Cheng Xingzhi (陈行之): If You Are Really Powerful, Why Do You Behave So Weakly?
What kind of contents the state censors are banning, and what kind of communities are under close surveillance can reveal a lot about today’s China. In the following post, Beijing-based writer Cheng Xingzhi 陈行之 gave his account of this topic, excerpts translated by CDT’s Lucy Lin:
Sometime last year, I registered on a Rusticated Youth website, set up my own home page, and, in accordance with the style of the website, selected a few essays that were simple and honest in content to post and exchange with other online Rusticated Youth friends. However, this kind of communication did not continue for too long, and I had no choice but to stop and quit the website. My essays did not contain any problems, but I realized from the announcements that the website continuously posted that it was not appropriate for me to start discussions on the website. Even though the website frequently gave me special treatment, I was still scared to cause trouble for them. The lengthy warning message the website posted shocked me. I had no idea that even the “Old Graduating Classes of 1966-68,”* community, which had already withdrawn from society, are also being strictly watched over and not permitted to say or do anything as they like. [*Translator’s note: The “Old Graduating Classes of 1966-68,” or laosanjie, refers to the students who could have graduated from middle school or high school between the years of 1966 to1968 had the Cultural Revolution not been launched in 1966.]
Below, I have compiled some of the warnings that were posted on the website, and I have copied them down word for word as follows:
– We have to remind all the users of the Rusticated Youth network servers out there to note that our forum has not yet received any kind of government examination or approval. The government prohibits publishing any politics and current affairs posts. Today, the administration discovered that sensitive politics and current affairs posts appeared on our website, and the server administrator once again received a warning to delete the post within a certain period of time. Even though the technician already promptly handled the matter today, to prevent the server from shutting down as a form of punishment, all websites should learn from the Hunan and Guangdong networks and strengthen internal oversight to put an end to the tabooed posts.
– For our friends from the Beijing network, we ask that you guys please take this matter very seriously. You guys are the Rusticated Youth of our capital, where information trickles down rapidly and politics and current affairs news is transmitted quickly. However, that does not conform to the rules set by our service administrator. No websites on the server can publish any kind of politics and current affairs posts, no matter if they are positive or negative in nature. Please refrain from forwarding these posts. Once some of the posts are forwarded, they become very troublesome. From now on, if such situations reappear at any website, we will first shut down the related websites and open them up again once the matter has been settled.
– There is no choice. The Hunan Rusticated Youth Network, in its efforts to prohibit all politics and current affairs posts, deleted a positive report on the September 18th Incident, which caused the biggest blow to the network since its establishment. As of now, the matter still has not subsided, and the misunderstanding has not been eliminated. Without any other alternatives, we recommend all websites to delete politics and current affairs posts and strictly prohibit the forwarding of posts, except those forwarded posts that involve Rusticated Youth or subjects revolving around everyday life.
– With no other alternatives, our slogan is now, “If you want to discuss topics on Rusticated Youth, please come in. If you want to discuss current political issues, please go to the Strong China Forum.” [Online forum run by the People's Daily]
– So the forum can survive, we request that everyone pay attention to this problem and refrain from posting discussions on politics and current affairs.
All these requests are out of goodwill, and you can probably even draw some comfort from them; however, if we redirect the force in these kinds of warnings toward the weak community of the “Old Graduate Classes of 1966-68,” then you would sense a kind of horrific fear—it is like a large animal with bright eyes and an imposing aura, keeping a close eye on those who already lost youthful years and only wanting to recollect the memories of the past or express its observations of the present lifestyle. It is as if it has faced a formidable foe, and if you say too much, then he will pounce on you with a growl to tear you apart!
Just let them tear you apart! Throughout the long course of history, were there so many people who were torn apart by them? The problem is that I am only one member of this community, and I am deeply aware that this entire generation has been poised and bewitched, deceived, ridiculed, and ravaged into what it has become today. Some of them have already passed away, unbeknownst to anyone, but for those who are still alive, what is wrong with saying a few more words? How come that is not tolerable?
At the commemorative gathering of the “40th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Beijing Rusticated Youth Movement at Yan’an,” a multitude of emotions swelled in my heart. One crude fact is that this community will soon disappear, and it will not leave behind any voice; it is going to disappear like someone who has experienced a rough life and is nearing his death without any more wishes or last words to anyone, all the while pursing his lips and watching this world fade away at that moment, fading away.
This is how the “Old Graduating Classes of 1966-68” would be put to an end.
[…[ Fear? Weakness? Strength?
CCTV’s screening of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech incited a lot of people to criticize and ridicule the institution [CCTV]. There is not much more to say, but there is one matter that is apparently somewhat related to this and thus still necessary to mention.
