Top News – A discussion about freedom of speech in China towards the imprisonments of Mr. Tan Zuoren and Mr. Liu Xiaobo
We would like to discuss about the imprisonment of two human rights activists, Liu Xiaobo and Tan Zuoren. Similarly, both of them have been arrested by the Chinese government with the same charge, “Inciting Subversion of State Power (煽動顛覆國家政權罪)”, as they have written some articles expressing their views towards China’s political and environmental issues.
For Liu Xiaobo, he has penned the article “Charter 08 (零八憲章)” in order to call for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and freedom of elections. What’s more? He has collected over 8,600 signatures to reflect the census and support of Chinese citizens. After the publication, he was formally arrested on June 23, 2009 and sentenced to eleven years imprisonment on December 25, 2009.
On the other hand, Tan Zuoren has written a proposal called the “5.12 Student Archive (5.12學生檔案)” after the Sichuan earthquake. He has gathered information from people who have lost their children in the quake to set up a victim database. Through the investigations, he has described the poor construction quality of Sichuan schools with the expression of Bean-Curd-Pulp (豆腐渣工程). So, it exacerbates the dead and injuries in the disaster. Afterwards, he was arrested in March 2009 and imprisoned for five years from the beginning of 2010.
These two incidents are the induction for what we are trying to discuss, i.e. the freedom of speech in China. The freedom of speech is one of the basic human rights. Supposedly, it should appear in a civilized society. China is booming economically and is becoming a powerful nation in these years. However, it seems that the human rights of citizens and the degree of democracy are highly lagged behind, comparing with western countries. The purpose Tan Zuoren’s and Liu Xiaobo’s writing is to provide a thorough reality for all citizens. They want to arouse the public attention by their advocacy so as to construct a more democratic society. They should have the right to do so.
Human rights refer to the freedom and basic rights of which all humans are entitled. The main idea of human rights emphasizes that every single human should have equal treatment, and strictly forbid the racial, sexual or religious discrimination. Besides, freedom of speech is one of the most concerned one among the rest of the human rights. It is the right and freedom for people to say what one pleases, and to listen to statements from others, and of course, without censorship and/or limitation.
As we all know, China has boomed ever since the late 1970s due to Deng Xiaoping carrying out his new capitalist-inclined system, which promotes the foreign trade and economic investment, typically the Open-Door-Policy. With the implementation of the Western system, China’s economics is boosting in these few decades and she is supposed to be more liberalized under the influence of the Western policies. However, as seen in the news nowadays, China has often been criticized for its lack of freedom by other nations, especially those so-called democratic countries, such as the United States. On many occasions, other countries have been boycotting and/or protesting against China because of the limitations. For example, during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, due to the restrictions on reporting, many foreign journalists were engrossed in violence caused by the local police, resulting in various disapprovals from foreign countries.
In February 2010, Liu Xiaobo was nominated with a Nobel Peace Prize by the US chapter of rights group International Pen, for co-authoring “Charter 08”. Yet, the Chinese government was completely against this nomination, stating that “it is totally wrong.” From this event, we can see that other groups and nations are ready to challenge China and its constraints on freedom of speech. This would cause endless instability among the countries.
In these few years, Chinese citizens have obviously become richer and are competent in sending their children to study overseas. The exposure of the Western cultures and knowledge make the Chinese youths to be more critical and open-minded. After coming back to their hometown, they will be more insightful towards the Chinese governance with limited human rights provided. Also, the advancement of technology and Internet usage allow Chinese people to access the western cultures. So, Chinese people, especially the younger generations, are no longer confined. They strike to demand for a higher level of democracy in China.
If the China Government has not yet planned to offer more human rights, e.g. freedom of speech, there maybe much more oppositions towards her that would affect her governing power. People hesitate to speak, keeping the opinions and voices behind their masks. That would hide the ongoing of the society.
To conclude, we should always look on the bright side. We realize that China tries to make efforts and show less restriction on human rights, as well as the freedom of speech to her citizens. For instance, she signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (《公民權利和政治權利國際公約》) to reflect her willingness on improving human rights in response to worldwide criticisms. But the imprisonments of human rights activists reveal the Chinese government is still strictly controlling freedom of speech. Statements and opinions towards political contents will easily be regarded as sedition. We hope that the Chinese government can fully stand to the signed agreement, respecting and ensuring the freedom of speech in China.
South China Morning Post, February 3, 2010. “Beijing warns against Nobel for Liu”.