I translated this 2010 online article by Chengdu writer Ran Yunfei 冉云飞 when I lived in Chengdu. Ran Yunfei’s writing cover a wide range of topics in literature, history, education and society. While he avoids direct commentary on Chinese politics, naturally as a moral person he finds it difficult to avoid the topic.
See for example,
- Ran Yunfei’s 2008 article in The Guardian “Reclaiming China’s rights” by Ran Yunfei in which he argues for the release of imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, an author of the ’08 Charter that called for constitutional reform in China.
- See also the August 10, 2011 New York Times Andrew Jacobs story “China Releases Dissident Blogger, With Conditions”
- Ian Johnson’s 2012 interview with Ran Yunfei for the New York Review of Books is entitled “How to Argue”
How I Lived My Life in the Year 2010 检讨我的2010年
by Ran Yunfei
I have the habit of writing a diary and a blog every day. It is how I record everything and practice my writing. What I write on my blog isn’t just for my own benefit. I also hope that it can also help society in some small way. I have no great political ambitions, my attitude towards politics is that of Mr. Hu Shi — “I don’t have any interest in being interested in politics.” I don’t have any moral scruples against getting involved in politics. I am just not interested in it personally. I don’t believe that politics is dirtier than other fields of human endeavor, assuming that the political system is a fairly good one.
In other words, what I like best is to read books, write, travel, drink wine, and enjoying myself — as I said once in an interview with a Danish television station, what I really want to be doing is not criticizing the government. In a free country I would happily spend my life in the library doing research. But I live in a country where I cannot in good conscience merely live such a a life. I feel that I have no alternative. I have to voice my criticisms of our messed up social reality. Otherwise I would be uneasy. I would not be able to sleep well. I would feel that I was not paying my dues.
Naturally, as I just said, my reason for criticizing the government and the system is to be a free person to fight for my own rights. That is, every individual has for the sake of their own rights both the duty and the motivation to criticize. We should not expect other to stand up and fight for our own rights. If you do not fight for your own rights, you have failed not only in your responsibility to take care of yourself, but have created serious problems for society for you have, as a human being, failed to fulfill your own responsibilities. The problem is that some people lack the ability to criticize the government and to protect their own rights. The root of the problem is the government’s practice of oppressing and deceiving the people. Therefore people who have been able to see this clearly and people who have a better than average education have out their own good conscience and feelings of obligation, to keep working towards the goal that every will awaken to the need of defending their rights and have the ability to do so.
I don’t want to claim that there is some moral superiority in my motivations. I don’t want to exaggerate my own efforts but neither do I want to understate them. I explained before why I put such great effort into criticizing social injustice. The reason lies in myself. If I do not criticize social injustice, if I do not fulfill all my responsibilities as a citizen, then I will be allowing injustice to spread. If I did not criticize social injustice, I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities as a citizen and as an intellectual. If I did not fulfill my responsibilities, I would be passing the buck to someone else. That would be taking advantage of someone else. That I cannot in good conscience do. Therefore, I often criticize social injustice, the bad points of the system, and the evils of the government for the sake of my own inner peace.
As one individual, I cannot change the state of this society. Even if this society becomes worse, I will still make my best efforts. That is why I, in a China beset by a multitude of problems, other people are anxious, sleepless and fearful while can I can stay relatively calm and composed. Therefore, in order to reduce my own anxieties, sleeplessness and worry as well as any moral qualms, I must fulfill all my responsibilities and not foist them on other people. Constructing a system of freedom and democracy is not doubt important and perhaps indeed the most important thing of all. However, if I were to make achieving democracy and freedom the the goal of my life, I am afraid I would just leave myself disillusioned and broken down.
That is why I admire the saying of Mr. Hu Shi “If I give my all each day, it would all have been worthwhile” [ 日拱一卒，功不唐捐] . Even if I work hard for it but never life to see the achievement of democracy and freedom, I will not have spent my life struggling in vain. It is just as Mr. Szeto Wah says, “I don’t have to achieve the success but the success must be in me.” I admire the epitaph of Mr. Liu Binyan: “The Chinese buried here spoke the truth and did his duty.” I believe that a person who, living under a dictatorship, can speak those words (or can win such praise) has achieved something wonderful. If such a person can have such a epitaph engraved on their memorial tablet, illuminating one’s lives still yet to come, that surely would be a great encouragement.
During 2010 I did a lot of different things but didn’t have any great achievements. I just left a little trace of my passage, really, nothing glorious that could inspire the efforts of others. I just hope to be able to keep it up. I work every day, doing to the best of my ability what I want to be doing. Most of the time I am able to live that way.
