square. Too many unarmed people died, too many soldiers killed civilians in cold-blood, and it was broadcast into every corner of a horrified world. I never said that the decision by the Chinese commissars to crush the demonstrations was an easy one, but I will say now that it was not the correct one - Tienanmien Square need not have happened as it did. Don't forget about that initial emotion of horror you say you felt, Chan, and think about how someday China might be a place where such a thing could never happen again. Reform is infinitely preferable to revolution. And history very well might judge the protesters at Tienanmien Square to be the true patriots of China and the clique of communist party dictators the villains.
We will both have to wait and see.
Good luck with your studies in Hawaii.
Very Truly Yours,
FREE WILL AND FREEDOM"Nobody may compel me to be happy in his own way. Paternalism is the greatest despotism imaginable."
"We want no more gods or emperors. No more saviors of any kind. We want to be masters of our own country, not modernized tools for the expansionist ambitions of dictators."
"Those who value liberty for its own sake believe that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human."
Sir Isaiah Berlin
"Each and every citizen living in this land not only should have the freedom from fear, adversity and misery but should have the right to choose the kind of society, political system and individual lifestyle that is compatible with human dignity."
Professor Ding Zilin