Charter 08 In Postmodernist China

The document known as Charter 08 was announced on December 10, 2008.  After waiting several weeks, I wrote How Charter 08 Is Being Received on January 11, 2009.  I ask you to read Rebecca MacKinnon's What does Charter 08 mean? Too soon to tell... (January 20,  2008) because hers is the best summary that I have seen to date.

I wrote my piece in the role of a marketing scientist who ran a market segmentation and analyzed the potential responses.  Actually it was more like a communication study that might have been used in marketing as well as advertising, public relations, political science, media or administrative science.  Also I was actually being deliberately vague because it is my style to let my readers decide for themselves instead of telling them what they ought to think.

Now that Barack Obama has been inaugurated as president of the United States of America, I feel like being be more explicit about what I meant.

Very simply put, Charter 08 was dead on arrival on account of George W. Bush.

[tampered photo in which the image of President George W. Bush was pasted onto a background of American soldiers
for a president campaign photo]

This is all about timing.

If the Charter 08 document had shown up 30 years ago in 1979, the Chinese people would have no idea how to react.  They had been isolated from the outside world in the decade of turmoil known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  If this new quintessentially western-influenced document showed up, everybody may wonder if this was yet another ruse "to get the snakes to crawl out of the holes."  That is, are the authorities trying to get people to speak their minds and then arrest those who are bold (or stupid) enough to do so?  That was how Mao Zedong identified and punish the troublemakers during the anti-rightist campaign of 1957.  In any case, much of what is in the document would be alien to them.  More importantly, this document could only be made known by being passed around from hand to hand.  Being caught with the physical document may mean death.  Therefore, it would be very easy for the authorities to squash any movement centered around such a document.

If the Charter 08 document had shown up 20 years ago in 1989, it would be ... Oh, wait, maybe its spirit actually showed upon in the form of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square without an explicit document as such.  At the time, one can reasonably argue that in terms of the class-based analysis that I quoted in How Charter 08 Is Being Received, it had support from the enlightened intellectuals, the students, the working class and the middle class (which was small compared to now).  That is why it can be called a mass movement back then.

What is the difference between then and now?

The most important thing was that there was a lack of knowledge and information back then.  What did people know about democracy?  They might have begun to read the translations of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and other classics.  They might have heard about what was happening in eastern Europe, especially with Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Union in Poland.  This era may be described as the stage of modernism in China, which is consistent with the Four Modernizations (in agriculture, technology, industry and defense) in China but for the fact that the fifth modernization (in political system) was being skipped over for the moment.

 At this stage, it was possible for just the sight of the Statue of Liberty to inflame passions in Tiananmen Square:

People could believe that good things will happen if democracy arrives.  Afterwards they can be as rich and happy as the Americans.  They will all have houses, cars, television sets and refrigerators.

In actual history, this movement was brutally crushed in what is known as the Tiananmen incident (or 'massacre' as some people prefer).  One might have called this the phase of modernism in China (Wikipedia: [Modernism] is a trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology or practical experimentation.  Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was 'holding back' progress, and replacing it with new, progressive and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end. )

Almost twenty years later, Charter 08 is being presented with almost the same assumptions, premises and agendas.  [Note: I may be wrong on that and others can point out how the aims and goals of Charter 08 are different from TSQ 1989.]

What is the difference between now and then?

I say: There is the Internet now.

(Wikipedia)  When CNNIC started to count in 1997, there were 630,000 Internet users in all of China.  By the end of 2008, the number was almost 300 million (or about 19% of the entire population of China).

What might people learn from the Internet, especially about this thing known as democracy?  They can easily find out what happened during the presidency of the democratically elected President George W. Bush of the United States of America from 2000 to 2008.  These events are known, circulated and discussed in China.  Here they are:

If George W. Bush were not around and the American president was someone like Bill Clinton or even John Kerry instead, then there could have been some hope for Charter 08.

Instead, George W. Bush was president and such is the reality.  Anyone who has paid any attention over the past eight years could not have hoped for someone like George W. Bush to lead China.  George W. Bush had been elected by a majority of voters in the world's greatest democracy.  Twice.  How do you explain or justify that?  How could any Chinese person wish for a George W. Bush as the own leader of their nation over Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao?

Now that is the real marketing problem for Charter 08.

Alternately, it can be said that the small minority of Chinese people who have actually heard of Charter 08 have encountered Postmodernism:

Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one's own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is "post" because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody - a characteristic of the so-called "modern" mind.

So are you a modernist or a postmodernist?  You decide for yourself.

