Liu Xianbin after his release from prison wrote this meditation on Zhao Ziyang the morality of saying “no” to an unjust regime — “A Memorial Long Overdue — In Commemoration of the Fifth Anniversary of the Death of Zhao Ziyang” 迟到的祭奠——纪念赵紫阳逝世五周年
Some of my colleagues did this translation of an article by Liu Xianbin who was convicted of subversion in Suining, Sichuan, China in late 2010. 这片不是我翻译过来的，是同事做的。 This article is one of the bases for the indictment of Liu Xianbin for subversion, so it is a good reminder of what counts for subversion in China.
The Chinese language original article is online on the Independent Chinese Pen Center website at http://blog.boxun.com/hero/201002/lxb/1_1.shtml
英文翻译： Article by Liu Xianbin: “A Memorial Long Overdue — In Commemoration
of the Fifth Anniversary of the Death of Zhao Ziyang”]
It has been five years since Zhao Ziyang left us. I was in prison serving the sentence for participation in the democratic movement on the day of his death. In the prison, we were required by the government to watch the TV program Xinwen Lianbo [News Hookup] every evening. Watching Xinwen Lianbo was an important part of the political-ideological education for people serving sentences. Like ordinary citizens outside the prison, many people serving sentences were not particularly concerned themselves with the affairs of the state, so this kind of political-ideological education was nothing more than a formality to them. However, I was very serious about watching Xinwen Lianbo. One reason was that I felt deeply about the lack of access to information, and I could understand what was happening outside the prison only by watching Xinwen Lianbo. For another thing, I was very good at watching Xinwen Lianbo. I was aware that over an extended period the program has been reporting only what is good while withholding what is unpleasant. It is an important mouthpiece of the authorities to mislead the public under the policy of making the people ignorant.
Therefore, when I was watching Xinwen Lianbo, I always took an opposite view of what was intended to show and prove. In this way, I was even able to get a lot useful information from the show. On 17 January 2005, it was precisely through Xinwen Lianbo that I learned of Zhao Ziyang’s death. The news was very brief, but I knew it was the most important event for China or even for the world as a whole that day. A Great man has left us. It was the collapse of Mount Tai, the crumpling of a pillar, the passing away of a wise man, and the falling of a giant. For many years, I had hoped Mr. Zhao Ziyang would live in good health, until the day when “democracy and the rule of law” were completely realized, until the liberty and democratic movement yields rich fruits. Yet, in spite of my hopes, he had finally left. That day, I did not feel sad; I only prayed for him. I wished him the best as he finally earned his freedom and ended his 15 years of isolation and darkness. I wished him the best as he finally achieved great awakening and clearly saw through the true face of the evil.
Twenty years ago, Mr. Ziyang [Zhao Ziyang, a salutation indicating both closeness and respect] went to the Tiananmen Square to visit the students who went on a hunger strike in protest. He said with great emotion: “You are still young, and you must live in good health. It doesn’t make any big difference to me as I am getting on years.” I was deeply moved as I witnessed what was happening. From the start I had the misconception that senior officials of the Communist Party of China were all politicians without conscience. That night I discovered in the person of Mr. Ziyang the very human nature and good conscience and the truth that human nature and good conscience are omnipresent. I
saw his true feelings and also felt his sense of resignation. I felt his desperation as he saw the inevitable approach of a large-scale massacre and at the same time the misery he felt in his innermost soul at China’s gloomy future and destiny. That day and that night, I had the a good fortune of being able to escape from the lot of being slaughtered.
Yet, over the next 20 years, I always felt that I was as good as dead and those tens of thousands of victims all died on our behalf. Because of this, I have kept dedicating myself over these 20 years to the cause of China’s freedom and democracy and have willingly gone to the prison twice and stayed there for a total of 12 years with no regrets or complaints. Mr. Ziyang did what he was supposed to do 20 years ago.
Since then he had been under house arrest in his home in Beijing’s Fuqiang Hutong. He was no longer able to contribute to the cause of China’s freedom and democracy. We, the young ones who are still living, naturally should take over the baton from him and fight for the cause of freedom and democracy in China through to the end. However, during the last 20 years, too many people have chosen cynicism, lowering their once lofty head under the usurped power of the authoritarianism. They abandoned their ideals and zeal they once possessed and began to pursue with a short vision all kinds of interests and things that cater to their basic instincts. In this manner, realization of the cause of China’s freedom and democracy has been put off indefinitely. Thus, Lin Mu, Bao Zunxin, and Mr. Ziyang all died at the end, carrying with them their unfinished cause to the grave with great regrets. What was beyond comprehension was that their death did not even cause a ripple in this irredeemable society of ours.
