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A Long, Long, Journey

September 19, 2011

作家. zuòjiā. writer.

“Only by escaping this colossal and invisible prison called China could I write and publish freely. I have the responsibility to let the world know about the real China hidden behind the illusion of an economic boom — a China indifferent to ordinary people’s simmering resentment.” – Liao Yiwu

Three days ago the New York Times published an opinion article written by novelist Liao Yiwu, author of “The Corpse Walker” and  recently released “God Is Red”.  Liao, a friend of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei is known for being an outspoken and courageous writer.  Determined to document conditions on “the lives of those occupying the bottom rung of society yet”, Liao, unlike his close friend and Nobel Laurette Liu Xiaobo is  “unwilling to be treated as a ‘symbol of freedom’ by people outside the tall prison walls.”

Its difficult to imagine really–obstacles to free speech and expression.  Of course, even in America these rights are not ‘absolute’, but this comparison is practically trivial.  One can hardly understand these restless hardships unless being subjected to them.  This recent article (essentially pages ripped out of Liao’s own journal) are indicative of the psychological and logistical control mechanisms operating deep within the layers of China’s society.  Perhaps Liao’s personal account, despite his own wishes not to become a ‘symbol of freedom’, have by its own mandate become exactly this.  Yet his reflective journal entry is alive and now–an innocent man, not an outlaw, on the move, Liao is not robbing banks in an old western, but he is galloping his way towards the horizon of freedom penetrating the air with words like bullets from an 1875 Outlaw Remington.

Walking Out on China Illustration. © New York Times, 2011.

And he is not alone.  There are many others, I believe, who mount their own horses on this oftentimes unforgiving oasis.  But what is this oasis?  Is it China? A state of mind? A landscape constructed by a highly Consolidated Clique of Power?  Regardless of the abstractions as to whomever or wherever these empowered decision-makers are, there exists a remarkable amount of individuals who are willing to blaze the path towards a rule of law country–where human rights, those as fundamental as freedom of expression, are not only allowed, but encouraged.  This isn’t just lofty thought either–it is as real as a paper-cut.

One example is legislation promulgated by the State Council in April 2007–the Regulation on Disclosure of Government Information.  In theory, this legislation, the first of its kind, serves the purpose of promoting transparency within the Chinese government.  Let me write this again, “transparency within the Chinese government.”  To many this is likely laughable, right?

Last week Administrative Law Professor and Chinese lawyer, He Haibo, gave students a broad task–to compose and submit a request for disclosure of government information to any Ministerial branch of the PRC.  Before assigning this ‘homework’, Tsinghua University law student, Li Ye, gave a 30-minute presentation about her recent experience requesting disclosure of certain information from over 13 administrative departments of the government.  She ended her presentation with a single slide containing the phrase: “It’s a long, long, journey.”  Li currently has lawsuits pending against three ministries who refused to provide her requested information regarding her thesis topic:  What is the power and responsibilities of Vice Ministers in the Ministries.

Still, it’s critical not to lose a sense of context–something touched upon in the previous post relating to the often disjointed, sometimes coexistent and inevitably intertwined forces; academia & real-world, legislation & enforcement, rhetoric & action, etc.  How these dimensions interact is not a static condition, and like so many other things in life are in constant motion.  I’m not sure what I will request for my ‘homework’, my first thought was to write to the Ministry of Culture and request information on why Bob Dylan was denied a visa for a decade–or why the Rolling Stones ‘Brown Sugar’ was forbidden from being performed in the 70s.  But it’s likely that there is something more current, more pressing, which remains to be uncovered.

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