1. I write a blog entry each day. I keep on criticizing the realities of our society in order to carry out my ideal of constantly perfecting myself through “Giving my all each day, and not expecting to achieve anything right away”. Since I spent half of this year in the hospital, this year I wrote fewer blog entries than in any of the past six years. It has been 15 days since I last wrote a blog entry. I expect to do what I can and to help society in my own small way.
2. I keep a diary each day. I meet many different kinds of people, see much of human affairs and read many books, so each day I write them down and think about them so as to leave a little trace of my passage through this life. This gives me a lot to reflect on, remember, and discuss. It is quite useful.
3. I have benefited from the efforts of many NGOs and so I too participate in the little things they do to help society and to enlarge the space for civil society. I learn a lot from them. This not only helps me understand NGOs better but also to better understand the importance of NGOs in a normal society. As I have said, it is important that our society knows Hu Shi and Lu Xun but this is not enough. Society also needs to know about the work and efforts of people like Yan Yangqu and Tao Xingzhi who have enlarged the space for civil society. I hope that more Chinese intellectuals will get a better understanding of the essential role of NGOs in the transformation of Chinese society. They need to understand more than that NGOs have good people who do good works. That is why I have continued editing the “Civil Society and NGO Development Weekly”. Unfortunately thus far few people know about it.
4. I have been writing a history of a Buddhist temple from the perspective of economics, history and society “The Lungs of Old Sichuan: The Story of Daci Temple” (I didn’t discuss religious faith, firstly because I don’t understand much about it and secondly because it would be hard to write about religion and come up with anything original), which will be published next year. I also enjoying writing and researching ten long articles for the history portion of the Lonely Planet “Guide to Sichuan and Chongqing”
5. I continue to collect Chinese language teaching materials for the period 1900 – 2000. My collection of Tibetan language teaching materials has increased from several hundred to several thousand volumes. I completed the plan, rough outline and draft of my book “Changes in a Hundred Years of Chinese Language Teaching Materials”. This will be the foundation for this book which I expect to basically complete writing in 2011. I also made some preparations for editing this year four primary school Chinese language teaching materials for the Huacheng Publishing House.
6. I have edited the last six years of my blog entries into a two volume collection with the working title “China’s Ideological Revolt”. One volume has the working title “Chinese Bullets are Flying”. I did not finish editing these two volumes so that work will carry over into this year.
7. I read about 80 books and saw 50 movies. That is really no great number because I was preoccupied with many odd jobs and trivial tasks and was ill for two months.
My greatest joy this year was getting back in touch with friends I had lost touch with over the years. When my family hears about these things, they say that God on high must be looking out for me. I think this is true too so I will be reserved in my enjoyment of my good fortune. This is what I hope for this year:
1. I hope that my family with be health, safe and happy and especially that my daughter can get through her adolescence happily. I hope that I will be able to make up for lost time with those friends I had lost track of for many years and that we can spend more time together, come to understand one another better, love and help one another.
2. I hope that more people will be able to eat their fill and dress more warmly and comfortably. I hope that Chinese society will come to have a better conscience and that the breakdown of society will not get worse and worse.
3. I hope that my protruding lumbar vertebra problem will get better so that I will be able to complete my work in editing the four Chinese language teaching materials and the writing of the book “Changes in a Hundred Years of Chinese Language Teaching Materials”.
4. I hope that I will be able to use my knowledge and abilities to do more for the public good such as recommending books for organizations (I haven’t given up my task of helping with the Chinese Rural Library [立人乡村图书馆] , I am working on it now), help establish and make contributions to libraries (I have gotten a lot of help from nephew in this area), and the badly need cultural classes in many localities (last year Southern Weekend and the Bridgestone Corporation organized a “Rural Classes on Aesthetics” in which I enthusiastically participated, I gave a class on Du Fu in Kuizhou and assisted some others to my own great pleasure. I participated in those activities to the extent that they did not interfere with my life and work.
February 3, 2011 at 1403, the Lunar New Year in Chengdu.
冉云飞先生是当代中国的杰出的作家。 因为他的思想跟中国执政党不一致， 他成了一个思想犯。我看了他的博客，推特与他送给我他的一本书之后，我不理解他的思想犯罪在那里。他今年春节写这篇探讨他一年来的工作有可能提供大家一些线索帮助我么了解到他为什么他是个思想犯。我还没发现冉云飞是个思想犯的理由。所不定虽然我是从很远的地方来, 我还是读不了这里的神圣的文件。