What about me?  I am a postmodernist modernist.  I believe in certain values, but I will not take anyone's word that they stand for those values.  It is not what they say; it is what they actually do.  Some people will call themselves democrats, but they are actually overbearing autocrats.  Some people will call themselves socialists, but they are actually greedy capitalists.  Some people will campaign on the basis of clean government, but they actually steal more money than anyone else.  Some television channel says that it is fair and balanced, but it is so biased and bigoted as to be unbearable to watch.  Some group describes itself as truthful, kind and tolerant, but they are actually deceitful, mean and intolerant ...

I stated that it is a matter of timing.  In other words, the timing could have been better.  For example, suppose that this document showed up on December 18, 2009 or twelve months later.  Then it is possible that the current American president Barack Obama will have effected the "change" that he campaigned on over the next 11 months.  There would have been much better times (see The Way We Look Now  Evan Osnos, The New Yorker).  For now, political reform is just not the priority.  For the laborers, many of them have just returned home for the Chinese New Year not knowing if they will find work back in the cities if they go back.  Is this the time to talk about political reform?  No, this is the time to have an economic stimulus package that will create work for them.  For the students, another six million or so university students will be graduating at the end of spring.  They want jobs too and they won't go out on strike in the name of political reform at this moment.  The middle-class is barely hanging on and they don't want anything to rock the boat.  To talk about political reform now is zheteng.  In another twelve months' time, let us say that the situation in China worsens by a lot (that is, no new jobs and many former jobs are lost) whereas America is seeing an economic boom, then Charter 09 may be an easier sell.  Maybe then, but not now.

[Note: Of course, there are some who insist that In China, Bush remains a popular president.]


In the above, I was generalizing.  There are more specific problems with respect to the personalities involved, for which I had been vague and merely provided certain links.  But let me be more explicit why I believe that there was a lack of enthusiasm as soon as the names of the initial signatories were made known.

In The Aftermath of the White House Meeting, it was reported that in 2006, Yu Jie and Wang Yi visited the White House and met with President George W. Bush.  They had this Reuters photo to show.  In so doing, they forced a human rights activist Guo Feixiong to stay away from this meeting.  You can read through that post and also the GVO post Christians and democrats forced to take sides.

In Christians and democrats forced to take sides Wang Yi had written to Guo Feixiong: "In 2005 you organized an anti-Japan procession and wrote an article attacking Jiao Guobiao. Contained in your democratic ideals is a certain kind of nationalism and Sun complex which disturbs me."  That and other events caused Wang Yi to exclude Guo Feixiong from the White House meeting with President George W. Bush.

What did Guo Feixiong actually write?  This was translated in The Counterattack Against Jiao Guobiao.

There are often moments like these in history: at a time when information is severely restricted, or when communication is distorted, a clown is often hailed as a "hero" by the moderate majority.

We can choose to ignore such a "hero" and watch him from the sideline.  But when he chooses to trample on our basic social values in order to "ascend" in conjunction with certain powers, I cannot help but stand up and speak out.


The deeper significance of the Jiao Guobiao phenomenon is that these are just his own personal thoughts.  After a suffocating period of ultra-leftist oppression in Chinese society, there is now an extreme ultra-rightist force that is expanding through the unrestricted internet.  The principal feature of this ultra-rightist force is that in terms of world view, it embraces the American world view and tramples on the Chinese world view; it regards the Chinese concerns about security and national interests with contempt; it reduces the complexity of historical movements into moral simplifications; it treats the history of Chinese resistance against foreign invasion as evil; it treats the War To Resist America and Support Korea and the War To Resist America and Support Vietnam as episodes in which China was evil and America was righteous.  But the malignant control of information by the ultra-leftists in China has prevented the truth from coming out in China, and many netizens unconsciously accept these ultra-rightist explanations of history and therefore such extreme singular ideas are spreading.


More and more human rights advocates recognized that they must treat the ultra-leftists and the ultra-rightists the same way.  They cannot be too gentlemanly and they must expose those people immediately.  Those who advocate and promote nonsense against logic and morality must be pursued relentlessly.

Guo Feixiong went onto cite a poem written by Jiao Guobiao (who is among the initial signatories of Charter 08):

To the American Soldier

On the second day of the war in Iraq,
A sandstorm rolled down the battlefield.
The frontline was stalemated,
Did you know how worry I was!

The desert storm in Iraq shook heaven and earth,
You carried a pack the size of a small hill on your back,
You lumbered forward and walked in the sand,
Did you know how my heart ached for you!

The desert in Iraq stretched on without end,
On the sand dune, you walked in from afar into focus,
The evil one and his friends accused you of being an invader,
Yes, you are indeed an "invader",
You who are in camouflage,
You are the first plant in the desert silent for eons
You are the first green hope in the endless desert.

