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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Protest is a Form of Civic Education

Hyperlink to source text in Chinese: 抗议是一门公民课 
Translated by @krizcpec

In our country much of the common knowledge is blocked. Whether someone works as a politician, or a statesman, his compulsory course would be to face public protest with a proper manner. It was a disappointment that two days ago at Cambridge, Wen Jiabao made an inappropriate speech after a protester hurled a shoe at him. It indicated he didn't have the skills needed to face protesters.

The public of other countries are not like the crowds of Beichuan that are gathered specially when a politician felt like to put up a show of getting close to the people; they are not like the subordinates or subjects gathering at the Chinese embassy in London to be the audience of that kind of show either.

As for the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that showed no grace or manner, it has been a long term practice that that ministry would reveal the national image through diplomatic language that is with a hint of menace, and show a tendency to lift matters to class struggle and ideology level.
If any party is damaging to the national image of China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doubtlessly the greatest saboteur and a failed performer.

There can be many perspectives in interpreting the incident of a shoe being thrown at Wen Jiabao. One of those perspectives is to compare the difference between it and the “Bush shoe incident”. That's a nice one, but sadly the commentator didn't make things clear.

After the shoe attack, George Bush spoke in a relaxed, humorous way, “If you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw.” No sign of irritation could be seen on his face. Whereas Wen Jiabao's face turned red with anger, and launched an ideological bombardment: “Dear teachers and students, a dirty trick like this would not end the friendship between the Chinese and the British peoples. The progress of humankind, the peace on earth, these are historical trends. No force can stop them. Now let me continue with my speech.”

This reaction from a politician or even a statesman when a protester threw a shoe at him illustrated clearly the difference between politicians from democracies and authoritarian regimes. 

And the lengthy applause at Wen's remark from those Chinese people who were arranged to be there by the embassy or the Chinese students who were there out of their own decision indicated a lack of democratic political training if they truly meant it. And if they applauded only because that was a political task, then that show was not quite clever.

Leaders of democracies are trained by processes of elections, debates and protests. If they are not up to their job, the voters would vote them out of office. If they do not respond to doubts on their performance, they would come under fire from the parliament or congress. If they do not deal with protests properly, then they are not qualified as leaders and the public won't vote for them.

In other words, protests are definitely a perpetual training for those who intend to involved the political activities, or aspiring to be politicians, statesmen, or officials. Because the more democratic a society is , the more frequent it would be for the many ways of protests to occur. This is the norm for a democratic and free societies.

If politicians of democratic societies put forward a platform and there is no voice of opposition or different viewpoint, then that is odd. Those who laugh at leaders of democracies having to encounter protests wherever they go are of a view that is shallow and ignorant. So is true for those who feel that motions being passed unanimously in NPC without any voice of opposition is better than lawmakers of other countries arguing, or in some physical contact with each other. This is but the result of stupefying education.

Lawmakers disagree with each other inside the parliament is an effective means to avoid police arresting members of the public who take to the street, it can, even more effectively, prevent the tragedy of peaceful demonstrators being shot and killed by the armed force. These seldom occur in countries where there are lawmakers in heated debates or arguments with each other and the system of check and balance in place.

Which do you prefer then: the lawmakers quarreling with each other? or you being arrested, beaten up or even killed by the police once you start protesting lawfully?
I do not think that throwing a shoe is the best way to protest against Wen Jiabao. I do not think that is proper. But protesters should not be deprived of their right to protest. Whether or not they disrupt public order, I believe the British police would deal with that in accordance with the law of the UK. They would not lock the protesters up inside a dark house, or send them to “learning classes”; they would not frame them and certainly would not make them disappear, even if the protesters are protesting against a premier of another country.

The protester said Wen Jiabao is a dictator, and that Wen had lied. That is the irrefutable truth I'm afraid. Some said that to say Wen is a dictator indicated the speaker did not understand the political system of China, Wen Jiabao is just an administrative officer. That's true. But Wen is the premier of a government that is uncontested; a member of the party that is running a one-party dictatorship; and most important of all, he is not democratically elected. All these make it certain that he would be called a dictator.

And Wen lied was a combined result of his personal problems and the regime he is under. For Chinese officials, lying is not a moral condemnation; it is but a statement of fact. Plentiful of them can be spotted in China.

Some said that lying is Wen's freedom of speech. Wow. Freedom of speech cannot be used as an excuse even if an ordinary person tell lies that would affect the interests of others; even less so for Wen Jiabao, a politician whose speech would influence the interests of a great number of people, which would at times be a matter of life and death.

Let me put it this way, people need to learn to protest since they are little. In family education, it is necessary to allow room for children to say no. In school, educators should not just cultivate students who are obedient, who know only one answer; they must not see students' objection to viewpoints of teachers as a sign of disrespect.

In a nutshell, in a healthy, prosperous society, there are more answers than one to many issues; and there are more voices than one regarding the same thing. No one can be immune from question. No one can be free from opposition. There is no one that cannot be objected. The thought of self-praising as “great, glorious and correct” should be sent to the crematorium of protests.

Why then do we Chinese people in general not oppose the officials? First, we dare not do that. Second, we have no idea how. Third, there are no channel for us to voice our opposition. Fourth, if we do that nonetheless we would be arrested, sentenced, or made disappeared, so on and so forth. Of the voice of opposition would be minimized.

The only option for the people is to condemn secretly. Or they would have to be forced to rely on spontaneous unrest to more or less reach their goals. If demands of sizable masses are taken no heed of, the entire society lacks a decompression mechanism, then just like car that is without a shock absorber, a terrible end is predictable.

In brief, lawful protests are a decompression mechanism, a shock absorber of a car. They are indispensable to political equilibrium. Should this equilibrium be destroyed, the social consequence would be beyond rational expectation.

Although the propaganda machine is still trying to cover up, they are not reporting in details that a protester has thrown a shoe at Wen Jiabao and would not let people comment on it. Much restriction has also been imposed on the Internet. In spite of these, the incident is spreading through all sorts of channels and become widely known inside China rapidly.

In this day and age, any attempt to cover up information would result in unexpected losses, such as the loss of credibility.

In the foreseeable future, the officials would continue to have to pay the price for the loss of their credibility. That being the case, the effective way [to address problems] is to allow lawful protests, which the government should see as the norm of expression of public opinion, a normal political [feature]. A real sense of harmony society can only be achieved if people have legitimate channels of protest, and the officials are not handling them by means of oppression; and both sides are solving the various conflicts between the officials and the public by means that are permitted by the Constitution and laws, engaging in dialog with sincerity, and the willingness to make compromises.

Protest is a form of civic education. The officials should start learning it, and so is the public. The media should report openly and rationally all kinds of protests, make them a mandatory course for every one of us. Let us learn the essence of protests, and thereby making the rational game play between the public and the government, and among members of the public themselves a reality. If that happen, then we are not far away from becoming a civic society.

February 4, 2009, 8:42 in Chengdu

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