Han Han: Let the Sunshine In

This is really important. Han Han is a Chinese race car driver, singer, author and the country’s most prominent blogger. He was just voted #2 most influential person in the world in Time Magazine’s Top 100 poll. In response to being nominated, he penned a blog post earlier this month called “Let the Sunshine In” that is a dramatic call for fundamental changes to how the Chinese Communist Party governs the country, including an end to internet censorship, detention for thought crimes, and torture. According to China Digital Times, which has posted a translation of Han Han’s post, the post has over 25,000 comments, 45,000 direct links, and 1.2 million views. While the post has been pulled down from a number of his blogs (it is common for prominent bloggers in China & Tibet to maintain multiple home sites, to reduce the likelihood of a post being entirely deleted by internet censors), the original has now been up for three weeks.

Here is China Digital Times translation (with my emphasis added):

Yesterday, I saw a news report which said that I am a candidate for the list of the 200 most globally influential people from Time magazine. Sensitive word, sensitive word, and sensitive word from China are also candidates. At the moment [I heard this news] I was digging up bamboo shoots in my village (I was digging in my family’s field), so I did not pay too much attention. Later I saw there were lots of text messages on my cell phone, asking my take on this. I only replied to two friends in the Beijing News and Southern Metropolis Daily; all the other things written in other media are friendly imaginations based on my personality. I did not realize that so many people care about this, so I will just write about it here all together.

First of all, I sighed and felt regret. Why do others have such news media? When Time puts out a list of influential people, it makes waves within other countries. How much I desire that our China can have such media. When this media selects people, it also gets attention from the whole world. We cannot say such media is completely fair, but they do have public credibility. How much I desire that our country has this as well. But regrettably we do not. This is not to say that our journalists are not as good as journalists from other places, it is because ….. those reasons that everyone knows. I will just stop here; if I say more about this I will be dead, and my dead body will be whipped as well.

I often ask myself, what contribution have I made to this society which is full of sensitive words? Maybe in the end, all I contribute is another sensitive word which is my name. That’s all. Everyday I get out of bed around noon, often wasting money on digital gadgets, and I’m very picky about food. Thank goodness that I did not add more load or sin to this society, at least so far. I do not have a grand vision; I only want the relevant departments to treat art, literature and the news media better, to not impose too many restrictions and censorship, and to not use the power of the government or the name of the State to block or slander any artist or journalist. If this can be done, you do not need to spend a fortune; this country will automatically produce art work and news media which can be exported to the West, and our small readers, listeners, audience, netizens, urban dwellers and citizens can all enjoy this benefit. I may not have the talent and ability to write great things, but some others do. But you [the goverment] should not castrate people or glorify those who have been castrated.

A journalist asked me over the phone: In some places it’s been said that you are colluding with Western anti-China forces. I said this [accusation] is expected. They [the government] has used this method for sixty years. During the earlier several decades they may have genuinely believed this, but in recent decades, this is just a means of slander. I am just a person that often almost did not get my visa when I participated in competitions abroad because my documents were incomplete. What kind of Western forces are they talking about? What age is it now, that they still use the word “colluding”? That’s sounds so pathetic. If there is a comrade who is listening to my phone everyday, you must be very clear about what kind of person I am. What do you say, my friend? In front of a computer screen there must be a friend who smiles as he understands what I am talking about. But I am just curious, that after so many decades [the government] still only has this one position [in screwing people]. He is not tired of it, but the other party is sick of it.

However, I clearly recognize their existence. You always need both sides, positive and negative, camp A and camp B. If in our country, when we cannot agree with each other, we can leave each other alone, instead of censoring those that do not agree with us, then that would be huge progress. We will work hard towards this day.

Later the same journalist sent me another short text message: In other words, your views and expressions fit with Western values. Don’t you think so?
I replied to him: Don’t [my views and expression] fit Chinese values as well?

I believe that there may be different values between earthlings and aliens. But for Westerners and Easterners? Other then different living habits, how much different could the values be? Why do we have to fight over this?

