Comparing Taishi and Shanwei

The following is a partial translation of a conversation between the journalist Xiaoshu (笑蜀) and the activist Guo Feixiong (郭飛) after the latter was released from detention for his involvement in the Taishi elections.  The full Chinese-language version is here.

[in translation]

... I told him that the situation in Taishi village was not very good, but at least it was not the worst case.  By comparison, Shanwei was in worse shape.  He said that he had just read about the Shanwei case on the Internet yesterday.  I asked him: "Why did Taishi pay a relatively low price, whereas Shanwei paid so much?"

He said that when he got involved at Taishi village, he had a basic principle called the Three No's -- that is, no violence, no enemies and no bloodshed.  This is not just for Taishi, but it is his consistent principle as a person.  When the Taishi village conflict heated up, the other side mobilized fully armed anti-riot forces, and the villagers practically gave up fighting.  This was because he told them beforehand, "We are here to talk reason and not to revolt.  Therefore we must not employ violence.  Even if we are staring right at their violence, we will not have blood for blood."  

"In truth, faced with the totalitarian regime that was armed to the teeth, the people's power do not match up and violent resistance is useless.  The situation can get out of control, which may result in a large number of casualties.  I got involved because I wanted to help the people defend their rights.  If they do not end up winning those rights back and living better and instead they sacrifice even more, then this is contrary to my intent."  Therefore, he advised the people to adopt a policy of no resistance.

"But my non-resistance is not unconditional.  I have conditions."

"What conditions?"  I was curious.

"My condition is very simple.  That is, the other side must not overstep.  You can beat people and you can arrest people, but you cannot take lives.  If you take lives, then you have gone past my pre-defined bottom line.  And then you should not expect me to obey the rules.  You will have to worry about my revenge.  Maybe you think that I cannot do anything to you right now.  But it is never over, and you won't be in charge for the rest of your life."

When he said that, his eyes gleamed.

"But it was good that this extreme situation does not usually occur.  As long as we stick to our principle of no resistance, the other side may act and look tough at first but their attitudes will soften up in the face of citizens who won't fight back or shout back.  After all, they are humans too.  Although the situation at Taishi village appeared to be extremely draconian, there was not that much bloodshed.  Most of the injuries to the citizens were slight.  One young child was kicked by an insane auxiliary police officer; he may be mildly handicapped as a result of the injury to his hip.  A senior citizen took a fall in the chaos, and broke some bones."

"Why should what you say matter just on your say-so?  Why should the people listen to you?"

"Maybe I am not as learned and educated as you people," Guo said humbly and then he said: "But my practical experience is greater than yours.  I know how to speak to people.  The key is that I genuinely care for people.  I tell them, 'You should not fight back.  If anything happens to you, it will be my fault and I will never be able to live with myself.  You may not think about yourselves, but you should think about me and let me live as a human.  If they have to beat people, I will go up there and let them beat me.  They can beat me to death but I won't let you people die.'  That was what I was thinking and I was prepared to do."

When he said that, I found that his eyes were watery.  And I felt that my eyes were watery too.

"I know why the endings for Taishi village and Shanwei were different," I said.  "Taishi village paid a relatively smaller price because it had a certain level of organization.  This level of organization came about because intellectuals such as yourself engaged.  Shanwei paid such a high price because Shanwei was fighting on its own without outsiders and intellectuals to offer them advice."

Guo was excited and said, "This is brand new.  You keep going."  So I kept going.

"Your principle of Three No's is a very important and much needed concept.  It practically has revolutionary implications.  Defending rights is not about rebellion.  It is not about overthrowing someone in order to take their place.  Defending rights is about those without rights being unable to find a channel to defend their rights within the existing system.  Therefore, they are forced to go outside of the system through the method of peaceful protest.  This is a peaceful game between the powerless and the powerful over certain interests.

"But this game is very difficult to play.  In the beginning, the two sides in the game have no precedents or prior experience.  For the powerful, they are supposed to be rough and overbearing and they expect the people to obey their orders.  The people are expected to unconditionally accept those unfair arrangements, even if it means that they are being exploited.  For the powerless, they have arrived in an intolerable state where there may be some tendency for mutual destruction.  If there are agitators raising the volume, the situation can easily get out of control.  Such agitators are out there.  Most rights defenders are decent and rational, but there is a small number of people who are not so pure and clean.  These people don't care about the lives of the citizens and they want more bloodshed in order to expand and radicalize an incident so that they can become famous.

"By comparison, your principle of Three No's is actually very rational and smart.  If all defenses of rights are done this way, there will evolve a positive outcome after some twists and turns.  The two sides in the game will accept the rules of this game or otherwise recognize the bottom lines.  The two sides will not exceed those limits or cause unnecessary sacrifices to be made.

"Getting back to Shanwei.  The reason that Shanwei ended up to the point of no return is not because someone went in there to stir things up but precisely because there were no outsiders.  On one hand, the people of Shanwei are known to be relatively tough.  On the other hand, they don't have intellectuals like you who think hard, know the rules and have the ability to provide practical assistance to the people so that they can act with self-restraint.

