During Mother’s Day weekend on May 10th, a number of intellectuals in Beijing organized a seminar discussing 20 years of the democracy movement in China. The seminar started with a moment of silence, paying tribute to the Tiananmen Mothers.
Why do we need to talk about June 4th? A paper for 2009 Beijing June 4th Democratic Movement Seminar
Below is a letter I wrote to a friend ten years ago. I was trying to communicate my point to him: We have kept silent about June 4th collectively for such a long time that we are actually participating in concealing this crime. Such a practice has made each one of us somewhat responsible for the problem.
The consequences of this kind of silence are incalculable. The fact that we skirted around the issue implies that we have adopted a similar attitude towards other issues. Therefore, how could we evaluate our work, our words, and various achievements we’ve made? How could we testify to others that our mind is honest and our words are truthful and reliable?
On the 20th anniversary of June 4th, 1989, I’d like to publicize the letter, and raise this question to all my friends: What kind of negative impact has it had on our society for us to keep silent and to conceal the event for two decades? How has it harmed the spirit and morality of this nation? What kind of losses have we suffered in our own work and life? Are we still intending to continue this silence?
If the situation remains the same for another ten years, June 4th will no longer be a crime that was committed by a small group of people, but one that we all participated in. It will become a shame on all of us. We, especially the elites from all walks of life in this nation, should take primary responsibility for the problem. Let our conscience speak. It’s the beginning point for us to rebuild the morality of our nation and to rebuild our society.
May 9, 2009
It has been a full decade that all of us remained silent on the issue. We didn’t talk about it on any occasion, not even on private ones. I myself was no exception. Obviously there were many good reasons for this. At least people believe that we refrain from talking about it in order to engage in other things, which are also meaningful. It is indeed the case. We have made remarkable progress culturally and intellectually in the past years. If we look back on the 80s once in a while, we feel very strongly that people nowadays have broader horizons, clearer minds, richer resources, and are better grounded in making more achievements.
Exactly because of this, we need to consider how we should continue on this path of progress. How can we prove that the words we write convey truth and real meaning? If what we write and what we say have no links or comparison to any actual behavior, how is it possible for us to properly assess our work, especially when such a huge secret is concealed in our life?
Since it has existed for so long, this tremendous secret has become a huge emptiness. People try to avoid it, shun it, and act carefully not to face it. Having acquired such a habit, are we also shunning real problems in other areas? When we give up our insistence on this issue, are we giving up many other things that are valuable and meaningful at the same time? How many possibilities and realities we have lost that we could have possessed? Is our mind really as liberal and open as we believe it to be? Are our words truly honest and real? Under these circumstances, how can we declare that a particular viewpoint is truly our own?
This secret is actually like a poison that has contaminated the air we breathe and our whole life and spirit. When we choose to release our energy on the things that face the least opposition, we are actually forced to participate in concealing truth. We are forced to be aligned with the government and to take part in their power game. When we say that we did not cause the bloody crime to take place ten years ago, the fact that we did not say a word about it over the past ten years has made us somewhat responsible for the problem. It was not us, but some other people, that inflicted suffering on the victims and their family members. However, don’t we need to shoulder a little bit of responsibility towards them as well, because they are still being isolated from the general public, and their faces and voices are not known to us?
To allow such a hole to exist in our lives has made our ethics blurry and problematic to a large degree. When we give up our ground on commenting on this issue (even if it’s temporary), we have given up our ground on making comments on many other things, or we have made our grounds ambiguous. Thus those things that act as pillars of our life become dubious. The bottom line of our existence has been attacked or shaken. Our own dignity has been severely challenged.
It’s humiliating for us to be forced to be silent for ten years. Our life and spirit have been imprinted with this humiliation. Sometimes we have to suffer disgrace and insults (to carry on our life and work). However, it can not be too long, because our endurance has a limit, beyond which things will be changed beyond recognition. Our spirit and life could be expelled into an empty state. I can say without exaggeration that we are faced with such a danger currently. How can we continue to take a step forward? How can we do some truly constructive work, instead of just mentioning certain things? To put it simply, even if there were adequate reasons for us to avoid talking about June 4th for a whole decade, we can not continue doing this. There is no more reason for it. We have to take responsibility for the things we bear for the past ten years, and to prevent the harm of emptiness from affecting our own lives.
In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov eventually realized that he had nothing real to say to his family and friends if he did not talk about the murder. Without the confession all he said would just be lies and cover-ups. Although we are not like Raskolnikov and we do not have blood on our hands, we have come to the point of time that the things accumulated in the past decade’s silence are prompting us to talk about June 4th. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to save our life and dignity, not to mention spiritual freedom and creation.
Apparently I am not talking about this just for the sake of ourselves. We would find that violence is prevalent across the country if we paid a little bit of attention to reality and read the newspapers. I can’t help but thinking that all the violence is directly or indirectly related to that massive violence. That kind of blatant violence once took place on this land of ours, and at the “heart” of this land. The beliefs and demands of innocent young people and a large number of the general public were brutally trampled on. And no justifiable assessment has been made of it so far. Those who used violence in broad daylight are free from punishment and continue to ride roughshod over the people. In fact this is equal to encouraging crime and violent behavior throughout society.
If we do not change and put limits on such massive violence, how are we able to stop the subsequent lesser violence that takes place on every corner and at any time in the country? It’s hard to calculate how many people were the victims of the violence that suddenly skyrocketed in the past decade. It’s also hard to estimate how many people, those who have witnessed or suffered violence surrounding them, are gradually losing their confidence and principles in life, falling into numbness and apathy, and feeling that their own safety is extremely fragile. Who can guarantee that similar horrible violence will not fall upon himself some day in future?
Havel once pointed out far-sightedly that certain delays (on solving problems) would cause unimaginable consequences. The extra burden came into being because of long-term suppression of the resentment, anger, mutual hostility, and hatred accumulated in people’s mind and spirit, including the urge to seek a target for revenge. A full decade has passed (it’s been more than 10 years, actually), how far has our life slid? How many chances have we lost that we could have taken hold of? Are we even able to find some basic beginning point, to draw some basic lines, and to clarify the waters that have been made muddy for so many years? How many years will it take for us to make the effort to have it happen? Look at the people around us; we could easily feel their passive, negative, and depressed emotions caused by years of humiliation. Often because of a lack of a proper target to release those emotions, people become easily angered about something else. It’s because they are not able to talk about the matter, the one thing that underlies all those problems. We have paid enough of a price for so long for this.
I myself have never put aside the belief that the primary duty of intellectuals is to promote civilization and creation, and to create building blocks for the edifice of human spiritual civilization. Of course it requires many conditions, and requires other people’s work as stepping stones. To a large extent, we have sufficient reason to focus our work on our professional fields and make remarkable progress in them. However, in China’s current circumstances there has not been a healthy and civilized environment for the free-spirited creation and cultural development in the real sense. Perhaps each one of us needs to take some responsibility to clear and rebuild this environment, especially when it comes to the point that it obstructs the further development of our spirit and culture. By nature we all tend to do nothing ourselves but reap the profits made by others, but now it has become totally impossible for us to expect so. What we desire has come too late, and it will never happen out of the blue. We either have to endure the weakening and impairment of our spirit and soul caused by the awkward situation until we are atrophied and paralyzed, or we stand up, speak the truth, take back our dignity as human beings, and create a civilized environment that’s conducive to the development of civilization.
Please consider whether my opinions are proper or not.
May 18, 1999