On February 25, state media announced proposed amendments to the national Constitution, among them a change to section 3 of article 79 that would eradicate term limits for the president and vice-president. This amendment, which is expected to pass at next month’s National People’s Congress session, has raised fears of an imminent deepening of Chinese autocracy, and the potential for Xi Jinping to rule for the rest of his life. Since news of the controversial amendment broke, censors have cracked down on discussion of the decision, and on expressions of what commentator Mo Zhixu has described as “universal shock and lamentation” at the news. Chinese netizens, known for their ingenuity in evading censors with obscure historical allusions and homophonous wordplay, have also found a long (and growing) list of terms banned from being posted and searched for on social media.
In contrast with the colorfully evasive language on these blocklists, Beijing resident Zhao Xiaoli felt compelled to voice her opposition to the proposed amendment clearly and directly in an essay posted on February 26. The post, shared covertly as an image, has been archived by CDT Chinese editors, and is translated in full below:
On the night of February 25, I sank into agony.
On the night of February 25, I read a lot of content full of metaphorical meaning: Yuan Shikai, Washington, some legal theses, and the price of fake hair braids on Taobao.
I used to be one of the people who reposted such content. For twenty years I learned to protect myself when expressing my opinion. I knew well the danger of confronting authority that can suppress everything, conceal everything, revise everything, and smash everything.
But hiding in metaphor, hiding in a system of ambiguous language, hiding in silence and furtive glances on the street, this has brought us neither strength, nor space. In exchange for silence, rulers have repeatedly trampled the power of the people underfoot. For silence, we have the endless lust for power of dictators and autocrats. Silence has brought about the proposed amendment to article 79 of the constitution. For silence, we get the boot from 1984, stamping our faces forever.
On the night of February 25, it wasn’t the thought of such a future that brought me pain. It was the thought of continued silence and suffering in that future.
I am afraid. If I speak, I’m afraid of paying the price. But if I don’t speak, I’m afraid I’ll spend the rest of my life in shame and pain.
Because this is intolerable, the furthest extreme of intolerable, I will no longer be silent. I will not satirize or use sarcasm. I will not complain. I will not use metaphor. I will clearly express my point of view. I will exercise my right as a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. I will publicly express my opposition to “Proposal of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China regarding Amendment to a Section of the Constitution.”
I oppose an amendment to section 3 of article 79, which would change the following: “The terms of the offices of President and Vice-president of the People’s Republic of China will be the same as the terms of the National People’s Congress. They must not exceed two successive terms in office,” to: “The terms of the offices of President and Vice-president of the People’s Republic of China will be the same as the terms of the National People’s Congress.”
I oppose abolishing the term limit for the president and vice-president of the People’s Republic of China. This amendment would be a tool for dictators to seize power. It would be a step backward for my country, a betrayal of ideals forged by a hundred years of revolution. A trampling underfoot of the social contract, and of civil rights.
This is my point of view. I know there are many people who share it, but we have been scattered and distracted, disunited, for too long. We have been small and weak for too long, and confined to metaphors for too long.
I am still afraid at this moment, but I fear now in order not to fall into eternal fear. I prepare to greet pain, in order not to fall into eternal pain. I publish my political opinion now, in order not to fall into eternal silence.
Even if everything can’t be changed, words still have power. Spoken words are more powerful than secret opinions. Words made public are more powerful than whispered conversation. Explicit opposition is more powerful than metaphor.
If you also believe this is a critical and desperate moment, don’t give up on the power of words. Don’t wait for the day when we can’t use words. Words can be taken away, so they inevitably will be.
Zhao Xiaoli 2/26/2018 [Chinese]
Translation by Jesse.
For other daring expressions of opposition to the amendment, see three other untranslated responses (one shared upside-down as an additional method of evading automatic detection from censors) from netizens at CDT Chinese. See also CDT’s translation last September of a WeChat post from user YouShanDaBu (游山打捕), who expressed concerns about using humor and metaphor to furtively discuss news event, fearing the trend has “jettisoned ‘resistance’” and descended into empty cynicism.