China: Why wait for the media to tell your story when you can blog it yourself?

In this fourth and final part of Sichuan-based blogger-journalist Ran Yunfei's (冉云飞) speech given at a Chengdu teahouse earlier this year on his decades of research into the victims of the Communist Party of China‘s Cultural Revolution in the 1950s and 60s, Ran continues answering questions from the audience, and expands on his call for people to take on similar historical research which, in Ran's case, has only found exposure through his blog. As with the three previous segments (123) of this transcript, Ran begins this post by mentioning having troubles posting, presumably due to keyword filters built into his blog service provider [zh].


Ye Tao:
I'd like to ask Mr. Ran Yunfei and Teacher Yuanhong if you could take a stab at whether or not China could ever see the appearance of another anti-right or similar movement.


Ran Yunfei:
To tell the truth, it's really hard to tell. It's something impossible to predict. If this system doesn't change, if there is no democratization, then it'll be just like I said when we were commemorating Mr. Hu Yaobang—we were commemorating him, not mythologizing him—it would be impossible for China's politics to be put straight by just one person. To think so is childish and blind. Similarly, I said that if this system doesn't change, and change to a democratic system, adopting universal values, our values, remade by our people—I feel many people are not independent, many have no thoughts or ideas of their own, whose values are messed up, who lack a moral bottom line, lack faith and support—if these things don't change, in addition to a change in the political system, if there isn't set up a shift towards a democratic and free system, I can only say one thing, that the the recurrence of movements like the Cultural Revolution and the anti-right campaign is then totally possible. What many rights activists are now facing proves this point. But I feel that if everybody were just a little bit braver, worked a little bit harder, then a recurrence of the large-scale tragedies such as in 1957 and 1966 could be avoided. Small-scale tragedies can be seen every day; just before I came here I received a message forwarded from another friend, saying Gao Zhisheng is being followed by several National Security people and that his mobile phone has been snatched and run off with. That's why I say that everything is absolutely not okay in this society of ours, that the common folk have absolutely not received any substantial opportunities. I'll refer here to my March article on the February reading list. Because every month I post a list of the books I read the previous month, some people say I'm showing off. I can only respond by asking, is this an era of boundless freedom, of anxiety-free life, where an existence free of fear is worth showing off? Definitely not. I say that I'm for introspection, for self-restraint. I say that this catastrophic nation of ours is now sitting upon the mouth of a volcano. That is surely so, all of us can feel it.


Like last year's Super Girl, on which many people wrote many things. But I only wrote one piece, and in classical Chinese at that. I said that after 1949 and since the 1950s, the masses have been lacking entertainment, and that Super Girl was like playing a musical instrument beneath a goldthread tree, or finding happiness in trying times, warming one's self by the mouth of the volcano, making merry amid the sounds of tragedy. I went on say that this may be the party before le deluge. I often feel that this society lies in the midst of a turbulent phase. But nearly every day the Communist Party says it's a ‘harmonious society‘. To tell the truth, I'm not the least bit opposed to their description, just their ‘harmonious’ of constricting people's interests, of sealing people's mouths, will never succeed. It cannot succeed. In the end it will work against them. That's why I say that if the system does not change, the recurrence of another anti-right campaign or Cultural Revolution is always possible. (applause)


Yang Yuanhong:
As Mr. Ye has just asked Yunfei a question, I won't change the subject. But I will say a few words. Just now Mr. Yunfei's main point was speaking from a system aspect, going deep to analyze and deduce the likelihood that a rectification/anti-right campaign or Cultural Revolution may happen here again. From a sociological point of view, our current era has been labelled a post-totalitarian age. The majority of distinctions between the pre- and post-totalitarian ages lie with the pre-totalitarian age. Many large-scale actions were carried out by the masses, large-scale purging movements, in many of which hard violence was used. But with the post-totalitarian age, soft violence is mostly used, the kind of latent, underlying, purge-attacks not obvious in their small scale. Just now Mr. Yunfei mentioned the earlier Super Girl craze. This kind of fashionable movement, speaking from the sociological aspect, is in no way a form of soft violence. This diverts the entire nation's interest and attention in a completely different direction, stopping them from paying attention to their personal rights or the dignity and morality in how one conducts oneself. This is something for which we need to be on our highest guard of. The second part to what I want to say is that the foundation in the masses and within society for this kind of Cultural Revolution and anti-right purge movement to be repeated here still exists.


