In an interview with The New York Review of Books, blogger and classicist Ran Yunfei discusses a broad range of issues: the unruliness of his native Sichuan, his detention last year, self-immolation, religion, education, the Party’s manipulation of history from Lei Feng to the Nanjing Massacre and how Ai Weiwei goes too far.
I saw a statistic somewhere that apart from Beijing, Sichuan has more political dissidents than any region in China. Sichuan doesn’t have the largest population of a Chinese province and it’s not the poorest; nor is it, like Guangdong, near Hong Kong and the freer media there. So why is there so much going on here?
It’s a lot of things. There is this teahouse culture here—you have these places where you can meet publicly. Not a lot of Chinese cities have these. Everywhere there are tea houses and people meet and talk. There are signs not to talk about national affairs but everyone does.
And then there’s the paoge culture (the mafia-type associations that used to regulate daily life rather than official laws and rules). People are accustomed to thinking independently of the government. Also, we’re just far away from Beijing, separated by rivers and mountains. Even the guobao [State Security police] are different. They sometimes say, “I’m just doing this to have my rice to eat.”
The interview as a whole is very, very highly recommended reading. See also Ran Yunfei’s blog and Twitter and Weibo accounts.