Chen Guangcheng, in a measured, carefully scripted nine-and-a-half minute speech that was just released on YouTube, name-drops two dozen activists and dissidents while calling on world leaders to focus more attention on China’s human rights. “Dear Mr. Xi Jinping, the whole nation is watching you,” he says. “Whether you will follow the call of heaven and people to carry out reform, or kidnap the government and maintain the power of the Communist Party, is a matter of whether China will have the transition in a peaceful way or a violent way.”
The video address is in commemoration of next Monday’s Human Rights Day, which was first observed on December 10, 1948 upon the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Chen, speaking from in front of the yet-unfinished Freedom Tower in New York City, at times appears to be merely hitting the talking points of China’s overseas dissident community, of which he is clearly entrenched (he mentions Tibetan self-immolations, the Falun Gong, and God). Yet his voice is particularly loud and strong, due to his personal history and also China’s recent questionable decision to sentence his nephew, Chen Kegui, to 39 months in prison.
Overall, Chen comes off as sensible, only dipping his toes in hyperbole (e.g., “the red terror envelops the nation”). In the final minute, after earlier politicizing self-immolations (7:38 mark, “How can world leaders remain unmoved?”), he pulls back on the reins to say, “Here I would also like to call upon our Tibetan brothers and sisters, ‘Please cherish life and do not choose the path of self-immolation. Our struggle cannot go on forever and I know that there is a solution out there. Let us work together to find it, shall we?’”
I’ve translated the full speech, only correcting for grammar in the video’s English subtitles. The subtitles didn’t match Chen’s words in a couple of places, I’m not sure whether because he went off-script or because the person subtitling misheard, but these discrepancies are slight, so the official version remains. Any other errors are mine.
World Human Rights Day is drawing near. First I’d like to express my gratitude to the people around the world who have shown great concern for China’s freedom, human rights, rule of law, democracy, and social justice. Thank you for your kindness to my family and myself. Today I am standing here because I am in a free world. Yet my family in China, as tens of thousands of my fellow countrymen, are still in an authoritarian regime. They are not free. Like the Freedom Tower behind me, it is still under construction. But it won’t take long.
We need to raise our efforts to help them. The world experienced great changes in the past six months. Following the Arab Spring, Burma strives forward towards democracy, with its leader Thein Sein ordering the release of 518 political dissidents. Cuba has finally loosened up its restriction for citizens traveling abroad. Unfortunately, the human rights situation in China is in fact getting worse. This has to garner more attention from the world. And the United States, in particular, as a beacon of freedom, needs to play a leading role. The nations in the world should shift their focus from trade to human rights.
The Chinese government made a promise to me, to the United States, and to the world, “To have a thorough investigation of those persecuting me and my family in Shandong for the past several years and to make the decisions public.” Yet they have not kept their word.
Because I fled the country, the government has enacted revenge on my nephew Chen Kegui and others. Chen Kegui tried to defend our family, but he was arrested and is still in jail today. The corrupt officials who ordered his arrest, however, got promoted. To this day, there has been no news that the Communist Party leaders are willing to change and do the right thing. They are posing a challenge to humanity, justice, and our conscience.
On many “sensitive days,” citizens of conscience in Beijing and other first-tier cities were made to disappear in case they organized any activities. Now the practice has extended to the third-tier cities. Tsering Woeser and Liu Feiyue were made to disappear. So was Li Guohui of Linyi (in Shandong Province).
In a society without rule of law, the citizens have no sense of security. Li Wangyang was killed yet said to have committed suicide, which made “I will not commit suicide” a new mantra. And in fact, in China, no one is safe.
Liu Xia, Hu Jia, Wang Lihong, Jiang Tianyong, Xu Zhiyong, Zheng Enchong, Feng Zhenghu, Liu Ping, Sun Wenguang, etc., under the name of “Rule of Law,” have been harassed or illegally detained for too long. Hada, Song Ze, Ge Zhihui’s 8-year-old son and her family vanished without a trace.
The Communist Party officials at every level continue to act against the state law and humanity. Which part of China’s law gives the Communist Party such special power? How can you rule the country with justice when you yourself are crooked?
Dear Mr. Xi Jinping, the whole nation is watching you. Whether you will follow the call of heaven and people to carry out reform, or kidnap the government and maintain the power of the Communist Party, is a matter of whether China will have the transition in a peaceful way or a violent way. Do not send out the wrong signal to Party officials that they can continue acting without any restraint. Do not support the ongoing message that anyone urging them to abide by their own laws will be treated as a state enemy.
Aung San Suu Kyi is free now. When will Liu Xia, Hu Jia, Wang Lihong, Jiang Tianyong and the above mentioned people be free as well? Thein Sein set his political dissidents free. What about Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, Guo Quan, Yang Xingshui, Ni Yulan, Uighur Christian Alimujiang, and Qi Chonghuai? When will these prisoners of conscience be released?
Thein Seins’ open mind won him support from the Burmese people and recognition from the world. If Thein Sein can do it, yet Xi Jinping doesn’t, obviously it’s not that Xi couldn’t do it, but simply that he wouldn’t. And that will speak volumes to who he isas a person and as a leader. And if that’s the case, how can one expect him to restore power to the people, or to carry out reform and maintain social justice?
Nowadays, people who defend their rights are abducted and illegally detained. People like Mao Hengfeng, Wang Kouma, Shen Peilan, and Jin Yuehua are sent to labor camps or detention centers. The violence in maintaining China’s “One Child Policy” still extensively exists. It is a sin, because life is sacred. The number of self-immolations in Tibet sees almost a daily increase and has exceeded 80 deaths. The persecution of Falun Gong people and house churches continues.
Under the name of “maintaining stability,” all the while the red terror envelops the nation, “Black Jails” are all over the country. The stubborn force of Chinese authorities has shown its true face, declaring, “I have to stay above the constitution and the law. What can you do to stop me? I am in power.”
How can the international community turn a blind eye to the crimes committed by the Chinese Communist Party in maintaining its power? How can leaders of the Free World keep silent, watching the blood and tears of fellow human beings flow, and Tibetans burning themselves? How can world leaders remain unmoved?
Citizens of the world, let your voice be heard in support of justice. And people of China, we are capable and ought to join together to work for our own rights. We can rely on our own actions to establish and maintain a fair and just social system. Don’t expect some good emperor to bestow the right upon us, or some upright officials to defend our rights. God helps those who help themselves. Our fate is actually in our own hands.
Here I would also like to call upon our Tibetan brothers and sisters, “Please cherish life and do not choose the path of self-immolation. Our struggle cannot go on forever and I know that there is a solution out there. Let us work together to find it, shall we?”
Human Rights Day belongs to each and every one of us on this planet. Each individual has his or her rights, and these rights should be respected. As human beings, we should take actions to vigilantly improve and defend human values. It is to benefit our long-term and most essential interests and needs, not just through words but more importantly, through action.
As Human Rights Day is drawing near, let us put in all our efforts to defend human rights. Thank you.