Fudan University professor Lin Xianghua had already translated Hannah Arendt’s famous book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, a long time ago, but its road towards publication in the country had been a bumpy one. Many publishing companies had rejected requests to publish the book because of the sensitive nature of the book’s contents. I had to actually use the Taiwanese edition of the book when I first read it. It wasn’t until last August when the Joint Publishing Company of Hong Kong (I pay tribute to the Joint Publishing Company of Hong Kong!) conjured up its courage for academia and accepted the request to publish the book so that domestic readers could have the opportunity to read this book that all people should read, whether or not they are living under totalitarian regimes.
This is also a trivial matter.
I have worked for publications my whole life, so I know that the higher department heads have a lot on their hands. They have to constantly rely on methods such as releasing documents (they later abandoned this method so as to not leave any leverage), making telephone calls, and holding “briefings” and “meet and greets” to strictly prohibit the publishing of certain books or books by certain authors. All publishing houses are work units within a system with no exceptions; in other words, they are work units that are restricted by the published disciplines set by the Party, so these kinds of documents and telephone calls usually contain frightening news and create a lot of psychological pressure for other people. There are very few people who can resist because the consequences for resisting are serious for those who are trying to make a living within the system. Looking at the people around me, I know that the president and editor-in-chief lost their positions because they did not enforce “strict enough political standards” for certain published materials. I myself have also experienced difficulties because whereas before, I had made it my priority to publish Li Peifu’s outstanding long novel, “The Sheep’s Door,” in the end, I had no choice but to go against my character and make a decision to “immediately stop sales and destroy all books that have already been published.”
In lieu of this, it should not be difficult for the reader to understand why I say that the problem facing the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism was a trivial matter because it was just following a precedent, nothing more.
We can consider all related events to derive their origins from fear. In that case, what are they actually afraid of in all these situations? Why do they immediately turn away when they see words such as “totalitarianism” or how Barack Obama equated communism with fascism? Even during the period when the Communist Party of China seized political power, why did they even fear that they could not avoid such ideals as freedom, democracy, anti-autocracy, anti-dictatorship, and anti-one-party system discussions—the ideals of the political party at the peak of its existence, a political promise to the entire Chinese population? Why do they fear any kind of descriptions about the “Anti-Rightists Movement,” “Proletariat Cultural Revolution,” “XX [June 4th] incident” (There is a document that provides that all publishing work units are prohibited from publishing anything that involves these subjects.)? Why do they always naively and stupidly use publicity mechanisms to make the poverty-stricken peasants and laid-off workers deeply grateful for the government? What do they want to conceal with these methods? In lieu of the person who said, “I cannot eat or sleep well while seeing that the ordinary people still cannot live comfortably” on CCTV’s “Son of the East” yesterday and as a result became someone who has corrupted several tens of millions of people overnight, who or what kind of organizational force caused these criminals to become “virtuous models” who preach to the people? Why do they always view everyone as their enemy and panic and fear the news media for investigating and exposing corruption scandals and corrupt government officials?
There are two ways to answer these questions. One is a theoretical way as outlined in On the Origins of Totalitarianism, The Road to Serfdom, The Open Society and its Enemies, A Theory of Justice, Declaration of Human Rights, and The Theory of Government; the other way is practical, namely to draw from our everyday lives and individual experiences and observe someone’s behavior patterns to find the answer.
The answer is extremely simple: All the fears this person has are innate. Fear of totalitarianism derives from the possession of explicit totalitarian characteristics; he fears people who discuss freedom and democracy because he rejects freedom and democracy; he fears that he had once shouted slogans such as “Oppose Autocracies,” and “Oppose One-Party Dictatorships,” because he has possessed autocracy and a one-party system; he fears any description of the “Anti-Rightists Movement,” “Proletariat Cultural Revolution” and “Tiananmen Square Incident” because he knows that any details of the incident would lead to accusations of crimes against humanity; he doesn’t mind that he has allowed poverty-stricken peasants and people in earthquake-stricken regions to be deeply grateful towards the government because poverty has fiercely swallowed up the lives of the ordinary people and there are still ghosts demanding the justice that had eluded them in those earthquake-stricken regions; he is always facing those embarrassing government officials who speak on the CCTV platform when they are actually corrupt and have committed terrible crimes because this political system entitles those in power to give orders to others, and the ordinary people are only the flock of sheep that have been let out for grazing; he guards against the news media as if everyone is his enemy to make sure it doesn’t expose corruption cases and corrupt officials because corruption has become the nature of this political system, and if this nature is eliminated, then the system will collapse, and everything that had been dependent on the system would become extinguished.
From this point of view, fear is weakness. Fear is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and it is not strong at all.
This person is definitely a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and he is no longer powerful.