Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Charter 08 (零八宪章)

Today is December 10th, and for all it's worth, exactly sixty years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed. In China, that event was celebrated by a group of influential intellectuals who published "Charter 08", a pamphlet in remembrance of the 1977 pamphlet by Havel and his friends in Prague. Among the people who signed the document is Liu Xiaobo, one of China's leading critics and 'intellectual enfant terribile'. Liu was arrested yesterday, and for now is still in prison. "Charter 08" calls for thorough reforms and democratization. Perry Link translated it for the New York Review. Read it, and the floor is opened for debate! If anyone manages to find the chinese version, please let me know.
First questions I would like to pose:
So the document is published today, and Perry Link translated it today? He must have received a copy beforehand. Which leads to my next question: Who will read this document IN China? I am 99% sure that the People's Daily will kindly decline the offer.
Furthermore, "Change is no longer optional"? This kind of talk will not please Zhongnanhai...
Pay special attention to the repeated mentioning of "basic and universal values". Do they mean "western values"? Or are democracy and republicanism universal?

Time for debate!

Thomas de Groot
December 10th 2008

Update: the Chinese document is here. With a list of all the people who signed...
Update 2: The document was deliberately published online. But so far I haven't seen any reaction on the BBS-forums. Will the portals apply auto-censorship?
Update 3: The first real reply by a "left wing" intellectual was just released by Wang Xizhe on his blog. ESWN has the translation. Earlier this week, the debate on China's future was started by Yu Keping, one of the closest advisors to Hu Jintao, by an interview he gave to several newspapers. It seems it is going to be an interesting winter.


André Holthe said...

According to the NY Times several signers of the "Charter 08" have been detained and interrogated by the police. Still things seem to be suprisingly calm.

Personally, I think there are a couple of reasons why this doesn't create as much fuzz as we foreigners would expect.

This is not the first time intellectuals and scholars have done something like this. From time to time these kind of manifests make their way to the public. Each incident seem to follow the same pattern. Someone fairly important writes something on the Human Rights or Freedom of Speech, they publish it through various channels, a few people get a visit from the police, and then it all seems to go away. Why is that?

Most importantly I think is the way these essays are written. The people who sign these documents are all people of a certain education and social statues, and they all know how the debate climate in China doesn't allow certain arguments. So they play by the rules. The write it in the "right" way, just to get out there.

The result seems to be that even though they do advocate for Human Rights and all that, this is not something that the Party or the public for that matter, haven't heard before. Even though it hardly makes it way to the public, it's pretty certain that these kinds of matters are discussed within the Party itself, so the only novel about docuements like these are that they are made available to the public.

Which leads us to my next point. How public is this really? A bunch of mostly high educated people write something in big words publish it online, for whom to read? People of their own kind, of course. As longs as this doesn't make it's way to the mainstream media, people are simply not going to get a chance to read it. It way just keep being a topic for the highly educated class, and within these groups, I'm pretty sure this already is a common topic, so of course it doesn't create a big fuzz.

coketea said...

I just did a random check with some chinese acquaintances of mine, 1 out of 4 of them had heard about it. But the other 3 of them are business majors who are currently living in the Netherlands, so probably not really representative.

here's some footage discussing the issue I found on the internet: