Q&A with Zeng Jinyan about the TIME 100 List

Zeng Jinyan was selected as one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential persons in the world.  The descriptive text was written by Arianna Huffington:

Zeng Jinyan is the online progeny of the protester who blocked a column of advancing tanks during China's Tiananmen uprising in 1989. When Zeng's husband, AIDS and environmental activist Hu Jia, was detained by the Chinese government without any legal proceedings last year, Zeng, now 22, started a blog detailing her experiences and the oppressive activities of the country's secret police. Since then, her blog has been blocked in China, and she and her husband have been harassed, intimidated and subjected to round-the-clock surveillance. But she has steadfastly continued to blog, attracting an international audience with her sardonic style—and her courage. She is Tiananmen 2.0.

Blogs are by nature very personal—an intimate, often ferocious expression of the blogger's passions. This intimacy creates an unusually close bond between blogger and reader. It's why I feel so connected to Zeng, even though we live on opposite sides of the world and have never met—or even spoken to each other. By blogging truth to power, she is planting the seeds of a new—and true—cultural revolution. Let a thousand blogs bloom.

(Boxun)  May 5, 2007.  [Note: Since Boxun is blocked in mainland China, the Chinese-language article has been reproduced at EastSouthWestNorth].

[in translation]

Yesterday, I was chosen as in the "heroes and pioneers" section of TIME's "100 Most Influential People In The World."  Many telephone calls and emails arrived to congratulate and interview me, with requests for my thoughts.  That was surprising to me.  In view of these questions, I have made these simple questions-and-answers to thank my friends who care.

Question: How did you feel when  you realized that you were listed in the TIME 100?

Answer: Yesterday morning, Mister Cai was the first to send me an email to inform me that I was one of the TIME 100.  

The TIME reporter and photographer began to contact me last fall.  At the time, they did not explain the purpose of the interview and photographs.  Therefore I was delighted to read the confirmation that I was on the list of the TIME 100.  I was surprised by the telephone request for an interview from the reporter last year.  Whether in the world, or in China, or in the city of Beijing where we live, there are many more people who are more influential than me.  I am young.  I do social work that the mainstream society in China does not pay much attention to.  I am the wife of an "activist" who is frequently kidnapped by the police and illegally detained.  The mention of my name is banned within the mainland Chinese media.  Anyway, I have an unusual social role.  I did not imagine that I could be one of the TIME 100.

No matter what, I feel that this was an encouragement coming from TIME and an affirmation of my work in 2006.  I used the mobile phone to send this news to my parents in Fujian and my godparents, and I called Hu Jia's mother.

May 4th is the fourth birthday of Chen Guangcheng's son Chen Kerui.  I was thinking about it.  As soon as I woke up in the morning, I asked Hu Jia to send a SMS to Yuan Weijing to bless the child.  In my heart, the day belongs to little Kerui.  Since I was in a hurry, I used email to post the news about the TIME 100 to my blog.  We followed our original plan to meet with friends at the Miyuan Reservoir.  There was something else happening, and we got home at around 1am at night.  I am only responding now.

Question: Why did you think that you were chosen for the TIME 100?

Answer: I don't know TIME's standards and criteria are for selecting the 100 persons.  So I can only speculate.

Blogging may be one reason why I was chose.  In this country without freedom of speech, the news media are first and foremost the "mouthpiece of the Party."  The "life and death" of journalists and the media are controlled by the Central Publicity Department.  Even though some excellent media workers can occasionally break through the news censorship, they cannot fully and continuously address the incidents and issues of the lowest strata of society that require urgent attention.  After making personal contact with the socially vulnerable groups in society, conducting personal investigations of relevant social problems and reading the coverage of the more credible English-language reports and scholarly studies, I realized that we Chinese citizens live in a society of lies.  The publicity department is the "department of truth" in <1984>.  Each day, it uses its language to "revise history" and "manufacture facts."  It guides and orders the Chinese news organizations to create "emotionally touching positive and beneficial news reports."  In order to refuse false news and to present the truth, more and more Chinese people are establishing their own independent news outlets -- their blogs!  Even if they are not discussing state affairs, they can still accurately make social observations and even utter some "honest" words on their blogs.

In real life, people are very cool towards political topics because they are afraid of getting into trouble.  On the anonymous Internet, you will find countless number of netizens who care about the situation of contemporary society and criticize current affairs.  Since the mainstream media cannot report about illegal detention, forced disappearance, defense of rights and civic social movements, blogs become a platform for social workers and independent thinkers to speak and meet with the public.

In 2006, I used my blog to narrate the disappearance of Hu Jia, his extended house arrest, my life under surveillance and other people who have undergone similar experiences in China.  This drew the attention of many friends.  The blog became a platform to mount a rescue effort during the disappearance of Hu Jia and it fulfilled certain functions that I had not expected.  Blogs have become a very good tool for protecting rights, civil social work and even protection of one's family.  Even if all it did was to describe individual cases or true encounters, a blog is destined to be different from anything else.  The only regret was that around September 2006, my blog was blocked by the Internet police and it is impossible to visit it directly from mainland China.  I usually have to rely on email to update my blog.

There are numerous excellent bloggers in China.  I am not the best in terms of writing style or depth of content.  Therefore, I was not chosen for the TIME 100 on account for writing a blog alone.  Could it be because there are more and more incidents of illegal detention and disappearance in China?  Or because when I write in my blog, I am realizing the lessons from my human rights education and social work?  Or because the people of China and even the whole world are become very attentive to rights defense movements in China and the struggles and resistance of the vulnerable and lowest groups in Chinese society?  Or because in 2006, I wrote far too many reports and letters to the United Nations organizations, human rights organizations, AIDS and environment protection activists and the really influential people in the European Union, besides asking far too many other people to join me in writing to the Chinese leaders?  Or because I was successful in calling a press conference for the Beijing-based foreign correspondents from around the world about the disappearance of Hu Jia, and the friends in the media then communicated my demands to the whole world?

Some people say that it was because of my courage.  I am embarrassed.  You don't know how scared I used to be and how I endured in silence.  Since 2004, Hu Jia has been frequently disappeared or detained.  I have tried looking for me.  But most of the time, I just waited for the police to bring him back.  When the National Security Police came to my university and went through the school's party committee to ask that "I should not associate with Hu Jia" and "I should spend less time on AIDS-related social work" or else "I have to worry about my graduation diploma," I was so scared and I frequently fell into silence.

Yes, during the disappearance and house arrest of 2006, I began to learn to fight back and I gradually lost my fear.  That was because I finally realized that if I cannot even defend my most beloved person, then what have I got left to lose?  What have I got to be afraid of?  If a person cannot live on with dignity, then what is the point of enduring it anymore?  If I keep being afraid of the politically powerful but invisible dark forces and my work is stalled, then what will happen to the old people, children, patients and volunteers in the AIDS villages?  For the families of rights defenders who suffer much more than me (such as the wife and child of Chen Guangcheng), what will happen to them?  I believe that as long as I have justice in my heart, courage will come naturally.  My religious beliefs give me a lot of support and help me escape from terror.  Basically, the smiles of the Master and Buddha often appear suddenly in my mind and fill me with strength.  Buddha said that a life shall be filled with all manners of sorrow, so we might as well as face them openly!  So I have gradually lost my fear.  I am sometimes angry, frustrated and sad, but I never lose my confidence.

Question: What kind of influence and change will being listed in the TIME 100 cause you?

Answer:  If it were not for the fact that so many friends and reporters congratulate me and pose questions, I would not have thought about this issue.  TIME is a media outlet with global influence and many more people will know about these 100 people as a result of the publication of the list.  But this can only represent an affirmation for bring any influence or change to me.  I will do the same social work and I will not change my method.  A temporary international fame may make it safer for me.  I am pregnant right now.  I think that they will continue to follow me around in 2007 and 2008.  They will put me under house arrest.  But I don't think that they will go as far as putting me in jail.  But who know what will happen?  The friend that we are most concerned about -- the blind self-taught lawyer Cheng Guangcheng -- was one of the heroes/pioneers in last year's TIME 100.  He received a great deal of attention from the global media, political circles and common people.  But he was retaliated against for his outstanding rights defense and he is still in prison at this time.

Some friends told us when they started to call our home telephone and my mobile telephone yesterday, they kept hearing messages that said that there was a problem with the telephone number, or else there was no such telephone number, or else the telephone was busy -- I was actually using the telephone some of the time, but the mobile phone was showing a busy signal even though I was not using it.  More trouble came later because the Chinese newspapers had blanket coverage of Hu Jintao and Liu Qi being selected among the TIME 100, but there was nothing about me.  I was mentally prepared.  Originally I did not want to say anything.  But my family members called to ask.  What should I do?  If I don't give them an explanation, I would be lying.  If I gave a detailed explanation, I would break their hearts!  Some netizens are also confused and they are asking, "Is the Chinese media censoring the news? or the foreign media spreading rumors?"

Question: Do you have any special feelings about being listed alongside Chairman Hu Jintao?

Answer: I don't have any special feelings.  Our social roles are very different.  Our country has the biggest population in the world and the total size of our economy is also among the top in the world.  But in our system, power is greater than law and the Party is greater than the state.  Chairman Hu Jintao is the highest representative of the power of the state under such a system, so there is no doubt that he has a huge influence.  There are definite reasons why he was chosen for the TIME 100.

Hu Jia and I are both simple persons.  I work at a small company to make a little money to support my family.  The rest of my time is given to AIDS concern, aid and rights defense.  Hu Jia is a freelance worker, or what the police call an "unemployed urban person."

I don't have any special feelings about being in the same list as Hu Jintao, and I have no personal complaints against him.  But as chairman, he has responsibility for the oppression of the Chinese law enforcement departments against civilians and rights defenders.  Sometimes, I wish there could be "leaders with conscience" at the senior Chinese government level who can accelerate social and political reforms, eliminate corruption and misgovernance, relieve the heavy burden on the people, make Chinese society truly develop and let the people be free and happy.  But I have no illusions about the authorities after the increasingly severe censorship of news and the Internet as well as the suppression of the civilian sector.  I believe that the future will be better.  But this will come through every effort, struggle and fight instead of waiting for the rulers to bestow the "favor" that never seems to materialize.

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