IP and Law

Chinese sociologist Lі Уіnhe on rural problems


Chinese sociologist Lі Уіnhe has written some thoughts on why the ongoing recall-related events are important to China's urban citizens living far removed from rural injustice. Citing Niemöller's "First they came..." passage, Li makes the case that urban Chinese ought to protest against such violence even when it doesn't affect them directly, at the very least because it may snowball into something more serious later.

Full translation follows inside; it may trip the filters if you're reading from the mainland.

Looking at Human Rights Protection from the Taіshі Village Affair

by Lі Уіnhe

I heard from my good friend Ai Xiaoming about the villagers in Taіshі, Panyu, Guangdong who were detained by the authorities because they wanted to recall the village officials (Southern Metropolitan Daily reported on this), and I felt very conflicted about this.

What so shocked me about this wasn't the matter itself, but rather my good friend's spiritual disposition. In Chinese society today, the difference between the cities and the countryside has become so great that it is difficult for the average person to imagine. Urban and rural residents do not only belong to two separate levels; they live in two different worlds, they belong to two different ethnic groups. The two groups have different ways of life, they act according to different norms, and they have different cultural customs. Those of us who were born and raised in the cities have no desire to think about affairs in the countryside, and we are even unwilling hear about the affairs of the countryside. My friend is an urban intellectual, but he is willing to be concerned about the events of another world. This kind of compassion is truly to be admired.

People are born equal, and as citizens their rights have no gradations. But in present-day China, while the rights of urban and rural residents are equal under the law, it is a cruel reality that because of historical and cultural circumstances, they are not in fact equal in real life. The rights of urban residents are essentially protected, but the rights of rural residents lack protection in comparison. Urban residents are not easily mistreated, but rural residents are comparatively easily mistreated. Urban residents rarely encounter violent treatment in their lives, while rural residents encounter violent treatment comparatively frequently. To recall someone so insignificant as a village official, the Taіshі villagers met with great injury. And after rural residents suffer violent treatment, they have just a small chance of seeing justice done.

When my good friend turns his attention to rural areas, he always brings up the historical injustices faced by the Jews. At first glance, there is a vast distance between those Jews in Germany and today's rural Chinese. But considering them carefully, there are similarities between the lack of protection of the rights of rural residents and the Jews of that time: one group, part of society, faced discrimination just because of their Jewish blood, and their basic rights were not ensured; the other, part of society, faces discrimination simply because they are rural residents, and their voting rights and personal rights to be free from mistreatment are not ensured. There are points of comparison between these two situations.

In any society, civilization improves but gradually, relying on the hard work of the entirety of society. Whenever barbaric and uncivilized things happen, we should rise up in protest and criticism, attacking them as a group. Thus can the power of barbarism recede and civilization improve. The west went from indifference and silence at Nazi brutality to criticism and protest, finally achieving today's level of civilization. If we take an attitude of indifference and silence to every instance of brutality in China, then the power of barbarism will only become greater and will ultimately harm our own interests.

Writing this, I recall Wang Xiaobo's citation of the confession of a Protestant minister in Germany: First, they came for the Communists; I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out because I was an Aryan. When they came for the Catholics, I did not speak out because I was a Protestant. Finally they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out. Although there is a vast distance between the lives of rural residents and our own, if we let barbaric force have its way with rural residents, then eventually it will reach a point where it cannot be contained, and ultimately may fall on the heads of those of us in the cities. So whether you look at it from the perspective of social justice, or from the perspective of protecting our civilization and the personal rights of every person, the beatings and arrests of the Taіshі villagers are worth paying attention to. The forces of brutality in every village and town must be beaten back wherever and whenever they occur; it is only by going through this point-by-point resistance that civilized society can gradually build itself up.

(note: the Niemöller quotation here is translated from the version Li used; she, or Wang Xiaobo, may have used a garbled version)

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