Last week China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an official statement on the storming of Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli by Libyan opposition forces, saying in the midst of the apparent end of Gadhafi’s rule that China “respected the choice of the Libyan people.” The ministry’s remarks generated buzz on blogs and social media in China, where some were keen to draw parallels with China’s own political situation. Blogger and CMP fellow Yang Hengjun (杨恒均) asked pointedly: “When are we going to respect the choice of the Chinese people?”
Dragging out Libya’s lessons for China is of course a sensitive issue, and few traditional media have tackled the question even indirectly. One editorial in particular is worthy of note, however.
On August 26, Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post, which has distinguished itself as one of China’s hardest-hitting publications since playing a key role in breaking the 2008 poisoned milk scandal, ran a lead editorial called, “Give the People a Choice, Give Everyone a Route of Escape.”
While the editorial was about Gadhafi and Libya, its implications for China were not far beneath the surface. It argued that those in power must learn from the lessons of history and ensure that the “people’s right to choose” is respected. Leaders and vested interests who fail to do so pave the way not only for their own undoing, but they close all paths of escape for the whole society, leaving violence as the only means of change.
The editorial concludes with a clear reference to China’s dynastic past and the rise and fall of political rulers: “The men of the Qin had no time for sorrow [so swiftly did they fall], but was pitied instead by those who followed, even as they failed to learn its lessons, sowing the pity of future generations for themselves.”
The Oriental Morning Post editorial was quickly removed from the newspaper’s website, which now yields the following 404 error.
The editorial was then actively shared on social media using online services that instantly convert text into images that can more easily elude censors using keyword filtering methods.
Censors eventually caught up. The following is a screenshot of a re-post of an image-based version of the Oriental Morning Post editorial on Sina Microblog, which now carries the message: “This post has been deleted by its original author.” The Sina notice once again begs the question of whether this was really a voluntary deletion on the part of the user, or whether A) the user was asked by managers to remove the post or B) managers removed the post themselves and attributed the action to the user. This is something we’re looking into for this and a number of other cases.
The message from the user who re-sent the original microblog post reads: “This is just awesome! The Oriental Morning Post is awesome!”
Below is a partial translation (mostly complete) of the August 26 Oriental Morning Post editorial as re-posted on Sina Microblog. The user added a note to the top of the image-text file saying that the article had already been deleted from the internet.
As usual, recognizing that our time constraints do not permit perfection, we humbly invite comments and clarifications on translations or other issues.
“Give the People a Choice, Give Everyone a Route of Escape”
Oriental Morning Post
August 26, 2011
(already deleted from the website, but visible in photograph form)
Everything that has happened in Libya up to now only proves yet again the inevitable proposition that if people are not given the right to choose, this shuts off the path to peaceful negotiation and closes off all routes of escape available to the whole of society, those in power included.
On the situation in Libya, the position of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was this: “We have noted the changes in the situation in Libya in recent days, and China respects the choice of the Libyan people.” The significance of this statement lies first of all in the fact that it admits that the subject of change in Libya over the last six months and more has been the “people.” Second, it is significant because it admits that the fulsome struggles of the Libyan people in action over the past half year have been an exercise of their “right to choose,” and that [the exercise of this right] is normal and should be respected.
This wave of political change has spread, one after another, through many nations in the Middle East, so why was Libya singled out for attention [by the foreign ministry]? Clearly, this is because changes in other countries were swift and clean while changes in Libya came about only as the culmination of more than half a year of bloody civil war.
The Libyan people have paid a heavy price to realize their right to choose. The whole of Libyan society has suffered, including Gadhafi and his supporters. Many of the costs will become evident only in the future. It is difficult to say how the social scars of civil war and domestic enmities will impact the unfolding political situation in Libya. Blood and fire may voice the determination, courage and honor of the Libyan people in seeking their freedom, but they cannot heal the country’s wounds or dispel deep-seated concerns.
In this sense, the “weakness” of rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries made it possible under particular circumstances for these countries and their people to avoid, much to their benefit, the path of violence . . .
