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China: Student Throws Shoe to Defend Free Speech

A student from Hainan University threw his shoe at Maoist commentator Sima Nan on October 7, 2012, to protest against the absence of rights to free speech in China. Before he threw the shoe, he said, “even if your talk is not good, you can go back to your hotel. If I argue against it, certainly I will be locked up in a tiny dark room.”

The student took the action during a Question and Answer session. Below is a video showing the incident with a brief transcription of the student's remarks:

First I would like to welcome Mr. Sima Nan for coming to Hainan University. I am also a student here. I want to make a few points. First of all, I have read about Socrates, who once said, I know nothing except that I am ignorant. Secondly, I need freedom and democracy is a means to protect freedom. Thirdly, I have to say, your talk against democracy has invaded my freedom. We are not equally able to exercise our freedom of speech. The four points that you have mentioned, I cannot go against them because of political correctness. Even if your talk is not good, you can go back to your hotel. If I argue against it, certainly I will be locked up in a tiny dark room. Please don't interrupt me. You should have the manners not to interrupt me. Here comes my question, can I throw my shoe at you? As my freedom is harmed in this country, I am here to protect my freedom.

Another student describes the scene [zh] in his blog:

然后他许诺他只讲四点看法,留下大部分时间与大家交流,我那时还天真地以为他说的是真的。然后就是他的长篇大论,冗长,漏洞百出。他的四点大致是这样的,一、在党的领导下,如今社会确实存在不少问题。二、但是党的领导有伟大成就。三、如果没有党的领导,社会将陷入无序状态。四、人民民主也离不开党的领导。[…] 其间有一个小插曲就是,演讲进行到一半的时候门口出现骚乱,似乎是有人想进来砸场,结果被学校保卫人员制止。

The talk started at 7:30. At the beginning Sima Nan kept praising our university headmaster Li Jianbao, he is really good at flattering. The image of our university headmaster suddenly grew. Then he pretended to be very open minded said that he was aware that some people wanted to throw things at him and invited them to throw stuff. Since he had not started talking, people were not ready to throw things.

Then he promised that he would focus on making four points and leave more time for exchange. I was too naive to believe him. His talk was long, boring and full of mistakes. His four points were: 1. Under the party leadership, there are many social problems; 2. The party leaders have great achievements; 3. Without the party society would be in chaos; 4. People's democracy should not be detached from party leadership. […] In the middle of his talk, someone tried to enter the hall but was stopped by the security guards.

The climax was unexpected. Sima Nan finally had enough of his talk after one and a half hours. The Q & A session started. In front of me a man dressed in orange sport wear started talking. He quoted from some Greek philosopher, I forget the details already because I was overwhelmed with excitement. His main point was about freedom and equality. He said: Today we don't have equality in our rights to speak. I have no freedom. What you have said are politically correct theories. When you are done, you go back to your hotel. If I argue against that I would be locked up in a tiny dark room” (This is all I can remember, sorry). Then Sima Nan said that it was not a question. The student then replied, “Here comes my question, can I throw my shoe?” Then he threw a sports shoe to the stage with determination. I clapped my hand without being aware of that…

Sima Nan is a Maoist and in the past few years he has kept praising the North Korean model in China to advocate for a stricter approach to foreign policy. He has also propagated a lot of hate speech against liberals, accusing them of being traitors of the country.

Many have applauded the student's courageous act, but some are also worried about the student's safety. Below is my pick of the online discussion [zh]:


慕容雪村: Sima Nan calls himself an intellectual and upholds Maoist ideology. He has probably forgotten about the torture and insult intellectuals went though in the Mao Era – they were forced to wear tall hats and rally on the street, beaten by belts with copper locks, forced into labour on cattle farms to reflect upon their wrongs. Zhang Zhixin had his throat cut, Wang Shiwei was buried in a well after a secret execution. Lao She and Fu Lei committed suicide… Throwing shoe at him is like a reward.


古月照兰芳: You don't like Sima Nan's talk, you throw shoes; I don't like He Weifong's talk, I throw eggs; You don't like Kong Qingdong's talk, you throw mud; I don't like Zhao Qulai's talk, I throw rocks; You don't like Zhang Hongliang's talk, you throw tear gas; I don't like Lao Yung's talk I throw bombs; You don't like Han Deqiang's talk, you throw nuclear bombs — can we have democracy by throwing things at each other?


吴钩1975: Many are debating about the student's act on Weibo. Some clapped their hands, some criticized the student for infringing other's rights. We should have some consensus in understanding the nature of “throwing shoes”. I don't agree that “throwing shoes” is an attack. It is just a form of protest by the weak side in a situation when the power is not equal. It is quite commonly seen in western countries when people throw eggs at government officials. Don't label the act.

十年砍柴:不应为年轻的大学生向司马南 扔鞋子叫好。在西方扔鸡蛋或鞋是表示愤怒的常见方式,即使受到惩罚也比较轻微。但在中国,有难以预测的风险,这次司马南可能没有处理扔鞋学生的权力,但如果一些热血学生受到鼓励,下次向有权者扔鞋,会付出沉重的代价。

十年砍柴: One should not cheer for the student. In western countries, throwing eggs and shoes are common forms of expression and the punishment is light. But in China, the risk is very high. This time Sima Nan does not have the power to punish the student. But if other hot blooded students are encouraged and decide to throw shoes at those who have real authority, the price is too huge.

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