“Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots”

Ian Johnson has an interview with Chen Guangcheng in the NYRoB:

Ian Johnson: How do you account for Chinese officials’ frequent disregard of China’s own laws? Is it a lack of checks and balances—that officials think they can get away with anything so they do anything?

Chen Guangcheng: It’s also that they don’t dare do the right thing and don’t dare not do the wrong thing. Chinese police and prosecutors, do you think they don’t understand Chinese law? They definitely understand. But these people illegally kept me under detention. They all knew [that what they were doing was illegal] but they didn’t dare take a step to rectify the situation. They weren’t able to. Why is it like this? A Xinhua News Agency journalist came and saw me twice; as a result he lost his job. So you can see that once you enter the system, you need to become bad. If you don’t become bad, you can’t survive.

People abroad look at China’s human rights situation and they mainly see the situation of better-known people. But they don’t know about all the violations of ordinary people. You know my situation but you don’t know the situation of the huge number of the disabled in China, or the women who are bullied and abused, or the orphans in China. You probably don’t know much about them or just about a few of them. But this is why the officials are so afraid—because they know the true extent of the problem. They are terribly afraid of people organizing. It’s very delicate in the countryside now. This is why they constantly resort to detentions and so on. They don’t even try to find an excuse, they just do it—they are that scared.

So officials are aware it’s tense in the countryside?

There is nothing the leaders can do. There is a saying in China that if you are not correct, how can you correct others? Their sons and daughters have moved overseas and they are working in China all by themselves. How can they convince others? They gain money illegally together, and they get corrupted all together. They can’t blame each other. But they are very clear that if it continues like this they are going to be devastated.

Was this earthquake, for this current generation, like the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre was for the last generation?

No. June 4 was really big, even in the countryside. In the countryside, in the summer people have a habit of sitting around together after dinner to talk about things and escape the heat. They know exactly what happened on June 4. Everyone knows that a lot of people died, that the tanks crushed a lot of people. No one thinks that June 4 was a small thing. People still refer to it. If there’s a dispute with the government and people are discussing it, they’ll say “Right or wrong, what can we do? Weren’t the students right on June 4, but they were crushed to death? What chance do we have?”

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