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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Don't be indolent, think!

Hyperlink to the source text in Chinese: 别在思考上偷懒

Translated, proofread by @krizcpec

Chongqing officials' eerily oppressive approach is really funny: I was invited to give a talk at a forum, and it was canceled on the grounds that fire safety requirements had not been met. However, some of my friends didn't give up trying, and at last they managed to organize in a bar a talk that was more like a question and answer session. The audience was from the younger generations, most were students. 

The theme was movies, we discussed Chinese movies shot by foreigners; education in movies; and movies I enjoyed. These would of course led to discussion on many social problems, because they are closely related to our lives, and our rights. And I felt they were all anxious, eager to have an answer, or the answer, to whatever problems they have; this mentality may not be limited to individuals, nor is it just a reflection of the youthfulness of these people, it is, I'm afraid, a sentiment that is spreading across society. Such sentiment is understandable: it is a response from the masses who are increasingly disappointed with the government; it could be used as a wind vane to observe this society.

Because many among the audience were from the younger generation, who were eager to learn from me more about this society, I tried to answer them, cautiously, refrained from giving any conclusions and from saying anything decisive. It was not out of fear of telling the truth that I did so, it was because I felt it necessary to bear in mind not to go too far with groundless saying; I need to avoid misunderstanding and to prevent guiding others to the opposite direction of my thinking. Just like Mr. Lu Xun made criticism and the regime used him. That was not entirely his fault, but one should be aware that words could have recoil like guns: if you didn't make yourself clear, then things would easily go wrong. This is something that we speakers and writers should pay close attention to. 

Of course, we should write what we think when we are writing some everyday articles; but when we are discussing complex social issues, we would have to try hard to avoid giving just one answer. Without doubt, the impatient young people would not feel satisfied if they are not given the one and only answer, but as someone who frequently speaks about public issues, I think it is not appropriate to change one's thinking lightly because of opposition or applause from others. There may be many people who disagree with me, that doesn't necessarily mean I am wrong. So long as it is my own thinking, it follows my conscience, I'd still go on even if tens of thousands of people disagree with me. I do not speak or write to get applause, I speak only what I think. I would not, because of others' approval, go a step further down the direction that I do not agree with or have yet to think over. Whether people clap or not is not what motivates me to put pen to paper. I focus on judgments I make, basing on the materials, evidence, and facts I gathered. Although this may produce something that please nobody, it is my long held principle toward writing and speaking to insist thinking independently. Just like I would not endorse the “Twelve Suggestions to Dealing with Situations in Tibet (關於處理西藏局勢的十二點意見)” simply because it was written by my friends Wang Lixiong and Liu Xiaobo. I endorsed it because I agreed with it, or else I would have voiced my opposition instead. Likewise, I would not change my thoughts because of an emotionally-charged audience, or when I am overwhelmingly accused as being a traitor; the sheer size of the crowd is not the reason for me to change my thoughts.

To say something absolute, something that others dare not speak, this would of course earn one praises for being “courageous”. Nevertheless, being seen as courageous is not what makes me speak, I speak because I want to share my views on social problems. At times you may not find my views agreeable, I hope you could understand; and if you find it agreeable, then that doesn't mean you would feel the same toward all my other opinions, because I am not you. If you agree with me, you can of course show your support; if you don't, you can voice your opposition. I do not need unconditional support from anyone, not even my family and friends; they have the freedom to think differently from me, and to criticize me. 

Difference in viewpoints doesn't make people enemy, this is a view I have long emphasized. Difference in opinions may be caused by a number of factors, such as different basis points of interests, or difference in information obtained, or even different interpretation to the same information, which is perfectly normal to me. Those who see different opinions as enemies, as opponents that must be eliminated should change their mindset. In so doing we could avoid repeating the old path of hatred education and class struggle. 

The questions raised last night were all worth pondering, my answers in haste were probably too brief , or maybe they were not to the point as I was worried about the recoil my words might have. But those answers I gave were my thoughts, my inner thoughts, and I was quite satisfied that I managed to do so. Yet those who demanded the one and only answer, or the absolute answer, to their questions, their way of thinking made me feel slightly unsettled. No one could solve social problems once and for all; it is all the more impossible for anyone to come up with a basket of solutions. Those “Jacks-of-all-trades” who appear to be able to tackle any problems any time are exactly the type of persons we should guard against. I believe in Sir Karl Raimund Popper's piecemeal social engineering, and I believe in Friedrich August Hayek's theory of gradual progress. I would rather fail you than to give you the one and only answer which, in fact, I do not have; I can only list out several options, and help you become aware of what you are choosing from. To me the preference for the one and only answer, this way of thinking is exactly where problems with our education lie. Those who prefer a one and only answer or prefer others to give them one and accept it are typical lazy thinkers, they give up completely their right of thinking freely; the drawback of this is felt in every aspect of our life. This is one of the root causes of our rights being often deprived unknowingly. 

The many “one and only answers” found on textbooks, especially those ridiculous ones for fill-in-the-blanks practices in language textbooks, are results of conjecture. When it comes to social issues which are more complex than textbook questions, how can there be solutions that would resolve problems once and for all?
April 4, 2008, 9:15 at Shapingba, Chongqing

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