At last, let me return to the point of so-called influence. I often feel very ashamed. I am just a person with a pen. Maybe my writings make people feel like they are releasing some of their anger or resentment. But other than that what’s the real use? The so-called influence is illusory. In China, those who have influence are those who have power. Those who can make rain from clouds, those who can decide if you live or die, or keep you somewhere in between life and death. They are the people who really have influence. However, I am not sure it is just because they are afraid of search engines or they are too fragile to be searched; we often cannot find them by using search engines. We are just a small role on the stage, under the spotlight. But they own the theater. They can at any time bring the curtain down, turn off the lights, close the door and let the dogs out. Later the dogs all disappear and the sky is blue again; there is no trace of what has happened. I just wish those people could really put their influence into good use. And those of us on this stage, even those who built this theater in the past, should make efforts to gradually take down those high walls and light bulbs. Let the sunshine in. That kind of light, no one can extinguish it again.

I’ve read a lot of the writings of dissident Chinese and Tibetan writers. I’ve seen a lot of bold ideas come forth in the last three years and watched them spread like wildfire around the Chinese and Tibetan blogospheres. But rarely has someone achieved such prominence as Han Han and never, with the possible exception of famed architect Ai WeiWei, has a Chinese thinker used their position of celebrity to put such revolutionary  words out into the world. I’ve read this piece about five times in the last twelve hours and each time it gives me goosebumps.

Over the last decade, I’ve often had friends ask me how I think Tibet will be free and what the likelihood of regime change in China happening.  I’ve always had intellectual answers of how change can occur to respond with. But for the first time, it is clear. Han Han and people like Liu Xiabo, Woeser, and Ai WeiWei are how the Chinese Communist Party will lose their hold on power.  Han Han’s celebrity is clearly protecting his ideas, but how the Chinese government responds to him in the future is critically important. His ideas are clearly a forerunner to regime change. The CCP is now in a Catch-22. If he is jailed or beaten or torture or murdered in response for his ideas, the public outcry could be a precursor to revolution. But if he and other people like him are allowed to continually push for freedom and democracy, then too will the table be set for the public to throw the CCP out of power.

Read Han Han’s post above again. As you do so, make sure you keep in mind that he knows exactly what words will trigger censors, what words will prompt government officials to call him in to have tea and talk about the things that he must not do.  He knows the weight and consequence of each turn of phrase, even going so far as to highlight that the names of other Time nominated influentials are in fact sensitive words. He critiques the government’s actions in the leadup to the Beijing Olympics (ridding the city of dogs, temporarily clearing smog). He even takes a direct shot at the Party’s fear of a mere search engine. These are not subtle critiques. These are direct shots, or at least as direct as he can reasonably make without guaranteeing a sentence of patriotic reeducation through labor.

I don’t know what will happen next. But for now, I am in awe of the power, passion, and patriotism of Han Han, in penning what I think is going to be the most important individual blog post in 2010.

Latest Directives from PRC Propaganda Department

In the lead-up to the Shanghai World Expo, the Chinese government’s propaganda department has released a new set of directives for journalists covering the event. According to Reporters Without Borders, they include reducing coverage of the Jyekundo earthquake:

Reporters Without Borders has been told that another directive from the Propaganda Department on 25 April asked the media to reduce their coverage of the consequences of the Qinghai earthquake and increase the number of reports and features about the Shanghai exhibition.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the Propaganda Department has set the following rules for covering the earthquake: Talk of the earthquake in “scientific terms” ; Do not criticise the earthquake forecasting agency ; Do not focus too much on the efforts by Buddhist monks to help the victims ; and Give extensive coverage to the appeals for donations organised by state-owned CCTV.

The Information Office, whose responsibilities include monitoring the Internet, has reminded major news websites that they can not do their own reporting. As regards the earthquake, the government has ordered sites managers to make sure that reports contain no mention of the Dalai Lama and the solidarity campaigns organised by Tibetans.

Ladies and gentlemen, your next global super power.

Big Government

Oklahoma style.

I’ve never been taken by the right’s attacks on “big government.” Most of it has always struck me as a handy catch-all for programs and policies that they just don’t like, while very few have actually any impact on the way these people will lead their lives. The EPA regulating pollution-causing industrial process is not big government, it’s merely a policy that some corporations don’t like. And corporations aren’t people, so people who treat them as such aren’t that serious in my book.