After I was released from prison and had the opportunity to read some articles and books about Mr. Ziyang, I came to realize that I had been guilty of nitpicking Mr. Ziyang, demanding perfection of him and criticizing him for having a weak personality and lacking the courage to break away from the past. The great democratic movement 20 years ago truly created a rare historical opportunity for China to realize constitutional democracy. I had entertained this thought: Had Mr. Ziyang had the courage to climb up onto an armored car and raise his arm to issue a rousing call, as Yeltsin had done back then, perhaps the cause of China’s freedom and democracy might not have had the bumpy road it now has before us.
Today I realize that I was too simplistic in my way of thinking. I underestimate the callousness and craftiness of China’s authoritarian forces. I hadn’t expected Mr. Ziyang went so far as facing such a dangerous situation. In order to be able to refuse to issue the order to shoot, he submitted his resignation from his post as the general secretary and even prepared to go to prison. Actually he had done all he could. As a person in a high position who spent several decades in an organization with iron-like discipline, Mr. Ziyang followed his own conscience and refused to accept the organization’s order.
What he did at the time was really not easy, if we come to think about it by putting ourselves in his position. At that very moment, Zhao Ziyang had transformed himself from a Communist leader to the embodiment of China’s conscience and morality. At that very moment, Zhao Ziyang has truly surpassed Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping to become the greatest figure in the history of the Communist Party of China. At that very moment, he won freedom for his soul. At that very moment, he created the brilliant model of human nature.
Since Mr. Ziyang passed away, people have made a fairly comprehensive conclusion on his historical meritorious service. In this long overdue eulogy, I do not want to rehash the story about his great performance as Sichuan’s top leader which earned him the praise, “When you need grain, go find Ziyang.” Nor do I want to assess his major contributions to China’s economic and political reform. Instead, I want to explain the distinct, profound significance of his courageous action 20 years ago to China’s constitutional democratic movement. I recalled in the 1990s, I read an article from a book I now forgot its name, which tells the story of a public prosecutor during the era of former Soviet Union. The prosecutor was assigned a political case with the instruction asking him to sign all the documents and “lawfully” banish the political prisoner to Siberia. After examining the case, he discovered that the so-called “crimes” allegedly committed by the political prisoner were actually all just actions. After undergoing a fierce mental struggle, he resolutely turned down the request to sign the relevant documents to send the politica l prisoner into exile.
It goes without saying that the prosecutor was later removed from his post whereas the political prisoner did not escape from the fate of being banished. I believe that the prosecutor did not regret what he had done, because at that moment, he won his own freedom, even though he did not change the final outcome. He was worthy of his own conscience and his judgment. At that very moment, he defended the dignity and the rights of a citizen and those of a real person; he has safeguarded the purity of his personality. In an authoritarian and power-dominated society, the ruler always wants to try every means to turn the people into his or her obedient subjects, transform every person into a single screw on a gigantic machine, and force people by threats to become accessories in carrying out the authoritarian rule.
Yet, people are superior species created by God in his own image, who should not submit to the usurped power of the authoritarian against their free will. We must not willingly become a screw ordered about by others. We ought to live up to our own conscience, and we ought to reject the order that is clearly evil. This kind of attitude is vitally important to putting an end to the authoritarian rule and realizing the constitutional democracy. If more and more people could abide by this principle in their real life, no authoritarian rule, no matter how powerful it is, could last long. Mr. Ziyang courageously did this at the crucial moment 20 years ago, which has won my deep respect. I consider this his greatest as a person, which will serve as the strongest cornerstone in China’s future democratic society. He has set a good example for citizens of a future democratic China.
