Li Chengpeng: We Are All Shareholders of Our Country

In late April, a laid-off worker named Liu Ping announced her candidacy for the local People’s Congress elections in her city in Jiangxi. Subsequently, a number of bloggers and microbloggers took to social media sites in China to do the same. As David Bandurski points out at China Media Project, these local elections are, in theory, open to the public. But in reality they are tightly managed by the Communist Party. While the government has made an effort to rein them in, they are continuing.

This movement was galvanized when popular author and blogger Li Chengpeng announced his candidacy for elections in Chengdu. Li Chengpeng, born in 1968, is a former soccer commentator and an author who has become a popular blogger with over three million followers on Sina Weibo. In 2008, he traveled to the Sichuan earthquake region as a volunteer and wrote an essay titled, The True Story of the Miracle Survival of the Students and Teachers of Longhan Elementary School in Beichuan. He recently published a novel that took a critical look at forced demolitions in China. A number of prominent cultural figures, writers, and academics have endorsed his candidacy including blogger Han Han, film director Feng Xiaogang, and legal scholars Yu Jianrong and He Weifang.

Li Chengpeng wrote the following blog post in response to an editorial in Global Times about the independent candidate movement. Translated by CDT:

I have been asked why I am running for the local people’s congress election. And here I reply:

I know there has been a sky-high “Wall” in this village, but no one knows how it was on the other side of the “Wall”. Some tried to walk around for three days but still could not find where it ended, so they gave up. Some walked for a whole week and ended up starving to death. Some walked for three months and never came back again. Since then everyone agreed that the “Wall” is unbreakable. They believed it would be foolish to attempt to do so, and whoever mentioned it would be punished. But I am wondering if we have kept trying, we could have found the secret of the “Wall”–the reason why we have never gotten out is probably because this “Wall” is built as a big circle to keep everyone in. Of course, I cannot prove my point, although I am willing to walk through the “Wall”. Even if I may end up learning that our homeland is merely a big circle of “Wall”, I will at least know that it’s not that the “Wall” is unbreakable but that no one tried to look at it from a different direction. The next thing we may need to consider is opening a window on the “Wall”–no matter whether there will be grassland or landfill on the other side.

I just cannot help but wonder how it looks on the other side. That’s it.

But I have also heard that after years of oppression, our village people are no longer interested in what is happening on the other side of the “Wall”. The unreasonable is then accepted and the evil is tolerated. Silence became a part of the unreasonable. However, I think it is unfair to call us “the silent majority”–you do not hear us because you do not come down and listen.

I visited some families in my neighborhood a few days ago. The 80-year-old teacher Lai was very alert at the beginning and kept saying things like “thanks to the Chinese Communist Party and the country,” “we need to understand the difficulties that our government is going through,” and “our life quality has been very good.” It made me ashamed of myself because I felt like I was trying to turn him into a rebel. But as the conversation went on, he suddenly mentioned that unlike Guangzhou, where anyone can call for paramedics right away when needed, the medical facilities in his neighborhood are too out-of-date and unprepared for emergencies particularly for the elderly at home alone. I later learned that there is a emergency-response system called “Safe Bell” in some cities–what one needs to do in case of emergency is just to press the “bell” so hospitals and paramedics will be immediately notified. This system seems to be a good model for our neighborhood, although we can only rely on ourselves instead of the local government, since they are too busy to care–they still have so much fine wine to drink and so much land to sell out

Liu, whose family financial situation is above average in the neighborhood, told me a story about household registration. His daughter married a German guy, and the couple wanted their newborn baby to be a Chinese citizen as a way to remember their roots. However, the relevant department officials told us that the couple did not report it in advance, so there would be no newborn household quota for this baby–which means the kid needs to obtain German citizenship instead. Liu replied: “We went there because we wanted to be patriotic. Why do we have to report to be patriotic? Family planning can even extend its reach all the way to Germany?”

Some said that special admission fees for better schools are so high that only kids from privileged families can afford them; some others said grocery markets were replaced by real estate projects, so the elderly have to walk a couple of miles to get groceries; some said that stability of the country depends on the stability of the elderly because every elderly person affects several voters… So as you can see, they are quite knowledgeable.

Some claim that Chinese do not deserve a democratic election. It reminds me of the fact that I used to consider myself an elite and liked to say things like they have been kneeling down for so long that they don’t remember the benefits of standing up. I thought what I said made me look cool and profound. But now I start to realize that they kneel down because the ceiling is too low; they have no choice. On the other hand, we kneel down as well–we just do that and pretend to be high-end. The reality is that if one has never tasted an apple, how can he/she have the knowledge of how good an apple can be? Once a person experiences the good taste of an apple, he/she will look forward to the sweet taste of all apples.

The day before yesterday, Aunt Shen from downstairs said to me sincerely: “For the past 11 years of living here, I had never seen a ballot before. I’m gonna support you and I’ll tell all of my Mahjong-mates to support you.” Thanks to all the elderly and our great Mahjong-mates. What a democratic game Mahjong is–although there must be people who cheat, it is nevertheless fair play by the majority instead of a planned resource-redistribution by the few. Some of my close friends have been skeptical of what we can achieve by participating in this election considering the current situation in China. My response to that is as least we can let many people see what a real ballot looks like for the first time. I’ve often heard people claiming they are Chinese citizens–but how can you prove it? A national identity card can only prove that the cooking knife belongs to you so it’ll be easier for the police to track you down for murder. A real estate title can only prove that you’ve rented the world’s most expensive but fragile housing. A birth certificate can only prove that you’ve been abandoned by the world’s largest human resource organization and need to pay high educational expenses, medical bills, and gas prices till the day you die. What? A death certificate? Sorry, but you can only rest (peacefully) underground for 20 years. You cannot prove you belong to this country for the 70 years you live above the ground, and you cannot even be a ghost of this country for 20 years of resting underground*.

