Persian Xiaozhao: The “Grey Crowd” That Suddenly Became Interested in Democracy

picture-2 Shanghai-based blogger Persian Xiaozhao published this post on March 10, 2009 on her second Sohu blog (the first one was censored on Jan. 13, 2009, after her article: “I Signed My Name After a Good Cry”).

On March 13, Xiaozhao found that her second blog on had been censored once again, and that her email address was blocked from registering another blog on the webhost. She moved her blog to another blog hosting service, and continued her blogging there. The following is one of her posts, translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan:

David is an American friend of mine. He is from the West Coast. Eric is David’s friend. He once worked in Shanghai, and might be on a flight back to the U.S. right now.

“Eric has talked about you with his friends and introduced your articles to them. They also talked about Charter 08. He said that his friends suddenly became interested in the topic of democracy, ” David said to me one day.

I supposed Eric’s friends were Americans. “They’ve suddenly got interested? Ha, of course you people who live in a democracy normally don’t pay attention to this issue. Only those of us who don’t have freedom yet care a lot about freedom and democracy, ” I said.

“I believe that a majority of residents in Shanghai will support you!” David said.

I didn’t think I could be sure about that. The residents of Shanghai never expressed that to me. “We are like actors playing a show on a stage, for the sake of our own country. You foreigners are able to just sit in the audience and watch,” I said to a sympathetic David.

“No!” David said, trying to correct me, “His [Eric’s] friends are Chinese. At first, they didn’t care about politics and had never heard of Charter 08.”

Oh, you were talking about Eric’s coworkers in Shanghai, I finally realized. Did you say that those “white-collar” workers, employed by foreign-investment companies and indifferent to public issues, “suddenly” started to pay attention to China’s democracy issues? That’s interesting.

I wondered whether they really did not care about democracy at all in the past, but then suddenly became interested in it. Maybe. But maybe not.

During my interview with a foreign newspaper a while ago, I said to an American reporter, “We Chinese know from childhood which things we should talk about, and which things we shouldn’t. If we say things we are not supposed to, we know this will cause trouble. ” The reporter’s assistant was a Chinese girl born after the 1980s. She nodded immediately at my words, saying “Yes, me too. I have known that since childhood.”

Fear has become an instinct for us who live in this kind of environment. Because of fear, many people have never dared to “show” their care for public affairs, or for their freedom and rights. Thus you see a vast crowd of expressionless and apathetic Chinese who seem to care for nothing else in the world outside of three meals in a day or clothes for the four seasons. Can you discern what’s on their minds? No, you can’t.

There are some people who have openly expressed their support for democracy in China, including well-known ones such as Liu Xiaobo, Ran Yunfei, Fu Guoyong, as well as obsure ones such as me and my blogging friends. There are also some people who have openly expressed their voices against a democracy. These are mostly officials who try to maintain the status quo and scholars who depend on the state for their livelihood, as well as some leftist intellectuals who want the nation to return to the Maoist era.

In fact, these two groups of people account for only a small percentage of China’s total population. Many more people in China have never expressed their political opinions “publicly.” They have never showed any political inclinations. I regard these people as the “grey crowd.” Their faces seem blurry, their opinions blank, and their voices silent. They account for the overwhelming majority of Chinese people — those working in office buildings, laboring at noisy factories, toiling on vast fields, bustling in and out shops, or even hiding in a shed beside garbage heaps. You can see them walking on the streets everyday, but you never know what they are thinking about. There are no visible signs that betray their thoughts.

They will shock you once they start to express their opinions.

Because the number of people who openly support democracy or oppose it is relatively small, the “grey crowd” is the deciding factor. The side on which they stand could have the say. People on both sides of the democracy issue understand this. But they use very different means to win the hearts and minds of the “grey crowd.”

I have reasons to believe that the vast majority of the the grey crowd is inclined to support democracy. This is self-evident. If we just consider each person’s needs and human nature, it is clear that only a democratic system could maximally ensure the protection of people’s rights and interests. Marie Holzman, a French sinologist who was recently honored with a national medal, said, “When I arrived in China in 1975, I immediately realized that the country would get democracy some day in the future because I found out that the basic needs of the Chinese people are exactly the same as those of us French.” What she pointed out is the psychological foundation which underlies the phenomenon represented by the aforementioned Chinese coworkers who “suddenly” became interested in democracy.

