See Professor Geremie Barmé’s translation of Xu Zhangrun’s article on the China Heritage website at http://chinaheritage.net/journal/and-teachers-then-they-just-do-their-thing/
“Whoever Heard of a Teacher Who Doesn’t Speak?”
Xu Zhangrun: Having dedicated myself to a teaching career, I have to repeat what Hu Shih said eighty years ago, “Whoever heard of a teacher who doesn’t speak?” People must be allowed to hear what is said. This is the only way that we can have dialogue and conversation and be allowed the public spaces that enable us to preserve our humanity.
Published November 6, 2018 on the Financial Times’s Chinese language website at http://www.ftchinese.com/story/001080109?full=y
Xu Zhangrun 许章润
Classes for Executive MBA students at the School of Economics and Management have begun. Student had searched on China’s Baidu search engine, hoping to learn something about their instructors and what they had written that related to course topics. Comparing them with the students of a decade ago, today’s executive MBA students average over forty years of age. These men and women are energetic eager to learn.
According my friend Professor Donald Clarke, as of July 29, 2018, hundreds of thousands of hits that would have come up on a Baidu search on my name had been deleted. Only a dozen or so remained. In the three months since, there have been another bashful twenty or thirty more, mostly incidental mentions in news reports. And so a normal search really wouldn’t come up with anything at all.
What was behind this? The only thing I can come up with is the article I wrote towards the end of July this year entitled “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” [translated in full with commentary on the China Heritage website] that reflected my concerns about the present and great anxiety about what it means for the future. Emotions come whether we want them or not and our words manifest our feelings and will reveal themselves in the end. I know this well and have the guts to make a stand. I have prepared myself mentally for what may come of it. Therefore I don’t worry about the deleted items and the blocking of searches on my name. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” I say. So I can’t get all worked up about it.
They copy the laws of the tyrannical Qin dynasty: the new aristocrats picking up tricks from the old. Two thousand years have passed since those days. There should be some difference between what went before and what came later, but really there hasn’t been any progress at all. It is all just a matter of making people shut up. No surprise there.
When Economics and Management School students told me about his, I checked Baidu myself and found that there are still thousands of articles about all those high-ranking officials who have “fallen off their horses” in recent years, such as Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Lu Wei and “Qi Gong Master Wang Lin”. There are more hits on the so-called “Gang of Four”, that evil four-player cabal, than there are droplets on the seas on pebbles on the mountains. There is just all kinds of stuff, both fake and factual, that give the readers something of an opportunity to parse historical truth for themselves.
More important, the articles about these people show from different perspectives, of admiration or of condemnation, the soul-twisting institutionalized evils of our own glorious era. These articles reveal to their countless readers the cruelties and weird paradoxes of history. As tiny driblets of lessons merge from countless stories into a mighty current, they become a moral resource fortifying people who will need the strength to prevent the repetition of these tragedies. Not merely to resist particular instances of arbitrary decisions but all of them, to resist all arbitrary decisions.
The past is never quite over. All these learned facts may crystallize a rational intelligence in individuals that in turn may come to synthesize a rational spirit in the public at large. A rational spirit that spotlights common sense and in particular draws attention to whatever is weak or dark in human nature. A rational spirit that protects human society without which we cannot live even for a short while.
All this matters not only for people who read the Chinese language but for the entire world. This affects first of all the Chinese-speaking world. If this were truly self-evident, then the Internet will open up to all, its waters would not be fouled, and my nation and my people would be invigorated.
One of the terms applied to the “Gang of Four” echoes the verdict of the Chinese Communist Party that accused them of “bringing calamities on the country and the people” and that their crimes were “countless”. All this brings to mind some frightening days of my childhood and the scary days that followed of big show trials while millions of people held their collective breaths. One feels joy more intensely for having known great sorrow so I truly do appreciate that we are not living in a time that, like those frantic days, in which the waves of the class struggle swept over us, “each wave higher than the last”.