Prior to this I've said that the most frightening, most deadly aspects of authoritarian dictatorships are not only their control and suppression of people's external behavior, but its deep poisoning of the souls of a nation's peoples, and the people of said nation's ignorance of that deep poisoning. Yet this nation of ours currently exists in such a state. What I'm trying to say is that even if this is the case, as Mr. Ran Yunfei says, that aspects of the system even still possibly exist, and the system were to want to start a movement, it would need its foundation in the masses. With a foundation in the masses and in society, then there would exist this possibility, so it's worth everybody to reflect on this question from that man sitting there; an extremely perceptive and good question. Looking at this two-tiered question, I personally feel that the possibility of tragedies like the rectification/anti-right campaign or the Cultural Revolution taking place on this land of ours again is not entirely impossible. Despite what we've said about that era having forever concluded. Speaking on this in the context of a macroscopic view of universal values or present global trends, it could be put that way. But speaking from a microscopic political aspect, the possibility still exists. Therefore I'm very thankful for the perceptive question just raised by our friend.


(Ran Yunfei cuts in):
Brother Yuanhong put that very well, and I'll just add on to that. A foundation in the masses is rather important. Mass foundation researcher Le Pen wrote a book called “Mob“, and there was one book written by a German academic specializing in research on fascists called “Fascism's Foundation in the Masses“. These two books are no strangers to what we've been talking about. I say, many of us Chinese have never been an independent people. Because they've no ideas or thoughts of their own. With everything they only know to go with the flow. As long as they've eaten till they're full—and even if they haven't, as long as they're not starving, they'll be satisfied. Many, many people like this, and they see nothing wrong with what the way things are. That's why I chose the name I did for that article of mine, ‘The more shameless the government gets, the more moved the people get’. This way of putting it could be flipped, it could just as well be called ‘The more moved the masses get, the more shameless the government gets’. That is, the nicer you get, the more it will tyrannize you.


Yang Yuanhong:
What Yunfei has just expressed and I've said makes reference to a saying from one Renmin University of China scholar from a lecture he once gave on mass movements: once this kind of mass sentiment—these competely brainwashed masses, lacking their own independent consciousness—once it gets whipped up by religious fervor, it will hit the streets and the movement will spread like malaria. Therefore we must prevent this malaria-like mass movement from being reenacted in China. Thank you everyone (applause)


Ye Tao:
I'll just say a bit more, last year after Europe's commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end to World War II, political leaders from all the countries went to a concentration camp in Auschwitz. Their goal in going was to prevent a repeat of the Nazi kind of massacre. That's why the main significance in their commemoration was in that this tragedy will never be reenacted. Everywhere in Europe can now be found sculptures dedicated to World War II, aiming to remind people of the atrocities at the time in the hopes they won't be reenacted, allowing for reconsiderations on morality. My personal view is that if we all don't work to go through a deep reconsideration, then we'll just see more group loyalty dances [performed at the time as a display of group pledges of faith to Mao Zedong and the revolution]. As absurd as it sounds, with provocation from the authorities, these ‘loyalty dances’ could very easily reappear.

刚才听了冉云飞先生讲的,说当时中央宣布大概没有平反的是五个人,章伯钧、罗隆基、储安平、陈 、 、冉云飞刚才说的四川省大概五点五万,我不知道这个数字有没有依据。(冉插话:这是官方公布的)当然这如果是官方公布的话有一定可靠性。但当时全国五十五万右派分子,是毛泽东指出来的,因为当时有五亿多人,毛说要划百分这十,就划了五十五万出来。

Mr. Qiu:
What Mr. Ran Yunfei just said about those publicized as rightists at the time, there are about five who still haven't been politically rehabilitated: Zhang Bojun, Luo Longji, Chu Anping, Chen…Ran Yunfei just said that in Sichuan province there were about 55,000 people cast as rightists, I don't know if this number has been verified. (Ran cuts in: This is the official number) Of course if this is the official number, it can be trusted. But at the time there were 550,000 rightists in the whole country, picked out by Mao Zedong himself. Because at the time there were 500,000,000 people [in China]; Mao said that ten percent would need to be drawn out, and they got 550,000.


Of what Ran Yunfei said just now of a right wing name list, I have another idea. If one really wanted to draw up a right wing name list, couldn't one go to the Sichuan provincial government and check the Party records? Or check with the Sichuan city government Party records? This would be a short cut. If you try and collect these names from society on your own, the probability of success would be a little low. That's why I think checking out the information at the relevant departments would be a little faster.