On the other hand, when the state legislature in Oklahoma says that a woman cannot sue her doctor if she’s given birth to a child with birth defects and the doctor lied about it being a healthy fetus while she was pregnant, that, my friends, is Big Government. It is legislating a doctor’s beliefs onto his patients. Or more specifically, it is legislating a halo of legal immunity around a doctor who lies to patients and in so doing rips constitutionally protected rights out of their hands.  If nothing else, every member of the Oklahoma state legislature who voted to override the Governor’s veto to make these anti-choice laws a reality should be banned from ever complaining about the size and role of government ever again.


James Galbraith has a great quote on the limited debate going on in Washington about the need for a deficit commission:

“The frame of the debate is between those who think the witches have taken over the entire community and the whole lot of them should be burned and those who think there are only a few witches and burning just a few of them would be enough to appease the demons,” said James Galbraith, the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government at the University of Texas. “There are a few of us operating safely removed from the bonfires who maintain there is no such thing as witchcraft.”

There are lots of opinions out there, but to my knowledge the deficit commission doesn’t include anyone in Galbraith’s position of saying there is no crisis and thus no need for a response.

Following Jyekundo Quake, China Arrests Leading Tibetan Intellectual

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated reports from the Tibetan blogosphere that Shogdung, a leading Tibetan writer and intellectual, has been arrested by the Chinese government shortly following the Jyekundo earthquake. Shogdung was taken from his home in the middle of the night, standard practice for totalitarian regimes worldwide, and his family has been unable to see or visit him in jail since. As to the reason for his detention, High Peaks Pure Earth reports:

Just three days after the earthquake, on April 17, a group of prominent Tibetan intellectuals based in Qinghai’s Xining province had written an open letter of condolence to the victims of the disaster. Shogdung was one of the signatories of this open letter (in his real name Tagyal) and it was published on his blog.

The open letter expresses condolences and at the same time is critical of the Chinese government in their handling of the earthquake relief efforts. Other signatories of this open letter include well known Tibetan writer and singer Jamyang Kyi and other members of the group known as the New School of Thought. The New School is a group of progressive writers who are critical of the past and argue for the need for internal reform and change in Tibetan tradition. They are highly critical of the negative aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.

There is a great deal of attention paid by those of us in the Tibetan independence movement to the various policies that the Chinese government has used and continues to use to crush the Tibetan culture. From forcibly moving nomads into shoddily-built concrete homes (which caused still untold death in Jyekundo), to moving Han Chinese settlers into Tibet on a scale such as to make Tibetans a minority in their home land, to not offering high school education in Tibetan language, the Chinese government has put forward a series of policies that amount to cultural genocide. But the crackdown over the last few years, including the arrest and detention of a number of prominent Tibetan writers, intellectuals and film makers is another front the Chinese government is waging in their ongoing colonization and repression of Tibet.

A Tibetan friend writes in an email:

While Shogdung’s uniqueness is indeed noteworthy, it is important to also see his arrest in the context of a larger trend of arrests of prominent Tibetan writers, artists and educators. As mentioned in the news story, Shogdung’s arrest should not be surprising because other Tibetan intellectuals from Northwest Nationalities University like Therang (Tashi Rabten) and Shokjang (Druklo) were also arrested. And these arrests seem to fit into a still larger trend of arresting prominent Tibetan artists, musicians and writers. Considering the fact that it will not take much effort for the Chinese government to identify, arrest and silence the handful of these note-worthy Tibetans, it is really grave (excuse the pun) to imagine how devastating it will be for Tibetan society.

It is generally rare for our society to produce independent thinkers who reflect critically issues of identity, history, culture and larger power-politics. It took years (decades) of Chinese occupation and “education” to produce the “first generation of Tibetan writer-intellectuals” like the late Palden Gyal and Dhondrup Gyal who wrote between 1979-1989. Shogdung and his compatriots who became popular with their writings published between 1989-2000 are highly regarded as “the second generation of writer-intellectuals” by the present (third) generation of writers. All these intellectuals are popular among Tibetan high school and college students. For those of us who care for the future of Tibet, the value of the continuity of this secular Tibetan intellectual heritage cannot be underestimated.