They “brought calamities upon our country and our people” and committed “countless crimes”. There are still tens of thousands of articles online that depict their lives, lists their actions, and even publishing their writings online. I have been a teacher for the past thirty years, and, although I have striven to make a decent living, I have also been “fighting on the front lines of education”. Why would there ever be any reason to erase me from the Internet? What indeed could be the reason unless someone thinks that somehow by doing this I could simply be evaporated out of this world.
The only explanation I can think of is that somehow we who make our career in education, we people who don’t like to fight and have no weapons at all, are even worse than that “Gang of Four” that “brought calamities upon the country and its people.”
Once a secretary wrote a draft speech and an official delivered it. The joke goes that in the draft there was a that was a mistake on the last page. Due to a printing error, an auxiliary particle and question mark “me-?” were printed at the bottom of the page. When the official read that page, looked down at his audience, and after a moment, turned the page and read it with as a question and an emphatic tone that gave his audience the impression that he was saying “Zhou Yongkang / Wu Yongkang / Zheng Yongkang / Wang Yongkang / Sima Yongkang were not bad people???
Inspired by this official’s example, I must too make a sentence for myself.
“Am I not worse than the Gang of Four?”
Now we are in the windy season. They want to make everybody shut up. All I can do is go along. What a foolish and idiotic situation! After all, teaching has been my life’s work. Just as that gentleman said over 80 years ago, “Whoever heard of a teacher who doesn’t speak?!” If they speak people must be allowed to hear them. That is the only way to have dialogue and conversation. We need to step out of our solitudes and create public spaces so that we can hold on to our humanity. Moreover, it is the very existence of public spaces, and only the existence of those public spaces, that can make us free. That is why this is so important.
How could we ever pretend ignorance of that monstrous spirit that bans mention of us from the Internet and forces us to have no alternative but to use Baidu?
How can this not leave marks on my heart?!
I do not hate those who, on behalf of the abusers, carry out orders to delete or block information and especially not for those who give orders to implement these policies. I can only sympathize with them.
I would just say to those very talented young people, why not get out of this dirty business and find a better job?
We don’t realize it but we are all of us caught together in the same dark nether-world. There is only one way we’ll be able to get through its many difficult and narrow passages and be rescued. We will do that by walking together hand-in-hand in sympathy and understanding.
The predicament of our country stirs deep feelings of love for China and worries about its future. Both the sword and the zither are busy these days. The coming of autumn brings a rush of emotions. For myself, I am not greedy – one scoop of water from the many rivers is enough for me.
My friends, what a wonderful world it is that we live in.
Hu Shih’s poem remembered 80 years later
The title of the article is inspired by Hu Shih’s doggerel poem. The fashion at the time was to write fancy literary poems that peasants wouldn’t understand. Hu Shih much preferred writing much closer to popular speech.
At the meeting, Hu Shih’s friend, the Dongfang Ribao newspaper editor Hu Jianzhong, dashed off doggerel at a 1937 conference at Lushan that poked fun at the speakers at the conference who were repeating the same worn out phrases at that very dangerous time.
The conference was held in 1937 just before the outbreak of war with Japan.
The first there speakers were
- Republic of China President Chiang Kai-shek
- Wang Jingwei
- Hu Shih
In the sweltering heat a grand gathering opened in Lushan,
Famed scholars from the eight points of the compass all struggled upstream to attend.
Our country’s scholars truly have vast knowledge
One after another, they argue passionately their outmoded views!
Feeling the same way, Hu Shih wrote his own doggerel in response:
Was there ever cat in heat that did not yowl in the Spring?
Was there ever a cicada that did not chirp in the Summer?
Was there ever a frog that did not croak at night?
Was there ever a teacher who did not speak?
Hu Shih’s doggerel was later published shortly thereafter in the official KMT newspaper the Central Daily News. The story goes that as Chiang Kai-shek’s secretary told the story, “the old man just laughed and laughed” even though CKS was not known for his sense of humor. Later that July when Zhou Enlai came to Lushan as head of a Communist Party delegation for talks with CKS, he ran into Hu Jiangzhong, Hu Shih’s poem came up. Hu Jianzhong said that the poem won a big laugh from Zhou Enlai.