Earlier this month, billionaire agricultural entrepreneur and outspoken political commentator Sun Dawu was arrested with more than 20 family members and colleagues for “provoking quarrels and disrupting production.” While many details of the case still remain unclear, some have questioned if Sun’s political advocacy could be related to his arrest. Long an outspoken critic of the CCP, in 2003 Sun was sentenced to three years in prison for “illegal fundraising” after running afoul of local officials while operating a private cooperative that intellectuals praised for extending credit to disadvantaged farmers. More recently, Sun publicly praised detained human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who represented Sun in the 2003 trial.
Following his recent detention, a 2009 op-ed by Sun has been referenced and reposted online. In the article, originally published in Green Companies, Sun recalled his day in court six years prior as he reflected on the topic of heroism. The op-ed has been translated below:
If Roosters Aren’t Allowed to Crow, Can I Be a Dog?
Six years ago, I shed tears in court twice.
Before the hearing began, I’d already made a compromise by agreeing to remain silent in court. But when the witnesses presented Dawu Group’s “loan documentation” purporting to show these as “evidence of deposits” for illegal fundraising, I couldn’t help but say, “I wrote out IOUs, not deposit slips. Can’t any of you read?”
At this time, the chief procurator screamed: “Sun Dawu! How dare you speak! Don’t you know that your wife is evading arrest, your two brothers are being detained, and that there are still two people in their eighties in your household . . .” When I heard this, I shed tears. I understood the saying: “A true hero is not heartless.”
The second time I shed tears was when my team of lawyers was delivering my defense. They surveyed a lot of the townspeople and were very surprised that there was such broad support among the people for an entrepreneur like myself. In court they said to me, “Using the Criminal Law to destroy a private business, to destroy a quality business that doesn’t have any record of dishonesty, that doesn’t have any societal problems—this is not the purpose of the law. If the law must be used to judge and punish this type of business, this would only show that the law itself has a problem!” At the time I was moved. I had heard the voice of the people and felt the support of the ordinary folk in the town.
Before this, during the trial, the chief procurator said: “We can’t refrain from judging you, Sun Dawu, just because you have a high moral character. We can’t not punish you just because you’re a decent person. We proceed according to the law, not according to morality . . .” I felt this was ridiculous, as they were using the law to judge morality. I’ve studied law. Law is the minimum moral requirement of people. The purpose of establishing laws is to protect moral people and punish immoral people. However, it was exactly the moral things I had done which were being attacked by the law. It makes one recall this exchange from the Indian movie, Awaara.
Judge: The law has no conscience.
Rita: Your honor, the conscience has no law.
I think a lot of people at the time all saw me hide my face and cry, perhaps even saw my tears, but no one heard me weep. There was no weeping. Weeping is audible, but I was crying soundlessly, shedding in silence. That was a kind of repressed, hard-to-describe, sorrowful emotion.
The moment I shed tears in court I felt that the best people in the world and the worst people in the world were all in jail. There’s nothing scary about jail, jails are just another place that people go to. I believe that people often have no control over whether things turn out good or bad. Sometimes you want to be a good person but are unable to. Sometimes bad people want to be good, but are also unable to. Death row inmates, too—a lot of them wanted to be good people but wound up in jail. They feel like fate is playing tricks on them, not that their situation was caused by their human nature. Deng Xiaoping said, “Good institutions can make bad people good; bad institutions can make good people bad.” I believe these words.
At the time I did not despair. Rather, I felt a type of power. I have never despaired before, I honor the principle of caring about right and wrong, not about winning or losing. “No matter what everyone else does, I must take the high road.” I was very stubborn as a child. People said that I was an ox [牛], that the last character in my name “Wu” [午] had grown a head. I’m not saying this to brag or to be self-deprecating, this is just a description of my personality. When I set my mind on something, I will complete it; when I set my mind on a way forward, I will pursue it to the end.
Even today, I don’t think that I’m a hero who has benefited ordinary folks. I’m just a builder.
I know that with the things I’ve done I’ve always strived to keep my tail down and keep a low profile. But at a certain stage, I couldn’t keep my tail down any longer. It’s not that I wanted to raise my tail or that I’m that prideful. No, it’s that I feel like a rooster and must crow at first light. This is the rooster’s responsibility, but its owner wants to sleep in. Once you start crowing and wake him from his sweet dreams, then he’ll be unhappy and want to kill you and eat you. The sun can rise only after the rooster crows, but people just want to sleep in. Households no longer need roosters so they are bound to kill them off.
Sometimes, I think if this world must kill roosters, then can I be a dog? If our great Eastern dragon is like a sleeping lion deep in the middle of dreams, then would it be okay for me to be a dog and stand watch over this sleeping lion, with my ears pricked up and my eyes wide open, waiting for my master to awake?
A Hero’s “Justice and Strength,” “Tearing Down and Building Up”
True heroes are those who are willing and able to make incredible sacrifices of themselves.