"Of course, the most important factor was that in the absence of outside involvement, the locals were isolated and the powers-that-be had no worries about any chain reactions and acted as they wished.  That is to say, in the absence of a third party that could ameliorate the conflict, the two sides were competing to see who was the toughest and they made each other angrier and angrier in a vicious cycle.  Thus, this affair could have only gone to the extreme so that everybody loses.  This is the ultimate factor leading to the Shanwei tragedy.  If there had been a group of intellectuals like yourself, the state of things may not be like it is today.

"Although the Taishi village incident was serious enough to attract the attention of the world, there was not a lot of casualties and you and the other villagers have been freed.  The authorities who were connected to this incident did not draw too much popular resentment, so that they have a way out for the future.  That is to say, it is possible to say that they were okay with respect to what they did and history will not be too harsh on them.  But Shanwei is different.  History has set a place for them.  And for those people who go into the historical record, they will pay the price sooner or later.

"From this viewpoint, a smart person in power should realistically look at the implications from the Taishi village and Shanwei incidents.  If they put themselves in those situations, Taishi village may not be the best method of handling and there may a future cost.  But compared to Shanwei, the cost is much smaller.  Thus, they would rather take Taishi village than Shanwei.

"Therefore, the involvement of intellectuals in rights cases is not a bad thing for the authorities.  If there were no more game play over interests in China, then there is no need for intellectuals.  But is that conceivable?  Do the authorities still believe that they live in an age in which they issue an order and everybody obeys?  The authorities are obviously not getting everything that they want so easily.

"Contest over interests is unavoidable in any normal society.  The problem is not about the contest of interests, but it is about the lack of rules in the game.  The key player here is those in power.  They must not attempt to use any means possible, they must not overstep the limits and they must not set precedents.  If they set a precedent by breaking the rules, the weaker people will recognize that they have no choice and they don't have to observe the rules anymore.  Then society will fall into chaos and total warfare.

"Therefore, if the rules of games fall apart, the responsibilities lie mainly with those in power.  Those in power must restrain themselves, they must accept the existence of the game and they must establish the rules of the game and strictly follow them.  The intellectuals are the third party in the game, just like how you entered Taishi village.  You went into prevent the game from getting out of control and you defined the scope of the games.  The authorities should welcome you, or tolerate you at a minimum.  On one hand, they don't have the ability to stop the contest.  On the other hand, they don't want a contest that is peaceful and orderly.  Why do they want then?  Do they want a game without rules or, to put it bluntly, riots?

"Let us go deeper into this.  This is about the distinction between rights defense and revolt.  Rights defense is to acknowledge the authority of the existing political power under which rights are being defended.  Revolt does not accept any existing political power.  Rights defense is about the division of power with the powerful, and the outcome of this division is co-existence.  Revolt is about seizing power, or overturning the authorities; it is also a matter of only one of us shall remain in the end.

"Rights defense is about reform.  In the past, we have thought of reform as being top-to-bottom as directed by the rulers.  This is not totally correct.  Reform can also occur bottom-to-top and outside-to-inside, so that the rulers are forced to make peace with society under heavy external pressures and share or return power with the people.  That is to say, reform can be led by either the rulers or by society.  Rights defense is the most important path by which society can lead the way to reform.  It is a peaceful and gradual revolution, and it is revolution with the least amount of sacrifice and poisonous side-effects.

"Revolt is different.  Revolt is about sudden attacks, it is about violent revolution.  Just like Mao Zedong wrote in the "Field Report on the Hunan Peasants Movement", this is not like painting or sewing and it is not gentle or polite.  It is about violence, it is about one class overthrowing the rule by another class.  From Chinese history, we know that the consequence of such violent overthrows is often just "chasing the tiger out of the front door but letting the wolf sneak in from the back door."  Often, it was just swapping one despot by another, and the poisonous side-effects were terrible."

For a practical example of what non-violent resistance means, here is an online videoclip from Radio Free Asia.  In this clip, the activist Lu Banglie was being arrested in Taishi village.  His own account is as follows:

At 11am, I went out of the school and another policeman stopped and wanted to see my identity card.  I gave it to him.  He looked at it and put it in his pocket.  At that time, four to five plainclothesmen came up and tried to drag me away.  I started to shout and I grabbed the back of a motorcycle.  The men wrestled with me; someone was digging at me with his fingers; another was trying to free my grip on the motorcycle; still others were pulling me away by the feet.  Finally, they dragged me away and I lost a shoe during the process.  I was shoved into a police car and then they drove away to arrive at the Panyu District public security bureau detention center.

If you watch this, you will hear that there is a loud female voice between half way and 3/4 of the way of the clip reminding everybody: "Do not take action! Do not hit anyone!"  (不要動手!不要打人!).  

Related Links: The Taishi Village Elections and The Shanwei  (Dongzhou) Incident