Look at Gadhafi and how he was given the opportunity to compromise, but how he failed to cherish this opportunity. Violence was his only religion, and he wished to use the blood of the opposition to plunge the whole nation into war. By the time his mind turned to compromise, the opportunity had passed.
Of course, Gadhafi’s refusal to compromise has always been done in the name of “the people of Libya.” It’s certainly no secret that his use of the word “people” has from the very first day tallied a lousy record of misrepresentation and abuse. Today we understand that Gadhafi does not in fact represent “the people.” In truth, he and the forces he represents stand in opposition to the people of Libya.
But this is not something that was apparent only after the writing was on the wall. It could be seen on the day they threatened and massacred their own people, and even earlier, on the day they robbed the people of their right to choose. It was then that they cleaved themselves from “the people.”
It was his psychology of “whoever stands at the end represents the people,” or “victory justifies the victorious,” that made Gadhafi refuse to set violence aside. His logic, in which whoever is smiling in the end represents the will of the people, is at base a philosophy of violence, of the supremacy of arms. The natural outcome of this logic is that when those in power have lost all popular support, and when the people have no prospect of using legal means and procedures to exercise their right to choose, violent overthrow is their only alternative. [Under such a political environment] words and promises of negotiation, deliberation and “reform” are often no more than policies of deception. From the day the people’s right to choose was no longer respected, or was even trampled, Gadhafi left no exit for the people, and he left no way out for himself either . . .
Gadhafi came to power through violence, and he made his exit in the midst of violence. The difference is that in leaving power, he left behind even more blood, leaving Libya with wounds from which it will be all the more difficult to recover. When there is an unwillingness to face the existence of the people, when the people are not permitted to voice their own demands, when the people are not allowed to exercise their right to choose, the only form of change that remains is ultimately the fiercest, most extreme and bloodiest . . .
Broadly speaking, every change in the nature of society, every rebalancing of power and interests, is a transformation (变革). But owing to different attitudes toward the choices of the people [by those in power], the outcomes will be markedly different. There might be a gradual process of improvement, or there might the terrible prospect of “a successful revolution, in which millions fall to the earth.” On the other hand, of course, there is the possibility that revolution will not succeed, and millions will fall to the earth still. There have been many such terrible precedents. [NOTE: The portion here in Chinese referring to unsuccessful revolutions is a reference to the words of Sun Yat-sen, who said that if the Chinese revolution was not successful, the people must push on.]
The core measure of a civilized society is not how those in power came to be in power, but how they step down. When [those in power] are seduced by the desire to protect their personal interests, or those of their families or cliques, when they are tempted to grasp power firmly for all time, and will stoop to any false or fabricated notion of the popular will to extend their own legitimacy, then they ultimately leave the people no choice but to choose the extreme path of indiscriminate destruction. When such a situation emerges, the people may not understand or be adept at how to employ peaceful means to voice their demands, but given the fact of an authoritarian society, responsibility must be placed first on the shoulders of those rulers who lack political wisdom and a sense of historical undertaking.
Each and every day there might be powers big or small that exit the center of power [in this or that country]. The biggest difference between them is the extent to which they affirm the right of the people to choose and submit themselves to it. “When I left the Kremlin, hundreds of reporters thought I would weep. I did not weep, because I had already attained the chief goal of my life. For a true politician, this goal is not to hang on to one’s power and position, but to promote progress and democracy in one’s country.” These words were spoken by Gorbachev. Twenty years ago, he relinquished power. His merits and shortcomings will be determined by future generations. But we must at least admit this, that while those nations in transition, including Russia, have struggled through dramatic changes, little or no blood was shed. Meanwhile, Libya, which for such a long time was “stable” (but in fact stagnating) now faces terrible social divisions.
Gadhafi’s error was a pernicious and ancient illness repeated by men through the ages: “The men of the Qin had no time for sorrow [so swiftly did they fall], but were pitied instead by those who followed, even as they failed to learn its lessons, sowing the pity of future generations for themselves.” The people must be granted the right to choose gradually but resolutely, otherwise the frightening prospect of having no escape [from violence] will be the recurring nightmare facing any society in transition.
August 26, 2011