In contrast with Mr. Ziyang, those educated scholars who pursue cynicism in an attempt to win favor from the authorities should be embarrassed whereas those who abandoned the dignity of their personality to work themselves to the bone for the authoritarian rule should feel ashamed. After getting out of prison, I have had dealings frequently with people from the state defense departments [consisting of state security bureau, security department for state organs, state security department of the Ministry of Public Security, and special detachment of the People’s Armed Police]. In appearance, they were very polite toward us democratic movement figures, but when things went wrong, they were never hesitated to implement their orders. To tell the truth, they are also ordinary people who want to make a living and who are not hostile to us deep down in their hearts. Some of them even have certain degree of sympathy toward us. Because of this, whenever they came to me, they would say they were sorry to have to this or that as those were the orders and they had no other choice but follow. Even though I expressed my understanding of their action each time, deep down in my heart I really felt ashamed for their action. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. [from the Bible, Miles Coverdale’s Version, Luke 23:34, 1535]
But if they insist on doing so, knowing that it is wrong to do so, they must be held accountable for the consequences of their behavior. The order coming from the superior should be obeyed, and this is a general principle in human society. Yet, obeying the order from the superior must not be absolute. If the order from the superior is clearly wrong or evil, the subordinate should argue strongly on matters of principle, make a correct judgment and choice on the basis on their own conscience, and reject the clearly wrong or evil order. Actually, in China today where the economy is diversified, acting in accordance with a person’s own conscience will not bring unbearable consequences to
Take the action of state defense department personnel for example. If the state defense department personnel were fired for refusing to e nforce order, it would not be too difficult for the personnel to resolve the livelihood or subsistence issues. Except if the person wants to climb up the office ladder and wants to grab greater political gains or economic benefits, “orders from the superior” should not be an excuse to being accessory to a tyrant’s crimes. Thus, to me, “orders of the superior” is merely a pretext used to shirk a person’s responsibility. Anyone who uses “orders from the superior” as a pretext to do evil will receive a fair trial by the Lord in the Day of Judgment; they will have to assume responsibility for acts committed against their conscience that will make their next life miserable.
As a matter of fact, it is not something very difficult to do to say “no” to the authoritarianism as Zhao Ziyang did, provided you do not set great store by wealth and rank and do not cling to the power in your hand. There is an ancient saying: A gentleman is selective about what kind of things he will do and he will not do. In my view, “selective about what kind of things he will do and he will not do” means that a person must have the courage to do things that are in line with the moral principle and refuse to do those that run counter to moral principles, even if it means sacrificing his own life or his happiness. What was called “sacrificing one’s life to preserve one’s virtue” and “laying down one’s life for a just cause” precisely refers to this kind of circumstances. “A gentleman is selective about what kind of things he will not do” refers to a person refusing to do things that clearly runs counter to moral principles. The saying, “Wealth and rank unjustly obtained are like floating clouds to me,” precisely refers to this kind of circumstances.
Obviously, being “selective about what kind of things a gentleman will do” refers to a higher moral ground, which is difficult to take for ordinary people. Only those with lofty ideals who truly hold themselves accountable to the country, the nation, and the people are able to do that. We cannot place our hopes of doing this on ordinary persons, nor should we put this demand on them. On the other hand, “refraining from doing some things in order to be able to do other things” is fairly basic moral requirement that can be met by an ordinary person. Fulfilling this requirement will not bring them unbearable consequences. Thus, in my view, by failing to vigorously stopping the outbreak of violence 20 years ago, as Yeltsin had done, Zhao Ziyang’s action could not be called lofty at a high standard, yet his refusal to collaborate in the violence nevertheless demonstrated his basic moral character and good conscience. Yeltsin’s performance is difficult for other people to follow, whereas Zhao Ziyang’s attitude can be easily adopted by most people.
Therefore in this sense, Zhao Ziyang’s model of behavior could become a more effective means to causing the collapse of an authoritarian rule. As a result of this awareness, in modern democratic movement and in the struggle against an authoritarian rule, it is not necessary to encourage everyone to take up the arms to march bravely ahead at the risk of being put into prison and without any thought of turning back; it is only necessary to encourage people to live truly like a citizen, a real person. So long as the great majority of the people abide by their own conscience, uphold their basic morality and faith, reject things that are clearly evil, adopt an uncooperative attitude toward the violent authoritarian rule, the authoritarian rule as an obvious evil would not be able to exist for an extended period. This kind of attitude of saying “no” to the authoritarian rule reflects the spirit of the citizens’ refusal to cooperate with the authoritarian ruler, which is the most effective way to causing the collapse of the authoritarian rule. It is also the most profound and most important meaning of the brave action taken by Zhao Ziyang back then.
Mr. Ziyang has left us for almost five years. We can, by reflecting on the Zhao Ziyang phenomenon, draw a lot of benefits from the rich political legacy he left us. Although he was a member of the CPC, he acted more like a citizen and a real person at the most crucial moment. Within the ranks of the CPC, which has been stressing politics and party spirit, he ended up becoming an alien. Thus, even though the prospects of China’s freedom and democracy look impossible to fulfill in the foreseeable future, I am still full of hope about China’s future. I believe human nature is omnipresent. I believe people’s pursuit of justice and things beautiful will never end. This is why I believe that there will always be people like Zhao Ziyang emerging in large numbers within the ranks of the CPC.
Written at Baisheng Jiayuan in Suining, Sichuan on 20 October 2009