There's another issue on which I have some thoughts. Just now teacher Ran drew a link betweek the anti-right campaigns of 1957, 1958 and 1959. I think this is not quite right. I personally feel that there's a practical difference between the anti-right campaigns of 1957 and the post-1958 inner-Party discipline anti-right campaigns. (Ran Yunfei cuts in: What's your basis? Do you have any documents?) This basis and documentation can't be explained clearly in just a few words, but I've seen many supporting documents. It should be said that the anti-right campaign of 1957 and the inner-Party discipline anti-right campaign of 1958-9 are two totally separate things. It should be said that the anti-right campaign of 1957 was Mao Zedong's taking aim at non-Party intellectuals, and that 1958-9 was taking aim at Party members with different political views. That's the difference. One was in-Party, one was non-Party. Traditionally, most people say the anti-right movement ended with the weeding out of the rightists in 1957. Following that there was the Great Leap Forward. Following the Great Leap Forward there was the inner-Party discipline anti-right campaign, which took aim at Peng Dehuai and other inner-Party types like him. Those are my thoughts.


Ran Yunfei:
I think it's worth discussing these few points.


Xiao Jiang:
I'd just like to ask a question, and first I'll explain why. This generation of ours—I was born in 1987—according to what you say, have all be brainwashed from the head straight down to the feet. At least you know a few things, we know completely nothing. I can give you an example. I did very well in history in senior high, but at the time I had no idea who Zhao Ziyang was. That's what it's like. (Everyone laughs) People of the same age as me, just like me, can be found everywhere. If I hadn't by chance come to know Yang Yu, there's no way I would be here today, learning so many new facts. That's why the question I want to ask is: without a doubt the significance of what Ran Yunfei has just said about research into the right wing is great indeed, but how effective have you been? I just want to ask about impact. People like us have absolutely no understanding of these events, and with us completely not understanding, you bring them these facts. They'll just suppose these are the grumblings of a down-and-out writer and nothing more. That's why based on this point I want to ask: what sort of impact have you had?


