Chen Ziming - Veteran Dissident 'Who Worried About China And Its People'

A commentary by Bao Tong
china-chenZiming-1995.gif Wen Yongfen, the mother of jailed dissident Chen Ziming, holds a photo of her cancer-stricken son during a discrete protest in a Beijing park Oct 22, 1995.

Chen Ziming was arrested in late 1989 for his involvement in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989. He was alleged to be one of the "black hands" behind the mass movement that paralyzed central Beijing for weeks on end, and ended when then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to fire on unarmed civilians. Bao Tong himself served a seven-year jail term after the fall of his political mentor and former premier Zhao Ziyang in the wake of the bloody crackdown:

Mr. Chen Ziming was in his sixties. He was a man who was worried about death, worried about his country, and worried about its people.

Originally a chemist with a stellar academic record, he later gave up this line of work and devoted himself to worrying about his country and its people full time.

Because of this, he was frequently put in jail, as a "counterrevolutionary black hand." This was largely based on a single factor: his refusal to give up worrying for his country and its people.

Being concerned about one's country and its people, it turns out, is a major crime, because here in the Middle Kingdom, we're not allowed to do that.

The Middle Kingdom has leaders, and only they and their designated successors have the right to lead. They have cornered the market in worrying about the country and its people.

Such privileges are the spoils of the war in which they won control of the entire country, and nobody is allowed to mess with them.

It isn't in the job description of ordinary Chinese people to worry about the state of the nation, or rather, their role is simply to holler a few respectful "Long Live" slogans and be done with it.

'Black hands'

Those who care about the state of the nation, who think that such worries are necessary, and who don't shout such things, either because they are obsessed with replacing the leaders or because they are unhappy with the way things are under their leadership: such people are disrespectful and will naturally be designated "black hands" and put in prison or subjected to surveillance according to law.

By the time he reached his 62nd year, Mr Chen had served a total of 39 years in prison, "according to law."

I can't help but think of something our [late] leader Mao Zedong said in response to comments by [veteran revolutionary] Luo Jinan, in which he admitted that if [revolutionary author] Lu Xun had lived through the anti-rightist campaigns of 1957, that he would either have stopped writing altogether, or been thrown into one of the prison cells of the New China.

He was right. Lu Xun's essays weren't written for empty talk or entertainment; they were the jottings of freedom, and as such were deeply concerned with the state of the nation.

With Mao already installed as the divine ruler of the Middle Kingdom, what room could there be for writing about freedom? Of course Lu Xun would have gone to jail.

The rule of law with Chinese characteristics.

Everyone is equal before the law. And Chen Ziming was unable to escape this fate. Such is that strange invention: the rule of law with Chinese characteristics.

But through all the years of surveillance, official controls and prison, Chen Ziming never lost sight of his original intention. A rational and diligent observer, thinker, creator and practitioner, he continued to worry about the state of the nation.

We should all learn from his example.

Think what he would have been able to achieve, if he had enjoyed freedom and independence. That he had neither is China's loss.

I mourn Chen Ziming, on behalf of China.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

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