So the only thing that proves you really are a Chinese citizen is the ballots that you fill out–it is the first time in your life that you can actually write down you are a “citizen of People’s Republic of China.” Otherwise, you’re a “Fart People” when Li Gang is coming, a trouble maker when the Urban Management Bureau is coming, a migrant when Three Gorges Dam is coming, a sufferers instead of fisherman when Poyang Lake Grassland is coming**. Luckily, our country is not quite like Somalia yet so you are not yet a refugee. I know there must be people being sophisticated and telling me not to be naive because the ballots in this country serve as mere decorations. Pretending to be naive may be immature, but pretending to be mature is even more naive. An anonymous Internet user has a very good point here: If you really perceive ballots as decorations, then they will be.

There has been some common doubts such as whether I would become muted out fear, whether I would be complicit in corruption, or whether I was just hyping this up for my own good. But I am very confused by those doubts: Why do you accuse me as being depraved when I watch porn at home, showing off when I buy a nice car using my hard-earned money, hyping up when I make donations, and hyping up in a more sophisticated way when I donate anonymously. You said it was useless for our country when I did nothing but write. But now when I finally decide to run for the election, you are saying that I am hyping things up. Why is that? It’ll be hype no matter what I do–even if I have no sex scandal nor lovechild nor am on the red carpet; all I did was to uncover the wrongdoing and a book on fighting against forced-home-demolition. And for some reason they both seem like hype for you as if I have no organs but only hype in my body. So why don’t you teach me, if you are so sure, a way of living without hyping things up so I don’t have to waste the rest of my life.

For many intellectuals, being detached seems to be an easy way out–as it does not bring danger caused by rebellion nor skepticism of being assimilated by the corrupted. In short, they prefer to straddle the fence and to swing around as they write, which makes them easily surpass both sides. Recently, reading history of the (pre-1949) Republic of China and the Xinhai Revolution has been quite popular, and many people have been praising Liang Qichao*** and criticizing the Boxer Rebellion. What is interesting here is that the past is reminiscent and being pro-Liang (meaning pro-moderate-reform) is the new retro, but when one is about to take action on reform in ways similar to what Liang did–which is to walk around the “Wall,” the person will have to face all the aforementioned criticism and accusations. Or maybe we should just have admitted what you said about us–that we would be muted, be complicit, or merely create hypes.

Of course, the aforementioned accusation or comments are mostly reasonable or even goodwill-based reminders. And I understand that under the current situation in China, it may be necessary to learn the rules to play. But the Global Times had an editorial yesterday warning that some may use their independent candidate identity to increase tension among people and confront the government. I was so shocked by the accusation that I wish I could use the most possibly exaggerated version of “shocking” to describe it. I briefly looked up the proposals from other independent candidates and found them all mild and harmless–if proposals on grocery stores, school bus safety issues, and increasing parking spots are considered as confrontation to the government, I have nothing else to say but to call you a running dog – I know you are eager to please your master, but don’t go overboard.

Ordinary residents really probably care less about global politics but more about things that are related to their daily lives. I have to tell the Ball Times [a play on Global Times] that there are not that many people trying to be confrontational–some of the seem-to-be rebels are merely seeking a better life. A party propaganda paper like you may do your work to guard the state, but please do not pretend to be heartbroken. You should not see so many of your imaginary enemies when you get out of bed in the morning, nor should you dream about being left on the grasslands with all your predators at night. Your genes are full of confrontation, which must be proven able to survive by smashing others. For this, you should not be named as Ball Times but Metal Ball Times.

Because our goal may only be reached gradually, I’d like to say a word to the other thirty independent candidates: “No matter whether we can achieve the election, we are always passionate but naive citizens who have tried to walk around the “Wall” for our beloved motherland. This is our contribution.” Some may argue that the kind of contribution we offer is worthless–but whose contribution has not been worthless for the past few decades?… Yu Jianrong has recently announced that he would officially be an election consultant of Tong Zongjin, Cheng Ping, and me. He called me a “celebrity,” but I didn’t like it. I replied to him through micro-blogging, “Don’t call me a celebrity; don’t call me an author.” It reminds me of many journalists’ headache-inducing question: Which identity does Li Chengpeng have? I don’t think I know the answer either, for I feel that I have lost myself behind the “Wall.” My Motherland–my mother: who am I, exactly?

My mom walked in and told me calmly: “You are my son, a shareholder of this country; you own one-1.3 billionth of this country.” My mom is awesome. Despite the criticism that many people have for me as merely being an individual investor who always gets stuck but never gained any dividend, I have finally come to realize and am eager to tell everyone that we are all shareholders of our country.

I’m on a flight to Beijing now. And no matter whether it’ll be rainy, windy, or sunny today, I want to say “Good morning” to all of the 1.3 billion shareholders of our country.

* Many cemeteries in various regions reportedly charge unreasonable maintenance fees after the first 20 years of use.

** Poyang Lake suffered severe drought earlier this year and was referred as Poyang Lake Grassland.

*** Liang is a moderate reformist and an advocate of constitutional monarchy during late Qing Dynasty.

Read profiles of LI Chengpeng on The Diplomat and Christian Science Monitor. See also an article from the Economist on the independent candidates’ movement, “Vote as I say.