Hyperlink to the source text in Chinese: 用你的改变作见证
Translated, proofread by @krizcpec
Ran note: this is written in reply to a friend of mine, please feel free to comment. What I wrote about here are just small actions that do not need you to pay a big price, not to mention sacrifice your life; I am cautious toward those actions that require people to give their lives, not that I'm timid, but because the expected benefits of those actions are hard to control. I do not mean that the only choice you have is to keep your head down and live in disgrace; you have the right to live that way if you wish, though. No one can point the finger at you.
Dear Mr. Ran,
Saw your email address at De-Sci.org, I have some questions about democracy and would like to seek your advice, and so I sent you this email. Sorry if this causes you any inconvenience.
Base on the current situation, how do we bring about democracy? You can write articles, yet what should ordinary people like me do? I talk a lot to my colleagues about democracy, liberty, and the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party as an organization; sadly I am not an articulate person, sometimes I have fuzzy logic, and I didn't receive much education (Junior High only), these often make me unable to find the right words to talk about what I think, what should I do? What can ordinary people like me do to fight for democracy?
Dear Mr. Chen,
Many others have the same questions as you do, and I will try to answer as best as I could. But first I must make clear that my answers may not be suitable for everyone, there are too many individuals, all have their own problems, and the difference between one another is greater than I could imagine; also, my answers are not golden rules: they may be wrong, they may not be all-inclusive, and so you don't need to see these as doctrine that cannot be changed. That said, here are my answers:
First: Do things with the right mentality. What do I mean by that? It is to do things with joy, and not with the mindset of saving others, nor with the feelings of hatred. Though many of those you set out to help have greater difficulties than you do, you do not need to be in sorrow for them. Because of the boundlessness of grieve, happiness is all the more valuable. I very much like the saying from Nicolas de Condorcet, "it is not enough to do good; one must do it in a good way."
Second: Rid yourself of the savior mentality. Of all mentalities, it is the least commendable that people would think that those they have helped are in debt to them. You help and love others because you love yourself; this is the unshakable prerequisite. The very act of helping others itself is a payback to your tormented soul; you don't need to be repaid by other means.
Third: Help others within your capacity. Don't bankrupt yourself because of helping others. For one thing, this way of "Selflessly serving the greater good" cannot last long; for another, bankrupt yourself and you lose the ability of helping others in the long run. I'd say helping others beyond your capacity would lead to a situation in which both parties lose: it's bad for you, and it's not good for those you intend to help, either.
Fourth: Do not force others to accept democracy. No matter how good something is, do not make others accept it; doing that would only reveal your incompetence. Don't do unto others what you don't want others to do to you; don't force upon others what you desire, you can only show them that what you are after is good. Democracy and freedom is a way of life, and above all it is a self-demand. You are making contribution to democracy when you can listen to different voices, and allow different opinions. This way of life will definitely influence many others; from your family, to your friends, and then all the way to the community as a whole.
Fifth: Persist with small actions. I like people who make small donations and keep doing it for long. This unremitting patience is itself an inexhaustible impetus. You can for example donate each month two dollars to the Open Constitution Initiative; two to Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law Jintang Public library; and two to China Rural Library which is committed to nation-wide promotion of reading and enlightenment, so on and so forth. These organizations have over a long period made untiring endeavors to bring forth a civil society, it is important that we make them feel they are not alone.
Sixth: Recommend good things to others. You can, for instance, spread the words of a good blog, a nicely written article, a meaningful course of action to take and the like; you can do this via telephone or mail, there are many other ways for you to choose from. Whatever that is good, do it within your capacity; do it every day, persevere, and definitely more will be influenced.
Seventh: Vote with your choice. If you think a particular magazine is worth reading, you can buy it, or borrow it. If you have troubles making ends meet, you can consider subscribe it with friends nearby and read it together; or, given the Internet is now better developed, find it online. Likewise, do not spend any money on those media - such as newspapers - that you feel are telling lies, not even fifty cents, or you are harming your own interests.
Eighth: Use your change as a testimony. Those who believe in Christianity pay much attention to making testimonies, and the sharing of them between one another, in so doing each would get encouragement and trust. Although we do not believe in any religion, we need encouragement and testimonies all the same. You promote democracy, and yet you are intolerant to opinions differ from yours, or you would not feel satisfied until all comments that criticize you are deleted. This type of behavior itself would do harm to what you advocate: democracy and liberty. In fact, it is not easy for us to tolerate different opinions, as the education we received was, and still is, about hatred and class struggle; we were trained in either-this-or-that thinking. We can change, though. Let the change begin with ourselves.
Ninth: Get used to having opponents. Wen Jiabao made a gaffe at Cambridge not because he is stupid; it is because he wasn’t accustomed to facing opponents. The absence of opponents, the lack of different voices being expressed is actually harmful to both sides. One should know that it is normal that someone would disagree with you. If you don't want to have any of that, then you say nothing, do nothing.
Tenth: Commit to it your whole life. Perseverance is something that everyone knows, yet not many can actually put that into practice. Why? Because as time goes by, the passion one has is gradually worn thin. When we look at William Wilberforce, Hu Shih, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King Jr., we would see that while they may have different endowment, education background, and life experience, they shared the same attribute: long-lasting devotion to what they do. You may say that these are all exceptional people, impossible for persons-in-the-street to imitate. But were they born like that? No; it is the length of time they did things that helped them achieved greatness. In fact, if you feel being great is something that truly matters to you, commit yourself to one meaningful cause, stick to it all your life and there would be no way for you not to achieve greatness. Sure enough though, being great is not the end in itself, what matters is you feel the joy of life along the way.
February 13, 2009, 9:00 in Chengdu