From spring to winter, for more than 70 years, we, the people of China, have lived and are still living under a Communist regime. No freedom of speech. No freedom of religion. No freedom of assembly. No freedom at all. We are modern slaves in the 21st century.
Chinese Calligraphy Posters during Mao’s Cultural Revolution
In 1966, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claimed its regime was a democracy because people were temporally allowed to use brush and ink to write their opinions and hang their writings on walls in public squares. Later, the government surveilled those who criticized the CCP and put them in jail or concentration camps for a decade. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) took many innocent people’s lives and ruined many generations.
In my childhood, my mother often told me stories about her best friend Fenglan. Fenglan’s husband knew how to use a ham radio and secretly listened to foreign radio stations. One day, as he hid in a dark basement enjoying real news from foreign radios, the police came and arrested him. Together with his wife and children, he was sent to a concentration camp in northern China close to the border with Mongolia and Russia. In the end, he committed suicide and his wife suffered from mental health issues for the rest of her life.
Between 1949 and 1976, millions of people died of poverty, starvation, and persecution under Mao’s Stalin-style rule. Like today’s North Korea, people inside China were sequestered from the rest of the world, and people on the outside had no clue about what was happening in the mainland.
As a young man, Jimmy Lai escaped from mainland China and came to Hong Kong, and found that “the contrast was that China was like hell and Hong Kong like heaven.” Although he was extremely poor when he landed in Hong Kong, he smelled the air of freedom and was full of hope for the future. As years passed, through hard work, Lai became both rich and important. As a pro-democracy media tycoon, Lai exercised his God-given right and spoke up against the CCP dictatorship during the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests, but he was accused of colluding with foreign forces. Currently, he is in jail waiting for the courts to sentence him. He is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Chinese Calligraphy Posters Plus Student Demonstrations in 1989
After Mao’s death, the new CCP leaders started a so-called “open-door” policy, under which China began to allow foreign businesses to invest and build factories in China. In 1989, after nearly a decade of the open-door policy, still very few Chinese citizens could travel to Western countries. Yet, people, particularly the young, began to smell the air of freedom and feel hope brought by foreign entrepreneurs, foreign students and scholars, and friends or relatives overseas who came back to visit.
The 1989 student democratic movement started with traditional Chinese calligraphy posters being displayed at Peking University and other big higher education institutions. The content first focused on mourning the death of Hu Yaobang, the first CCP leader who believed that people would live a better life if the country leaders didn’t intervene and that the economy and society would revive itself if the party didn’t impose social and economic controls. After a couple of weeks, the content changed from mourning Yaobang to disclosing the corruption of the CCP officials.
The cry for a political reform and a democratic system in China became louder and stronger. In April 1989, students organized three large-scale marches from Peking University to Tiananmen Square. Before each march, the only “foreign force” that students contacted was international media, such as Voice of America (VOA) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Hundreds of foreign news reporters waited at the gate of Peking University and followed students all the way to Tiananmen Square.
In May, students tried to have peaceful talks with the CCP leaders to present to them the will of the Chinese people. Instead of listening to the people and transforming China into a democratic society, the CCP used machine guns and tanks to crack down on students. The whole world saw the amazing bravery of Tank Man, except people in China. “No one died in Tiananmen Square!” We have been forced to live in this lie for more than 30 years.
Protesting with a Sheet of Blank White Paper in 2022
After 1989, the government prohibited political Chinese calligraphy posters or any form of demonstration. COVID-19 has become a convenient excuse for the government to control people’s activities. While the world is enjoying virtual freedom on the internet, the CCP bans any news, blog, text message, comment, and even emoji that express a little tiny disagreement with its rule. In China, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and TikTok are all illegal apps.
When push comes to shove, the only supposedly free way to express oneself is silently holding a blank A4-sized white paper in public. Someone wrote a poem to explain the symbolic meaning of this action.
I raise my hands with a sheet of blank paper
But the authorities say what I hold is a handgun.
I stand in a public square on the campus of my university
But the authorities say that I came from a foreign country.
I am only an ordinary normal person
But the authorities say that I am the big guy behind the anti-China movement.
I raise my hands with a sheet of blank paper
Because the paper has the freedom to be empty.
Sadly, even a blank piece of paper has no freedom under the CCP regime. Holding an empty, white piece of paper has become a crime. Police began to arrest students who used this special action to protest. Local governments ordered stationary stores to stop selling white copy paper. In Shanghai and Beijing, police started to check pedestrian’s and passengers’ cellphones and delete personal messages/ photos/ files without any legal permission. In other cities, tanks, military, and riot police started to control the streets.
If we expect the CCP to change because of the blank white paper, we are daydreaming. In Guangzhou city (near Hong Kong), the Chinese government is building a huge quarantine camp that allegedly has 90,000 isolation pods. A police drone in Lanzhou city is being used to tell residents, “Stay at home! Go home immediately!” The authorities officially announced that from the beginning of 2023, Chinese citizens will go through a very strict process to obtain a passport to travel abroad for private or business reason. Many people predict that the government will be more likely to confiscate and control citizens’ passports. Another bloody crackdown is coming.
Let Freedom Ring!
From 1989’s Tiananmen to 2022’s blank white paper, China has become “a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression.” Millions of Chinese are dreaming that China will be “transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described this dream in his most famous speech “I have a dream” when he joined the greatest demonstration for freedom in the U.S. history, in 1963.
To fulfil this dream – transforming China into an oasis of freedom and justice, we should not overlook the urgency of the moment, regardless of where we are.
Let freedom ring from Kashgar to Taiwan!
In western China, millions of Uyghurs are confined in CCP’s concentration camps, experiencing torture, forced labor, and cultural genocide. In the east, the CCP’s spying drones, fighter jets, and warships are harassing Taiwan constantly. Let’s fight for freedom for Uyghurs and Taiwanese! Paraphrasing Dr. King, we will not be satisfied until all Uyghur children can speak and learn their own language and all Uyghur families and communities can freely gather, travel, and practice their religion. We will not be satisfied until the Chinese authorities stop all military threats to Taiwan.
Let freedom ring from the Yalu River to Hong Kong!
In northern China, thousands of North Korean refugees have crossed the Yalu River and landed in China, but the Chinese authorities forcibly return the refugees and let them face torture, imprisonment, sexual violence, and forced labor. In the south, the CCP broke its promise that it would keep the democratic system of Hong Kong for 50 years and let the people of Hong Kong govern themselves. Since June 2019, 10,250 people have been arrested in protest-related cases, and 2,500 of them have been prosecuted. This is the moment for us to demand that the Chinese government stop deporting North Korean refugees and keep its promise to Hong Kong!
Let freedom ring from Tibet to Shanghai!
Tibetans have suffered for more than 70 years for their faith and religious practices. The 14th Dalai Lama, known as Gyalwa Rinpoche to the Tibetan people, is still in exile. In Shanghai – a city of 25 million people – months of COVID-19 lockdown devastated its economy and caused food shortages. People pleaded with the government to end the forced lockdown. For this basic demand, some people were put in narrow jail cells, “battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.”
Many people feel pessimistic about the future of those young Chinese students who protested with a blank sheet of paper, because tanks can run over them, and guns can shoot them. Some people are angry and want to take up arms. Dr. King said, “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence …Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Instead, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”
This is the moment when the Chinese people and all who support their longing and struggle for freedom should see hope and have faith. Dr. King said, “With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
All Over China, Let Freedom Ring!