In the desert of Arabia,
The camel is the boat.
In the culture of Arabia,
The camel is the most beloved living being.
If this ancient tribe has any hope,
That would be to turn the camels in their hearts,
Into American soldiers marching in the Iraqi desert

Most youth of the world today
Do not have to serve as soldiers across the world.
America is the paradise of youth,
But the youth of paradise is representing the youth of the world
To serve as soldiers in hell to combat evil.

Russian Foreign Minister Mr. Ivanov said:
"Tomahawk" cruise missiles cannot bring democracy.
I say that it depends on the era:
The guns that took Bastille prison brought democracy to France,
The guillotine that took off King Charles' head brought democracy to England,
The gun of Washington brought democracy to America,
The times have changed, and democracy in Iraq
Will be brought by the screaming "Tomahawk" cruise missiles.

Your heavy army boots,
Trod down the horizon of the desert in Iraq,
This is the direction of human civilization.
If you fall down,
Mankind will lose the backbone of righteousness.
If your country should fall down,
Mankind will return to the barbarity of the Middle Ages.

Ugly faces are on the television criticizing the war,
It is a bunch of so-called experts who are sorcerers and sorceresses babbling and whining.
Thoroughly hackneyed talk to fool the people,
But I cannot escape the noise.
My heart cries out to the faraway battlefield in Iraq many times:
"Open fire at me!  Open fire at me!"

American soldier,
Allow me to call you "Brother!"
If you are looking for volunteers,
Please let me know in the first instant!

If I have a next life,
If I become a soldier, I only want to become an American soldier.
If I have to die in battle in this life,
I would rather become a perished soul to an American precision-guided bomb.

Guo made these comments about this poem:

I think Jiao Guobiao must regret his poetic ardor afterwards, because this might have been his definitive symbol for all times.  At the end of April 2004, the scandal about American soldiers abusing prisoners broke open.  The dear American 'brothers' may have lived in a democratic country, but they have not eliminated racism and the seduction of power over the weak.  Not only did they kill innocent people, but they conducted systematic torture of prisoners of war, including extremely disgusting sexual torture!  This is such a satirical reflection on "To The American Soldier"!

I speculate that Jiao Guobiao initiated his offensive at the beginning of April with erasing this historical dirty spot as one of his principal objectives.  The very much disliked thought police in China became his stepping stone.  Jiao Guobiao was smart and alert.  Perhaps some special internal pressure or the incessant reporting about American soldiers killing innocents reminded him (but it is also possible that the "lofty" anti-totalitarianism motivated him) to take action right before Torture Gate broke open.  After his Declaration came out, it was spread throughout the Internet in and outside of China.  By that time, even if he was attacked for having written "To The American Soldier", it would be less persuasive.  In a certain sense, this helped Jiao Guobiao to temporarily escape a huge scandal that he committed in an impulsive moment.

Jiao Guobiao posted a response to Guo's letter.

From the very beginning I said: if the Declaration Of The Campaign Against The Central Propaganda Department made me famous for a decade, To The American Soldier will make me great for 50 to 100 years!  This blind man Guo guessed blindly: "I think Jiao Guobiao must regret his poetic ardor afterwards."  He is so very wrong!  Not only do I not regret this, I am proud of To The American Soldier for eight hundred lifetimes.  The American military torture of prisoners not only did not damage the honorable reputation of the United States, but it proves the greatness of the United States.  Mankind have tortured prisoners for thousands of years, but only the leader of one country has ever apologized for his soldiers torturing prisoners of war.  Which country?  The United States.  The only one and none other!


In the vocabulary of Jiao Guobiao, there is no distinction between integrity and triviality but only between democracy and totalitarianism.  Democracy, if it happens to be in America, I support!  Totalitarianism, if it happens to be in China, I condemn!

Actually, this blind person has no idea about just how I am "willing to sell myself for gain."  Let me make a bargain with you: if one day, I take charge of the People's Republic of China government, I will sell it to the United States as its 51st state for one cent.

At this moment in time, Guo Feixiong is serving time in prison in China on a seemingly preposterous charge of extortion.  Meanwhile not too many people pay attention to Jiao Guobiao except for Apple Daily (Hong Kong) and the FLG.  Regardless, this piece of history is being resurrected here for a moment just to explain why some of the "enlightened intellectuals" show distaste for Charter 08 as soon as they read the list of initial signatories.

Blame this and everything else on the Internet, of course ...  They had no such problem with Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia back then.

Related Link: Chinese & Western Overreactions to Charter 08  Mutant Palm