“Ying” [英, The first character in the word hero] means “wise.” It implies rationality, judgment, and decision-making. “Xiong” [雄 the second character of the word] means “strength.” It implies power, setting into action, and taking responsibility. “Ying” implies justice, “xiong” implies power. A hero is one who combines both justice and power. Heroes are those who dedicate themselves to justice, who make sacrifices for the values of their group. This type of sacrifice has a solemn quality; the lighter sacrifice is to go to jail—the greater sacrifice is to die a martyr. Some heroes are fervent for a time—this is easy enough to do—but I admire more those heroes who face martyrdom calmly. It’s easy to be fervent for a moment, but it’s hard to face martyrdom calmly. However, people often view those who are fervent for even a moment as heroes.
Heroes should be immortal, they are gods and not mortals. Heroes conduct themselves reasonably and become gods by devoting themselves completely to justice. Sakyamuni Buddha and Confucius were not heroes, they were just philosophers. Gandhi and Giordano Bruno, on the other hand, were heroes.
At first, compromise is a virtue. It is good forgiving evil, and evil conceding to good. If you compromise once, people usually will forgive you, but if you compromise for your whole life, people won’t usually consider you a hero. This is to say that the wise use the method of compromise to enlighten society, but they are not likely to become heroes. Heroes must have a solemn quality and the willingness to work at something even if success is impossible. Heroes are those who consciously choose the difficult path.
Qin Shi Huang was a hero. Jing Ke [who attempted to assassinate Qin Shi Huang] was also a hero. Opposing parties can both be considered heroes. Every group has heroes that it acknowledges. That’s because what is represented by every group’s hero aligns with the interests and the sense of right and wrong of the group where the hero is located, rather than some universal interest or sense of right and wrong. Therefore, we usually speak of “folk heroes” or “local heroes,” rather than “world heroes.” It’s hard to find a world hero. A world that doesn’t need heroes may be a peaceful world, but a nation that doesn’t need its heroes is certainly a fallen or a depraved nation.
The historical figures [ancient Chinese military strategist, politician, and businessman] Fan Li and [early Han Dynasty statesman] Zhang Liang deserved to be called heroes because their purpose was to eliminate armed conflict and spread peace throughout the land, rather than to become important officials themselves.
Chairman Mao once said that without destruction there can be no construction, that we must destroy the old to establish the new. Heroes must be able to tear down and build up at a large scale. However, large scale destruction is much easier than building up at scale. A hero who tears down but doesn’t build is a hero in a relatively narrow sense. A hero who can tear down and wants to build—but doesn’t build—doesn’t fulfill their ideal; he is a great hero, but a tragic hero. A hero who can both tear down and build, and does so on a large scale, is truly a great hero, like Washington—a war hero, he was also a hero in governing the country. But from ancient times to today, there are far too few that can break down and also build up on a large scale.
Don’t Be a “Grumbling Hero,” Don’t Be a “Boasting Hero”
When people want to accomplish something, especially something relatively major, then they must endure loneliness and indifference and be able to work hard without complaining. Working hard is easy, not complaining is difficult. There are a lot of people who can endure hardship but there are few people who don’t complain. Frequently there are people who complain that they’ve been wronged, or complain that others don’t understand them. People who are quick to complain cannot accomplish great things and cannot be heroes. It’s hard not to complain.
I think that being able to “to repay kindness with kindness, and repay enmity with justice” is best. But without that kind of environment one must be tolerant. I think of when Jesus was crucified and asked people for a drink of water. In return the people gave him rags dipped in salt water. Jesus looked heavenwards with pity and said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The opening line of the Tao Te Ching is understood by people to mean “The Dao that can be told is not the eternal and unchanging Dao” [道可道，非常道]. The earliest writings of Laozi didn’t have punctuation, so I choose to understand this line to mean: “The Dao can, the Dao can’t, the Dao remains” [道可，道非，常道]. This is similar to saying that you can be for or against something, but not halfway in between. Therefore, you can’t wait until it’s time to “repay enmity with justice” to acknowledge this saying. Heroes should already be without complaint or regret.
Heroes will not back down from the face of any adversity, after being successful they will know how to depart tactfully, they will choose to fade away and let others make all the noise. Heroes must learn how to leave quietly, they must bear the grievances of being misunderstood, of isolation, and of loneliness.
Some heroes after being successful become “boasting heroes.” Chairman Mao said that in the face of enemy fire we were not brought down, but were defeated by the enemy’s sugar-coated bullets. Heroes have difficulty passing the test of beauty, power, and wealth. Heroes change, which isn’t to say that they were false heroes from the start. It just means that after they became heroes they didn’t think clearly what they would do with fame, profit, wealth, and power.
I don’t think that people hold the ideal of becoming an official, or earning money, or being a hero. Rather, it’s what they do after they become an official, how they use their money after they make it, or what they do after they acquire their status that makes a hero. In order to be a hero that stands the test of time, in order to establish virtue, merit, and a legacy of words, in order to leave behind a good name, a hero must not pause. A hero’s work must not come to an abrupt end after acquiring fame. [Chinese]
Contributed by an anonymous CDT translator.