Ran Yunfei:
My answers to Xiao Jiang's questions include my response to the views put forward by the previous gentleman. Can the anti-right campaign of 1957-8 be classified according to his description? According to documents I have here in my hand, I feel his sort of classification is rather careless. In 1957, I feel, there could also be seen a struggle against inner-party intellectuals. Quite a few, in fact. I've collected a lot of this information which I have here in my hands. Most important is that my talk here today has been rather brief, I haven't gotten around to speaking about these sorts of details. I'll go on to the question Xiao Jiang put forth. To tell the truth, all youth like to see instant results. All youth approach tasks wanting to see an immediate response. Many people are guilty of this, wanting to see instant results. But this is not practical. I'll put it this way: in a society, you don't say ‘the whole society’, you just say ‘you, Xiao Jiang, need to understand many more things’. Is today's talk enough? Absolutely not. Do you follow my meaning? Even a hundred such talks would not be enough. If you were to read a hundred books, two hundred books, would that be enough? Not necessarily. That's why I say according to us, just like how I regard myself, with everything I do, I don't overestimate my own merits, but I also down underestimate my own usefulness. I'm improving, every day. Every day I do the things I should, like my blog for example. I could say there are one to two thousand people reading it, but one must never downplay the effect a website can have on a person. Of course the information one wants to obtain can be found on the internet. But some people only play games or chat. Of course there's nothing wrong with this; it's just a way of life for people. In fact, when I first got the internet, I loved chatting on ICQ, but after a year of that I started to find it boring. At that time I also like to play games: role playing games, Counterstrike, arcade games, etc. These I can all play. I can also say that Wang Yi and Yu Jie don't have this experience. They are good kids, really good kids. I have a lot of personal hobbies; I can play mah jong, three-player mah jong, and all those popular Chinese card games like Fight the Landlord, Runs Fast and Till the Land. That's why Ran Yunfei is different from them. Me, I know how to seek out pleasure; I'm the kind of guy who likes his amusement. But when I've had enough fun, I can focus seriously on a problem. My point in saying all this is that you should never want instant results. Second, you should not underestimate the things you do. For example, Yang Yu just brought that book “Severe Illness“, which I wrote eight years ago. Overall, I'm pretty sad. This book, which criticizes the realities of China's education system, nobody has been able to compete with up until today. I once joked that in thirty years nobody in China will be able to write anything surpassing it. Why would I say that? Straight up until now, nobody has. Second, it's impossible for the realities of China's education system to change quickly. I can say that this book, compared to the books of well-known specialists and scholars, is in no way inferior. I'm not boasting, I'm just saying that in terms of education, reforms have definitely not reached the level we had hoped for. But there have still been some small changes. For example, changes in teaching materials, which have been changed for nearly five years now. The present form of the scheme for changing teaching materials has its good spots. I even saw one of Yu Jie's essays in one textbook. Of course teaching materials chosen by civil society include Wang Yi's works, as well as Mo Luo's, Xiao Xuehui‘s and even mine. This isn't to say that those essays chosen are guaranteed to be good, but at least it shows an expansion of ideas. Let the students know as much as possible. In fact, after I got on the internet, I notice many teachers actually had some rather astute ideas. Many No. 1 Line teachers are not all that bad. Like, whom most will remember, Li Zhenxi, as well as one of his online nicknames, Iron Drum, are not bad, as well as Fan Meizhong, who you all will also know. Today those No. 1 Line education forum members are having their own lecture, or else Fan Meizhong would have come here today. As well as many of Fan Meizhong's friends, friends from Hangzhou, from Zhejiang, that whose internet nickname is ‘Ah Gnaw1919′, as well as Zhou Renai, all teachers who especially love reading and thinking. So, speaking of this society as it stands now, has not achieved our expectations in education reform. Take compulsory education, for instance. Five years ago I wrote an article called “Compulsory Education is China's Biggest Lie“. Just what is compulsory education? First off, it's free. Secondly, the government forces it; the government takes taxpayers’ money, so it must be free. From elementary school up until junior high school it must be free, yet the amount of money we pay now just keeps on increasing. That's why China's compulsory education is all a bloody dog fart. There's nothing compulsory about it. At least now you see the government waives miscellaneous school fees for those in the countryside. One must at acknowledge these small improvements, no matter how small. But then, if there were no criticisms like us and ours, the government would never be reforming as quickly as it is now. I can say put it this way, if you were to keep from speaking out, the government would never think of changing. Do you believe that? That's why I feel there are two points to be made in regards to effectiveness. The first one is on a dominant level. ie, does firsthand original history even still exist? This point, as far as you're concerned, is a very important one. As for what you do in the future is not that important, as long as you take on everything, especially pretentious and boastful so-called propaganda, you'll have immunity. You can't just believe everything you read, like in newspapers and magazines, or on television. Things that you look upon as quite just and righteous, like ‘learning from Comrade Lei Feng‘ these kinds of dog fart things, you can't trust them. Today is March 4, yesterday was the day for learning from Comrade Lei Feng. The newspaper is still recommending you do so. Mao Yushi once spoke on this, this seventy-something, soon eighty year-old man, very not bad, he wrote several pieces about this, written very well. As are Lin Da's essays. Except for Yu Jie's and Wang Yi's, these people's essays, as well as Wang Xiaobo‘s, are all written very well. I can put it this way, my talk here today cannot change you all at once, but it at least provides you with one more role from which to observe problems. That's why I think this is just one of the effects. That's why you should never expect to acheiving results right off the bat, especially in this tragic China. We'll take our time, but we won't ever stop trying or showing up. Many people don't get involved, don't work hard, don't go and write, don't express themselves. But the more we don't express ourselves, the more we don't write, the more we don't work hard, the more we don't get involved, then all the more tragedies will come your way. Thank you, everyone. (applause)


Yang Yuanhong:
Are there any more friends who would like to speak? Xiao Jiang's posed an extremely significant question just now, and Mr. Ran Yunfei gave his response. As I see it, under the current totalitarian system, as much as our personalities and our souls have been destroyed, I'd have to go along with what Yunfei said just now, but add a little, and let Yunfei's talk with us here today actually begin, let us raise our heads from this painful recollection of the rectification/anti-right campaign and live our lives with grace and dignity. Then, bit-by-bit, shed our innermost fears, bit-by-bit start anew in construction ourselves, our souls. With this, Yunfei's talk here today comes to a close. Now, by my name, I hope all our friends here can thank Mr. Yunfei for his colorful talk with a warm round of applause. (applause)

Next week: self-criticism letters posted on Ran's blog

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