Secular leadership is a huge component in the evolution of Tibetan identity towards resistance to colonization. Clearly the Chinese government does not want Tibetan intellectualism, especially when it is influential towards the thinking of Tibetans inside of Tibet, to exist. The continued crackdown on dissidents and intellectuals can only be seen in the frame of a desire to stop the Tibetan culture and society from continuing to exist as distinct from Han-colonized Tibet.


It feels really weird to write this, but as of today, April 22nd, 2010, I’m not that concerned about the fate of Democrats in midterms. Granted, they haven’t done much to make me care too deeply about the size of the Democratic majority in either chamber or even holding on to both. If I had to guess based on where we are in late April, Democrats will lose a couple seats in the Senate and a low two-digit number in the House, but maintain legitimate majorities in both chamber.

In addition to healthcare, I expect Wall Street reform and immigration reform to pass in some state. There’ll probably be a number of smaller jobs bills that are passed before the fall too. Take into account that Republicans continue to abide by a doomed-to-fail strategy of mistaking their base’s disappointment with Obama with independents’ disappointment with Obama and this doesn’t look like it will be a catastrophic election for Democrats. I don’t expect gains, but given where we were six to nine months ago, I think it’s a pretty good place to be, if you care about the electoral fate of Democrats.

Chinese Gov’t Slowing Quake Rescue Efforts

The South China Morning Post (subscription link) is reporting that the Chinese government has ordered Tibetan monks who voluntarily provided aid and helped rescue victims of the Kyigudo earthquake in Kham last week cease their activities. Monks have been the backbone of rescue and support efforts, spending time rescue and helping Tibetans and Tibetan residential areas while official Chinese rescue resources focused on Party elites and government buildings. The SCMP quotes Woeser with more details:

Tserang Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan activist and blogger, said the decision to ask the monks to leave would not go down well with the deeply religious quake survivors in Yushu.

“A lot of Tibetans in Yushu trust the monks more than the rescuers sent by the government,” she said. “There are more people lining up for help at relief delivery spots set up by the monks than those set up by the PLA soldiers.”

Tserang Woeser said the heads of many monasteries based outside Yushu had received orders to pull out. “Blocks have been set up on roads leading to Yushu and monks are no longer allowed to enter Yushu,” she said.

The Chinese government seems to be more concerned with maintaining the propaganda story of the PLA and official government resources helping quake victims, as Andrew Jacobs reported last week. But Tibetans will likely see the truth as being the monks have provided the bulk of the relief, rescue, and support efforts, while the PLA was focused on saving Party elites. Little thought has been paid to the welfare of Tibetans affected by this disaster, though a great deal of attention is paid to propaganda and what the citizenry in China is shown on TV.

More importantly, as we have seen repeatedly since early 2008 (if not sooner), the Tibetans of Kham and Amdo in particular are acutely aware of the political realities of being a colony of China. From forced resettlement of nomeds into shoddy cinder block homes, most of which are now in rubble and responsible for untold death, to the violent crackdown in response to peaceful protests, to increased pressure on monasteries, there is plenty for Tibetans to be aware of. And ordering the cessation of rescue efforts lead by monks from outside of Yushu is likely going to be another potential flashpoint, as it will undoubtedly mean fewer people rescued from the rubble and a slower spread of food and medical supplies to victims.

Why is the Chinese government stopping the admirable and critical efforts by monks to save human lives? They are scared of the influence monks have over lay Tibetans. They are scared that the monks will be perceived as being the main architects of the rescue operation and provider of care in the earthquake’s aftermath.

Of course, rather than being worried about the political fallout of the monks being recognized by lay Tibetans for their great work, the Chinese government could instead provide world-class care, resources, and rescue capacity to save Tibetan lives.  Rather than deal in the abstract world of political perceptions, the Chinese government could be dealing in the real world, defined by life and death, injury and treatment, shelter and homelessness, clean water and fresh food or starvation and slow death. The answer as all too clear, though. The Chinese government just does not care about Tibetans beyond the extent to which they may create political instability for the CCP. The tragedy of this is that people will die as a result…and there’s a pretty good chance that the Chinese government won’t even count them among their official toll of the dead.