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Xiao Wu

A Bold Speech at Elite Chinese University Goes Viral: “Everyone Lies”

Li Chengpeng, speaking at Peking University. (Via Weibo)

Freedom of speech has always been a sensitive topic in China. But when a prominent commentator calls for the right to free speech in one of the most famous (and state-controlled) universities in China, it raises the stakes yet further.

On November 18, fresh off of a forced blogging hiatus coinciding with China’s leadership handover at its 18th Party Congress, outspoken commentator and blogger Li Chengpeng (@李承鹏) delivered a sharp and powerful speech called “Talk” at Peking University, directly criticizing the lack of free speech in China. On the same day, text of Li’s talk (shown below this article) was widely shared on Chinese blogs and social media, with thousands of reposts and comments showing support. One commenter wrote: “He speaks for many people’s hearts.” Yet some of the shared content on Sina Weibo, China’s preeminent microblogging platform, had been censored by the next day.

Li started with a bold statement: ” Chinese people are losing the power to talk.” He described the 1960s in China, citing examples of how the disastrous Cultural Revolution forced citizens to make a choice: Lie, or shut up. At that age, the whole country lost its ability to talk. “You couldn’t talk about your needs: I’m hungry; you couldn’t talk about your emotions: I love you; you couldn’t criticize your leaders; … you couldn’t tell the scientific truth.”

He went on to describe the “nonsense” Orwellian terms that the government has used to paper over excesses, including “vacation-style treatment,” (休假式治疗) “protective demolition,” (保护性拆迁) “bribery out of courtesy” (礼节性受贿) and “confirmatory election” (确认性选举). Li insisted that “we haven’t recovered from our inability to talk” due to strict censorship. ”Every time I see some department claim that our country has the largest number of books and newspapers in the world, I think, actually we can just say it produces the largest amount of toilet paper. ”

Li also cited the recent mass incidents in the cities of Qidong and Ningbo as pointing to further fundamental problems: ”These incidents don’t have a political purpose; people were just making their voices heard, but it got out of hand. I think the most fundamental problem is the system itself. There’s a huge bug in the design at the beginning, and in order to fix the bug, you use anti-virus software, but the software itself has a bug…  the anti-virus thinks people don’t have the right to speak, yet it has the power to punish.  [The government] is arrogant, sensitive, and closed-minded.”

Li ascribed a circular, theatrical quality to debate in modern China. He said, ”We [the citizens] know they [the authorities] are lying, and they know that we know they are lying, and we know that they know that we know they are lying, and they know that we are pretending that they did not lie …. This is the reality. Everyone lies to each other, and this is a lie to make ends meet. … The most terrible thing about a country is not poverty [or] hunger … but people who have lost the right and the ability to speak.”

Yet in the end, the fiercely critical Li said he remains optimistic: “I hope that this nation is only temporarily without words. Although words have always been the easiest for power to control, it is always the last fortress to fall in war …  I am always critical of this country yet I am always full of hope for this nation.”
(Via Weibo)

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Xiao Wu

  • http://www.TheEpochTimes.com Jan Jekielek

    Some remarkably insightful observations here:

    “The most terrible thing about a country is not poverty [or] hunger … but people who have lost the right and the ability to speak.”

    and, perhaps even more significant:

    “I am always critical of this country yet I am always full of hope for this nation.”

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    it seems a global problem, including in democracies, which are just more sophisticated and hiding it. you can freely “complain” in america, but the real issues are never brought up in media, or even in presidential debates. and forget about the gulf states, or the many countries where people have been arrested for tweets or facebook posts. including uk, eh?

  • b

    yes it is a global problem, the globe being comprised of many countries, not just the US and China.

    Indeed western-style dmcracies are much more sophisticated, and people living there have a choice of actually living in the “Age of Information”. They are much better informed about their state’s activities and can apply critical thinking to what information, misinformation and disinformation they receive. They have access to information sources which citizens of pRC do not.

    Some questions for you:

    Can you acknowledge that Li Chngpng has done what most people dare not do (speak out against a corrupt culture for genuine fear of recrimination by the state).

    What do you think about the content of his speech?

    Your post suggests that we put this into a global perspective and ask ourselves what’s really going on. So, how do you propose the people of China (without access to information) do this?

    Do you understand that the “media” outside China, uncensored, is much more than mainstream?

    The vast majority of people in China , excluded by gvt censors from the Age of Information are effectively forbidden from having a reasonably-informed point of view, let alone express it. But, thankfully, not all.

    • global

      The issue of free speech and especially questioning the so-called authorities and governments is universal. As some of you have already observed, in the west it is hidden and handled cleverly under the disguise of democracy. While in the west people may have more access to Internet and other Information Age tools, the real power lies in the hands of the few who shroud themselves in secrecy and when questions are asked, these questons are dismissed by those in power either as conspiracy theories or under the newly formed terrorism acts as sabotage to security of the nation concerned and so that the masses are ill or, perhaps more approproately, misinformed and so the ruling elite, the 1% can take advantage of this lack of knowledge. And this dismissal could be likened to the Orwellian terms Li above cites being used by the Chinese government. AND above all lies are prevalent in usa, uk and all over west as much as nations recently coming into the fold of a global economy. One only has to consider some well known people who have done years of research ….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXyIQJJgJeQ …… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hlvpjV1nvo ….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMwyw8W8LMg

      At least the PBOC might be “owned” by the people as a national asset ….. so certainly Li and others do not want to go the western way where speech and freedom are curtailed BUT not shown or shared to the wider world !!