The World Press Freedom Prize Acceptance Speech

From UNESCO on May 4, 2005:

Chinese journalist Cheng Yizhong was named as the laureate of the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by UNESCO Director-General Koďchiro Matsuura, on the recommendation of an independent jury of media professionals from all over the world.

The Jury, chaired by Mr Chongkittavorn (Thailand), includes the following members: Ruth de Aquino, (Brazil); Conor Brady, (Ireland); Oliver Clarke (Jamaica); Souleymane Diallo, (Guinea); Kunda Dixit, (Nepal); Yosri Fouda, (Qatar); Ferial Haffajee, (South Africa); Marvin Kalb, (USA); Daoud Kuttab, (Jordan); Remzi Lani, (Albania); Artūras Račas, (Lithuania); and two representatives of the Fundación Guillermo Cano (Colombia). 

As editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, no man is free. Daily) Mr Cheng, 40, broke new ground in Chinese journalism. His editorial independence and professional know-how helped turn his paper into one of the most successful dailies in the country, publishing articles revealing the SARS epidemic and a case of death in a Canton police station.

Imprisoned for five months with two of his Nanfang Dushi Bao colleagues, Yu Huafeng and Li Minying, Mr Cheng was released in August 2004. While no formal charges were laid against him, he has been barred from resuming his professional activities.

Expressing his gratitude for the Prize, Mr Cheng said: “I feel very relieved and comforted, but I also feel sad. All we have done is act according to our conscience. Unfortunately we have had to pay a price for following our conscience.” 

Unfortunately, according to the Commitee to Protect Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned Chinese authorities' refusal to allow journalist Cheng Yizhong to receive a United Nations press freedom award on Tuesday.


"As for not being able to go to Dakar, I feel very regretful and apologetic," Cheng said in a statement posted on the Internet, according to the South China Morning Post. He called on journalists in China to "speak the truth."

"There is fear and lies everywhere and we are getting further and further from the truth," said Cheng in the statement, according to the news report. "If we allow ourselves to get used to it, we will be harming ourselves."

Cheng's online statement, as reported by the Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post, was unavailable on China-based Web sites on Monday and may have been censored by authorities there.

I have now done an English translation of Cheng's statement (posted at New Century Net) below.  Someone else might have done so as well, but I am not aware of it.  In any case, I did this because Cheng deserves more than one or two excerpted sentences in the western media.

Cheng Yizhong: Insisting On Commonsense Amidst Terror and Lies (My Speech of Thanks On Receiving the World Press Freedom Award)

First of all, I must sincerely thank UNESCO for giving me the 2005 Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom award.  I thank the executive board of UNESCO as well as the World Press Freedom Award's international jury.  At a dark and stormy time, this deed by UNESCO is undoubtedly like offering firecoal in the midst of a snowy winter, and has tremendous significance for the development of political culture and the improvement of human rights in China.  I am very sorry that I will not be able to go to Dakar to receive the award in person.  I thank the UNESCO executive board for agreeing to read this acceptaance speech on my behalf to the World Press Association.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank the World Press Association, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Project Journalists and my angry but silenced Chinese colleagues.  I want to thank Asia Weekly and Phoenix TV.  I want to thank the Washington Post and the New York Times.  I want to thank the Voice of America and BBC.  I want to thank AP and AFP.   [List of names of individuals omitted]  I want to thank the righteous and lovely Ms. Hu Shuli and her Beijing-based Caijing Magazine for being the only medium that reported on the Southern Metropolis Daily case based upon independently fair principles on mainland China, and indeed Caijing Magazine's bottomline approach represents a miracle in Chinese news coverage today.

[List of a long list of individual names omitted].  You are all victims, and at the same time you are saviors.  I ask the audience here to forgive my very long list of people to be thanked.  The actual list is even longer, so I must apologize for not listing everyone.

I want to thank all the saddened relatives, friends and colleagues at Southern Metropolis Daily, New Beijing Daily and the Southern Sports Magazine!  At this time last year, terror was everywhere and lies were everywhere.   Your persistent small voices were invincible and you blew down the black curtains and tall walls.

I must also thank those politicians who did and then undid the case; if it were not for your recklessness and stupidity, I would not have gained this honor and even more innocents would be swept in broad-sweeping similiar cases.  In a society with an imperfect legal system, any false case can be fabricated, and they will also seem serious and perfect from the outside.

I must thank my fellow fighters and victims Mr. Yu Huafeng and Mr. Li Mingyin because your suffering was the shame of all of China.  In the famous 1963 speech at the Berlin Wall, former American president John F. Kennedy said: "Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, no man is free."  Dear Mr. Yu Huafeng and Mr. Li Mingying, please enjoy this moment with me!  No matter when we were inside or outside the prison, we were suffering because we were always the prisoners of the evil system.  For me, the outside was just a larger prison, a "city without a sky."  My well-off life is actually just a pigsty with ample food and clothing.

Finally, 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 commonsense as our weapons in order to destroy the nightware weaved together by terror and lies.  Do not fight against commonsense.  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.

All these problems are there because we have been lost among terror and lies for so long.  Terror is everywhere.  Lies are everywhere.  We have been deceiving ourselves further and further down this path.  I believe that in the near future, we will look back and find this insane and absurd episode to be absolutely unthinkable.  If we accept the prevalent evil as normal, we will be co-conspirators in our own oppression.  Bei Dao's poem's said: "We are not innocent.  We became co-conspirators early with the history in the mirror."

Let us feel shame that we have to facing this kind of situation from now on.

I take this opportunity to call out: Please let the truth come back into our lives, and let the earth return under our feet!

In 1975, Vaclav Havel wrote an open letter to Czechkoslavia President and Communist Party General Secretary Gustav Husák: "If life cannot be destroyed for good, then neither can history be brought entirely to a halt. A secret streamlet trickles on beneath the heavy cover of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and inconspicuously undercutting it. It may be a long process, but one day it must happen: the cover will no longer hold and will start to crack."

-- This will definitely be our future as well.

April 28, 2005 in Guangzhou, China.