Feng Zhenghu’s Airport Diary: A Generation With Ideals
After he was denied re-entry to China eight times, Feng Zhenghu lived in Tokyo’s Narita Airport for 92 days in 2009-2010. Now Feng is telling the story of his airport odyssey on his blog, and CDT is translating his account.
This is part 19. Read previous installments here.
This entry includes pop-up notes to help contextualize the many literary allusions in the essay “Lu Xun Hits the Road, His Characters Jump for Joy.” Hover over underlined text for explanation.
November 21, 2009
I fell asleep last night at about 11:30. I finally shed the dirty clothes I’d been wearing for 17 days, and replaced them with long underwear sent by my mainland friend from Desai Gongyuan, the Italian casual sportswear from my Taiwanese friend, and fresh socks, then covered myself in my down jacket and went to sleep.
I’m still sleeping on the bench, and even though I have two sleeping bags I still haven’t used them. Their outer layers are so thin that if I set them directly on the cold hard floor, a chill reaches my back. That can’t be good for my body in the long run. I’ll wait until I have another layer, then try again.
Last night I slept on a small pillow made of this special foam with a flannel cover. This is the pillow the Taiwanese grad student Ms. Lin brought me. A few days ago, Ai Weiwei’s assistant brought me a little stuffed alpaca, which I had been using as a pillow. According to a friend, this alpaca is known as a “grass-mud horse” on the Chinese Internet, where it is used to mock the “harmonious society.”
I didn’t know all this at first, and just thought this South American alpaca was very cute. It made me happy. Even though it was an inanimate object, I looked at it as a companion. In an idle moment I stroke its fleece and whisper a few words to it. I set it up on the window sill to guard my three protest signs and two protest shirts. Whenever a traveler passes by and sees my protest statements, the alpaca repays them with a cheery smile.
I can’t bear to use such a good companion as a pillow. It’s already been many days since I’ve washed my hair, and the filth would blacken his fleece. So, when it’s time to sleep at night I would first wrap him in a clean towel. Now, his hard days laboring as a pillow are over.
At 9:50 this morning, a call came from New York. Wang Juntao, Lü Jinhua, Wang Tiancheng, Li Jinjin, and Zhao Yan were together, and each spoke with me to send their regards and support for my return home. At around 11:20 I did a live broadcast interview with Sound of Hope Network, answering the audience’s empathetic questions about my experience trying to return home, my situation while held up here at Narita Airport, and about the prospects of the rights of Chinese citizens to return home.
I am a human rights defender—not a democracy activist, not a religious believer, and certainly not a Chinese Communist Party member. But when it comes to a Chinese citizen’s right of return, there is no division of faith, party, or place in the system. Everyone supports my return to country and home. This is everyone’s basic human right. Each person may have his own religious belief, her own political view, and different party affiliations, but the right of return is commonly shared. Even a criminal is allowed to return to his country to stand trial.
Today is Saturday. At the request of airport management I won’t take any interviews from Japanese or foreign media. Saturdays, Sundays, and Japanese national holidays are their days of rest, and arranging interviews on those days would be an inconvenience. Jiji Press had already made an appointment with me for next Tuesday. Of course, telephone interviews are not confined by time or space. At 3:30 in the afternoon a call from France came and I did an interview with a broadcast journalist on the phone.
A friend sent an email attachment to my phone with an Los Angeles Times article on the story of my return home. I’ve put the link here for friends who can understand English.
Of the text messages I receive, many are from university students in China, and some even come from high school students. I’m gratified that these young people care about my story and are spreading it. They are China’s hope. Many older people grumble that their children’s generation is selfish and self-centered, lacking ideals and unconcerned with state affairs. However, I have always thought that the younger generation is capable of achievements surpassing our own. Because they cherish the rights and values of the individual, they are able to defend civil rights and demand the advancement of rule of law.
The younger generation is fed up with the empty, dogmatic ideals of democracy, freedom, and communism because they already have in their heart the ideal of a rich and happy life, the ideal of actual substance. If the country doesn’t respect their rights as citizens, then they will be apathetic towards national issues both great and small. Actually, it’s our generation that is broken. Since childhood we learned to sacrifice ourselves for the interests of the country and the collective, that we are tiny cogs that can be abandoned at will by the those controlling the machinery of the state. There is no room to resist, and we are ashamed to protest our own rights, since this would be picky and selfish of us. We don’t believe in our own power as citizens, and we don’t trust the law. Our fear and flattery of the powerful is ingrained, yet we self-righteously insist this is in obeisance to the interests of the state.
Here I’ll share a university student’s text message, as well as the article that he recommended:
“I wish you an early return home. You’ve suffered so much. I am a university student. I don’t want to say any more. I believe that many others have already wished you well. I recently read this essay. Have you seen it yet?”
Lu Xun Hits the Road, His Characters Jump for Joy
Recently, the People’s Educational Press has been gradually removing Lun Xun’s essays from the latest editions of their textbooks, causing no small amount of controversy. While some approve of the move, others continue to resist. I believe that after years of silence, avoidance, and indifference towards the issues Lu Xun wrote about, it’s finally come time to give him the boot.
The reason that Lu Xun’s getting the boot is that the very same characters that he attacked, criticized, mocked, and pitied have been resurrected, and Lu Xun’s very existence fills them with dread, panic, and abject cowardice to the point of being ashamed to show their faces in public.
