Chai Jing (柴静): A Country We Can Be Proud Of

Recently, Chai Jing delivered a speech at the 2009 Beijing Journalists Assocation’s speech competition. Chai is a famous investigative reporter for CCTV, and also blogs regularly on, among other platforms.

Ten years ago, on a plane from Lhasa to Beijing, I sat next to a woman in her fifties. Thirty years ago, she left to aid Tibet. Now needing medical treatment, she left Tibet for Beijing for the first time. We were met with heavy rainfall as we deboarded, and I took her to a hotel in Beijing. After a week, I went to see her. She said she had received a definite diagnosis: late-stage stomach cancer. She pointed to a box on top of her bed and said, “If I am not able to go back, help keep this safe for me.” Inside were records of her thirty years’ worth of conversations over all parts of Tibet, with all kinds of officials, Han nationality people, lamas, and female escorts. She had no occupational identity and knew these things could not be released. She only said, “One hundred years from now, if people see this, they might know what today’s Tibet has become.” This woman’s surname was Xiong, one of Lhasa’s women teachers.

Five years ago, I interviewed someone. This person had purchased a 1.5 kuai bottle of water on the train, and then asked a train attendant for a receipt, to which the attendant replied, “We have never given out receipts on this train.” After that, this person sued the Ministry of Railroads and said “People in the face of greatness and power will always choose to obey. Today, if we give up a 1.5 kuai receipt, tomorrow we might give up our land rights, property rights, and our lives. If we do not struggle for our rights, our rights will only remain a sheet of paper.” He later won the lawsuit, and I thought there would be some hard feelings left between him and the Ministry of Railroads. The outcome was that when he later got on a train and ordered a meal from the dining car, the conductor personally brought the meal and said, “After you finish eating, I’ll come by again with something.” I asked him what he depended on in order to win respect, and he said he depended on the entirety of his struggle for rights. This person is Hao Jinsong, a 34-year-old lawyer.

Last year, I met someone; we ate lunch together. He was a male in his sixties, and spoke about an incident at Fengtai District where a primary school for migrant workers’ children was demolished. He spoke of the children leaning against the wall, crying. At this point in the story, he too was moved and took out a wrinkled blue handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his eyes. When he was 18-years-old, he was a brigade cashier, and later became a professor and then an official. He said that his objective in doing all of these things was to give a little back to peasants. During the interview, he talked about the problem of land confiscation, and giving nominal compensation but not [market] prices to peasants. This distribution mechanism was unfair, and it did not only appear in land management law, but also in a 1982 constitutional amendment. While this was being investigated, my superior told me that if my interviewee spoke more pointedly, we could broadcast it. I asked why, since my interviewee was especially sincere. This person is Chen Xiwen, head of the Central Leading Office on Financial and Economic Affairs.

Seven years ago, I interviewed an elderly person. I told him that he had already experienced so many setbacks in life, and asked what he depended on to retain the spirit of his youth. He told me that one year, he went to Hebei for an inspection. He did not take the rout arranged by local cadres. On the roadside, he discovered an old peasant sitting next to a coffin. He got out of the car to take a look. Because the old peasant was too poor and had no money for medical treatment, he [decided] to sell his own coffin. This old man then gave him 500 kuai to let him return home. He told me that the goal of his story was to tell me that there was no end to these issues in China, but that we shouldn’t focus on small losses, and rather continue to persevere. This person is Wen Jiabao, Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

A country is built upon individuals; she is constructed and determined by them. It is only if a country has people who seek truth, who are capable of independent thinking, who can record the truth, who build but do not take advantage of the land, who protect their constitutional rights, who know the world is imperfect but who do not slacken or give up — it is only if a country has this kind of mind and spirit that we can say we are proud of our country. It is only if a country can respect this kind of mind and spirit that we can say that we believe tomorrow will be a better day.

Read more about Chai Jing, on CDT.

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