On March 28, Chengdu-based environmentalist, writer and former editor of Literati magazine (文化人) magazine Tan Zuoren (谭作人) was detained on allegations of subversion of state power.
Tan’s crime? The following is from a Reuters report:
In town after town in Sichuan province, schools collapsed during the May 12, 2008 earthquake, in some cases as residential buildings around them stayed standing. Over 80,000 people were killed in the earthquake, but the government has never released the number of children who died.
Tan Zuoren wrote a proposal this year, called “5.12 Student Archive”, to ask web users and people who lost their children in the quake to help set up a detailed database of the victims.
He asked volunteers in the project to also compile any evidence of shoddy construction at the schools.
On April 11, Cui Weiping (崔卫平), professor at the Beijing Film Academy, published a post on her Sina blog, entitled “Self-initiated and Idealistic Thinking and Action – dedicated to Mr. Tan Zuoren,” excerpts translated by CDT (thanks to Dimon Liu for the title translation) :
… My thoughts are with Mr. Tan Zuoren in Sichuan. The veteran environmental activist has taken part in public interest events with local citizens many times. For that he has been “repeatedly warned” by relevant departments (Xiao Xuehui’s article has details). After the earthquake, he rushed to the worst-hit areas with friends as soon as possible, to provide relief materials to the refugees and to start investigating the collapsed school buildings and the number of students killed. His essay written 100 days after the tremor had this line – “I’d like to devote my sinful being to you, innocent children taken away by the 5.12 earthquake.” It was such a sincere statement and a willingness to shoulder responsibility. People like him would have been called “righteous men” in ancient China and his act a “righteous act.” But this great “righteous man” was escorted away by police on March 28 and has not returned ever since. “The crime of ‘dianfu’, do you believe it?” Xiao Xuehui asked in her article. Xiao herself is a remarkable woman in Sichuan. It’s so ingenious of her to invent such a new term as “dianfu zui,” a homonym for “the crime of subversion” which actually means “the crime of advance payment.”
I don’t believe it, absolutely not. I don’t believe this father of two would have done anything to harm his compatriots and our society! Anyone can reach this conclusion from reading Tan’s essay written 100 days after the quake. I haven’t met Mr. Tan personally, but just before his detention I saw this life-hardened man in Ai Xiaoming’s latest documentary. In it Tan talked explicitly about the dangers he was facing. He mentioned the arrest of Huang Qi, who ran 64tianwang.com, for his efforts to help parents who lost their children in the quake defend their rights. He also mentioned Teacher Liu Shaokun from Guanghan Middle School, who was arrested by police when he told a group of intellectuals in Chengdu about what happened to teachers at the Beichuan Middle School. And then Tan said: “People say good things won’t happen more than three times. I’d like to be the third person (to be arrested).” The following words, which he said in front of Ai Xiaoming’s camera, make people feel a deep respect for him:
In the face of such a catastrophe of the world
If no one would speak out
And everybody behaves like a turtle with its head retracted into the shell
Then I think I’d better not meet people in the next three to five years
I will disappear from this world
I’ll be living in another society
When some time in the future
People have reflected deeply on this incident
And learn how to live as real human beings
Especially how to live as a Chinese
How to live as a Chinese against all odds
So many people died in the Beichuan earthquake
To be sentenced for this
To give away several years of my life
Such a price
I feel, is worth it
Such people are the backbone of our nation, the salt and calcium of our nation, the foundation of the reconstruction of our nation’s morals and the starting point of our nation’s spiritual rebuilding. To incarcerate such people is tantamount to confining the conscience of our nation!
April 9, 2009
* Professor Ai Xiaoming of Guangzhou based Sat Yat-Sen University just published a long blog post (in Chinese): Tan Zuoren: A Good Man from Sichuan.
* Online interview with Tan Zuoren at Vimeo.com, about the Sichuan earthquake
* “Our Land is Under Seige,” Tan Zuoren, Human Rights in China, 2006