The Kong Yijis have been resurrected. With a treatise on “Four Ways to Write the Character for ‘Aniseed’” one is promoted to the ranks of professor, scholar, and master of the study of Chinese civilization. No longer do people “steal books” with bated breath, but instead calmly “steal articles” online; not only can they “warm a bowl of wine” at their leisure, they can also use their allure as academic advisors to lay down a set of unwritten rules for themselves. How in the world could they ever let Lu Xun reveal their previous incarnations?!
The “winded running dogs of the capitalists” have been resurrected. Even though they drape themselves in the clothing of the elite, of the expert, still “they see all rich people as docile, and all poor people as barking mad.” They either act like angels but play the devil, mucking with numbers and celebrating the inevitability and rationality of prices aligning with the U.S.’s and salaries aligning with Africa’s; or else they become the “winded running dogs” of the foreigner to cheat the Chinese people, colluding with outsiders, tricking their way to success. How in the world could they ever let Lu Xun knock them off their pedestals all over again?!
Zhao Guoweng, Mr. Chao, Uncle Kang, Whiskers Wang, and Young D have all been resurrected. Some have snuck into the police force, while others have joined the public security joint defence force or become chengguan. Thrilled to put on uniforms, their faces are “so plump they are ready to burst.” Clutching “invisible four-meter lances,” they wield reason and the law to conduct the shady business of blackmail and forcing women into prostitution. If a certain Mr. Xia doesn’t behave in prison, then there’s no need to “slap him around,” they can simply deal with him by playing a game of “hide-and-seek” instead. Just think, how in the world could these low-life thugs ever permit themselves to be taken to task by a witty nobody like Lu Xun?
The Ah Qs have been resurrected. They’ve left the Tutelary God’s Temple and moved into the Internet cafes, and their rousing call for action is no longer “we want revolution!” but “we want democracy!” Day and night they dream of the day that a squadron of American marines decked out in “white helmets and white armor” show up, guns blazing, and establish democracy in China. Because as soon as democracy arrives, then all of Mr. Chao’s money, and Amah Mu, and the wife of the scholar Xiu Cai, and all of the other young girls in Weichuang, they’ll all belong to me! Hrmph! But if Lu Xun insists that I play the part of the wronged spirit, ridiculed by the common people for decades on end, then how in the world could I ever let him be?!
The imitation foreign devils have been resurrected. This time around they’ve gone right ahead and gotten foreign citizenship, becoming actual foreign devils. Not only that, but they weasel their way into the cast of the next “patriotic blockbuster,” playing the parts of righteous gentlemen and ambitious scholars consumed with concern for their country and their people. It’s really unsettling. One moment they are choked with sobs, eulogizing their motherland, and the next they are pissing into the big bronze ding of Chinese civilization. Is this not the stuff of Lu Xun’s essays?!
Xiang Lin’s wife, Old Chuan, and Jun-tu have all been resurrected. Just like always, they are resigned to adversity, emotionally stable, harmonious, and amicable. Since this “banquet of human flesh is still taking place, and there are many who hope it will continue take place,” the ingredients have to be fully prepared. So those people who are being prepared for the feast sit inside their iron house, listening to Little Shengyang crack jokes while die in apathy. How in the world could we let Lu Xun awaken them and make them suffer the burning flames of immolation once more?!
Those “strong and healthy” spectators have been resurrected. The stand in a circle around the those who “beat weak women” and “cudgel old men,” watching the “drowning youths” and the “flying bodies of suicides,” and just like before “outstretch their necks like so many ducks, held in place by some invisible force, pulling them ever upwards.” Ha ha, you spectating do-nothings, you’ve hurt too many people to count, because the Chinese people are almost always willing to be spectators!
The reason why Lu Xun is getting the boot is that today’s society no longer requires “javelins or daggers.” Instead we require songs of praise, cosmetics, anesthetic. We need dance halls, mahjong tables, the lottery, the stock market. It’s just like Chen Danqingsaid, “If the spirit of Lu Xun is to be skeptical, critical, and to stand up for what is right, then this spirit has not only not been carried on, it has been eradicated with unprecedented success. I don’t suggest that we carry on this spirit, because it’s impossible for anyone to do so: you can’t manage it unless you have two or more lives, or unless you were born into the same era as Lu Xun. The best way to go is to adopt that which is opposite the spirit of Lu Xun: silence, obedience, enslavement, to the extent that you become the flawless epitome of the slave.”
If Lu Xun got caught up with this era, who knows how many biting and incisive essays he might have written that drill down to the marrow and leave you slapping the table in praise, in response to the “thoracotomy,” the case of “using your own body to test medicine,” “Zhou’s tiger photo,” the “black brick-kiln slaves incident,” the “virgin prostitute incident,” “officials turning young women into prostitutes” and a host of other fantastic stories. Think about it. It really makes you fearful after the fact. It is truly fortunate that this vile and bitter spirit is already long gone.
So let’s get rid of Lu Xun completely, and welcome Little Shengyang with open arms. Let the people forget the inequality and suffering of the real world through laughter, and through laughter gradually become numb, gradually become stupid…
Hehe, the nation needs you more than you’ll ever know, because this is an era when lunatics and mobsters run amok. Our students need role models, so my buddies and I will always stand by your side…
“Lu Xun Hits the Road, His Characters Jump for Joy” translated by Nick.