The courage and eloquence of Cheng Yizhong

Nanfang Dushi Bao editor Cheng Yizhong broke new ground in China for his coverage of SARS and breaking the agonizing story of 27-year-old Sun Zhigang, murdered by police in a Guangzhou jail after being arrested for forgetting to carry his ID card. Needless to say, Cheng was recognized by the CCP for his actions and thrown into jail himself.

Cheng was recently named laureate of the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, and ESWN has done us all a great service by translating his extraordinary acceptance speech (scroll down).

I must especially thank my wife Chen Junying. At a time when the black clouds loomed over the city and disaster hung over my head, you were calm, strong and amiable to the point of astonishing. When your eight-year-old son asked you, “Where is my father?” and my eighty-year-old mother asked you, “Where is my son?” you smiled and said, “He is traveling overseas on business. Over there, it is very free and it is a beautiful world.” At a time when eavesdropping and monitoring were present everywhere in our daily lives, when I was illegally arrested and detained for 160 days and nights, when our homes were searched two times and when the judiciary illegally took possession of our personal information, you continued to take your son to piano lessons. The sounds of the piano were bright and fluid, but the people were no longer the same. While my mother called to say that the nightmare woke her up, the son was engrossed in a beautiful world.

A beautiful world! Yes, we need a beautiful world.

A pigsty is not a beautiful world, even if it is a pigsty with ample food and clothing. People should not live in an environment that is hostile to human rights, humanitarianism, human nature and human feelings. People must recover their common values about humankind.

We use common knowledge as our weapons in order to destroy the nightware weaved together by terror and lies. Do not fight against common knowledge. Do not act against conscience. Be alert that lowly, shameless politicians will use the name of truth to attack the truth and to use the claim of political correctness to profit or vent their personal anger. We must enjoy our own personal experiences and the fruits of human civilization.

For us, the most important task is to increase the public’s right to know and to increase political transparency. This is the inescapable responsibility of Chinese news workers which is the “force of the powerless.” As news workers, you have the right not to speak, but you do not have the right to lie. Speaking the truth is not the highest standard for news workers, but it is the bottom line. Yet sadly, this is a highly charged line to cross right now.

There’s more, and it’s all beautiful. As I read it, I kept thinking of those who keep recycling the old canard that Chinese people don’t care about freedom as long as they have food on the table. Yes, food will always come first no matter what your nationality, but don’t sell the Chinese people short. Many are aware that they exist in a political “pigsty,” no matter how many Louis Vuitton boutiques and new car dealerships line the streets.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Richard, thank you for this great post. It’s really inspiring. If you just look back a little bit, you’ll realize how cheap the ‘food VS freedom’ trick is. When my parents were at my age, the tone was that the Chinese did not care for food because they were supposed to live a rich life out of ideals alone. Now we are banned from voicing any complaints because the Chinese should be satisfied with a life with food on the table. So it’s an either-or choice for us. Either being intoxicated in a very lofty yet starving palace of idealism, or settling down in pigsty deprived of thought and freedom. This is not a complicated issue at all. It’s never about what the Chinese value or want, but always about somebody has to be in control.

May 9, 2005 @ 5:08 pm | Comment

And an equally eloquent comment, Hui Mao.

May 9, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

Thanks for that, Hui Mao.

May 9, 2005 @ 7:32 pm | Comment

Thanks for the compliments guys, except that comment was from a different poster 🙂

May 9, 2005 @ 9:26 pm | Comment

Maybe we should use “Hui” and “Other Hui” to distinguish us 🙂

May 9, 2005 @ 9:28 pm | Comment

Funny! I was wondering — it didn’t quite sound like you. 🙂

May 9, 2005 @ 9:28 pm | Comment

Heh heh! Yeah! Hui and Other Hui – except of course, there is no other Lisa. I contain multitudes…

May 10, 2005 @ 1:07 am | Comment

really good post

May 10, 2005 @ 1:39 am | Comment

Hi, this is the Other Hui here. Sorry for the confusion I created. I’m no writer, so I seldom posted comments . But Cheng’s story really touched me. Richard, thank you again for the story, and I’m expecting more from your cute duck.

May 10, 2005 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

I don’t understand all this bellyaching about the issue of freedom in China. China’s constitution clearly says, in bold, under Article 35: Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration. That’s more freedom allowed than even the Soviet constitution of ’36!
Question: If the gov’t lies in its own constitution, why on earth should anyone trust it? I say this after yet another day at my school unable to access sites for my classes and ultraserve now not working. Honestly, if the Chinese gov’t is intent on keeping its people stupid and backward that’s their business. But if they ask for such things as the Olympics and invite the world to visit, to have such basic sites as the BBC blocked is insulting let alone offensive.

May 10, 2005 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

Great… the great fear I had mentioned in a comment some postings back has materialised….
ultra surf is no longer in service.

May 11, 2005 @ 3:13 am | Comment

Pardon my ignorance, what is ultraserv – a tool for getting around the firewall? As for the Chinese constitution,I love it when a Chinese apologist points to it and tells me they just added new protections for minority workers or the rural poor, so there! As if the document were fairly enforced, as if it means something.

May 11, 2005 @ 6:12 am | Comment

cute duck indeed

May 13, 2005 @ 4:10 am | Comment

As I said in a post on the Gang of Four news, China has no lack of people like Cheng, whose memory of whatever wrongs committed by the powers that be more than make up for the missing memories of the masses.

May 13, 2005 @ 8:21 pm | Comment

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