At present, the anti-democracy forces in China primarily resort to lies and violence [for their cause]. They conceal reality with lies, making claims such as “The human rights situation in China is five times better than that in the U.S.,” “China’s Internet is completely free”, “Lin Jiaxiang is a good comrade,” etc. They covered up earthquakes, poisonous milk incidents, “fart people” and other scandals. They punished people like Hu Jia, Chen Guangcheng, and Liu Xiaobo by force, in order to scare the grey crowd. These punishments were secret, because they could not be exposed by the daylight. They pretend that they promote democracy when they crush democratic movements, because the general public supports democracy. They know that they are not able to win the support of the grey crowd. Thus they take every means to prevent the grey crowd from joining the pro-democracy force.

People on the pro-democracy side use truth and courage to advance their cause. They record the real stories taking place on this land with words and photos. They question official “pretty” statistics by marshalling strong evidence. They defend the rights and interests of ordinary citizens with the law. They set an example for others with their courage … As American President Obama said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” We can say that those Chinese who pursue democracy are standing on “the right side of history.”

Some of my friends are rather pessimistic. They lamented that “the bright future is nowhere to be seen and the road ahead is long and arduous” when they see that the government strikes the opponents of democracy one by one, and that the grey crowd seems to be always silent with no signs of awakening. However, I am an optimistic person. I am full of hope for the future. My heart is filled with warmth when I look towards the fuzzy greyish crowd. I know that they will open their eyes one day in the future.

I would like to share with you a few paragraphs from an article entitled “Enlightenment from Flamingos” that I read in Reader Magazine the other day:

I recently received some enlightenment from flamingos. These elegant birds gather in groups of thousands or more (on a lake). When the time for migration comes, a small number of the flamingos would often take the lead to rise away from the lake and start the prelude of migration. However, it seemed as if the other flamingos did not notice them. Then the small group of the birds would fly back to the lake.

The forerunner minority would continue trying the second day. More flamingos would follow them this time. But a majority of the flamingos would still pay no attention. The pioneers would go back again.

These kinds of attempts would take place for several more days. Each time, more flamingos would join in the army of flying birds. But the plan for migration is repeatedly postponed because a majority of the birds remain ignorant.

However, the situation finally changes on one day. The pioneering flamingos flap their wings once again. A small group of the birds follow them. The ones that fly away from the lake are still a minority, but their action has made a decisive difference. Eventually the whole crowd of the flamingos rise to the sky and the massive migration starts. What a spectacular scene — thousands of flamingos soaring into the clouds!

A minority of people can indeed change the world. All the major problems of the world were solved by a small group of people who made persistent efforts.

Yes, those people in China who openly express their democratic ideas are the “pioneering flamingos.” They keep on flying, trying, and never stop.

Do not dismiss us as weak. Do not be disappointed by the indifferent grey crowd. I myself was one among the crowd just a few years ago. At that time I bent on writing about the Yue operas and my favorite stars endlessly, and did not show any interest in any political topics. The opera fans who read my articles in the past could not have imagined that I would suddenly change my interest one day. I have looked beyond the little stage of Yue Opera to the huge stage of China’s [political future].

I once was a flamingo who slouchingly floated on a lake. I was unstirred while others tried to take flight. But suddenly, there came a day that I flapped my wings and rose above the water, and joined the procession of pioneering flamingos.

The big migration is about to start. I have known this since long ago. I decided to fly.

The flapping of my wings inevitably stirred the air and disturbed others. My humble article “I Signed My Name After a Good Cry” caught David’s attention through the translation of China Digital Times. David introduced it to Eric, and Eric introduced it to his coworkers in Shanghai. Thus a few more in the grey crowd started to look up and saw the birds flying in the sky, and “suddenly” began to pay attention to democratic issues.

Was it just something sudden? No — it was inevitable.

Read more articles by Persian Xiaozhao, please click here.







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