Speech by Yang Jianli in the panel discussion “Clash of cultures, values and principles: right of the people or human rights?” at the Rome Convention of the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational Transparty.
Thank you, dear friends at the Nonviolent Radical Party, for inviting me to speak at this Convention. It is truly an honor for me. I admire the Nonviolent Radical Party for its commitment to speaking the truth and promoting the right to know.
The first order of truth about China is that the people of China, too, want human rights. This sentence sounds a bit awkward with the word “too”. I put it there because the truth – that the people of China want human rights – has not only been suppressed by the Chinese communist regime but is all too often overlooked by the world community.
“Given so much you have been through” I am often asked, “where does your confidence lie?” My answer is always, “My confidence lies in the simple fact that the people of China want human rights.”
“Do you really believe so?” Some sound skeptical seeing the insurmountable China realities. Well, let me propose the following thought experiment for you to judge for yourselves.
Imagine that you visited China, taking with you a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Arbitrarily choose any citizens on the street. Show the document, asking them with the language they understand whether they want the rights listed there. What would you expect them to say? Would you for a second believe they would say “No, I do not want these rights”? Of course not. You understand the Chinese people through understanding yourselves: Nobody wants to be a slave. In this regard, the Chinese people are no different than other people in the world. The thirst for freedom and dignity is indeed universal.
The people of China have long ago begun the search for roads to the universality of dignity, justice, goodness, fairness, equality, freedom, and brotherhood. They have produced a few major pushes towards these goals in this generation. In the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement, the Chinese people courageously stood up against government corruption that in the words of Charter08, has “corrupted human intercourse.” They stood up for democracy and freedom. The image of a lone man standing in front of a string of tanks has inspired the entire world, and our fallen brothers’ spirits have been one of the greatest sources of inspiration for continued struggle for these noble goals in China.
Charter 08 was published on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the goal of spelling out the reforms necessary to end one-party dictatorship and establish a constitutional democracy in China. Since its release, this manifesto has been signed, at great personal risk, by more than 14,000 Chinese citizens.
The world is still mourning the death of the lead author and organizer of Charter 08, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. He died a martyr’s death 110 days ago after 9 years of imprisonment.
Thanks to the arduous work and enormous sacrifices by people like Liu Xiaobo, the concepts of human rights and democracy have prevailed in the minds of the Chinese general public. A breakthrough for a democratic change will surely come from the people. Change is unlikely to happen first from within the heavily entrenched CCP regime which values stability-above-all.
Despite the CCP’s best effort to impose strict control over the media, the Internet has allowed people to connect, to share information. Following the release of Charter 08, grassroots support for the document was immediate and unprecedented, even though the CCP regime tried to block its spread. Those who signed the Charter with their real names came from diverse segments of society. Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08 are a banner which will continue to transform individual protests into a long-lasting movement that demands across-the- board, systematic change.
With a clear direction of the political resistance movement, the people will grow to exert greater and greater pressure on the Communist regime. As non-governmental forces grow and civil protests escalate, the struggle for power among different factions within the communist regime will become more pronounced. Once external pressures reach a critical mass, rival factions within the CCP will have no choice but take the voices of the citizens seriously and seek their support to survive.
No one can predict with precision when the moment of dramatic opening for change will come in China. Virtually every one of the sixty some peaceful transitions to democracy in the past few decades have come as a surprise to the West. One reason is that diplomats, academics, and policy makers generally do not pay attention to what is happening with students, workers, farmers—with the street level society and culture of the world’s not-free countries.
The people of China are obviously experiencing revolutionary change. Above all else we must maintain our faith in my compatriots that we can and will join the vast majority of the world’s peoples who now live in free or at least partly free countries. An opening for change could come in the next few months or it may take a few more years. Of course it will never come without collective efforts, including those from the international community. So we must persevere and be ready and keep the faith.
“Be watchful and strong in the faith, for the time draws near,” exhorted St. Paul, a persecutor of Christians who converted to the faith. Ladies and gentlemen, our time draws near. We must watch and be strong and be supportive and be ready.
Read the speech in the website of “Initiatives for China”.
Dr. Yang Jianli gave this speech remotely through Skype. He was not able to make it physically to the Convention due to a travel document issue.