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The power of the people
Mo Li

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The outpouring of support for the “Pay Attention to Du Daobin” campaign astonished Mainland Chinese and shocked authorities. Currently over a thousand individuals have signed their support. Among those who signed the petition were such famous scholars as Xu Liangying and Mao Yishi, human rights activists Liu Xiaobo and Wang Yi, and overseas Chinese like the famous Chinese scholar Gao Ertai and writer Ha Jin. Also included were famous western scholars and Sinologists represented by N. G. D. Malmqvist (Chinese name Ma Yueran). As a volunteer for several petition activities and author of this article, I often asked, “Why collect signatures for an open letter? Will any good come from these signatures? Will the signatures change anything?"

Wang Yi, a scholar from Sichuan Province and someone who has initiated several human rights activities, answered this way, “To publicly endorse politically sensitive issues is itself an activity – it’s a direct expression against silence and ambiguity. So my friends and I got involved in this opening statement. Will this help get Du Daobin out of prison? How much it will help? I cannot guarantee.”

“ But I believe, the greatest impact of this signature campaign is not saving others, but saving ourselves. Our basic human rights record is in critical condition; autocrats have violated freedom of thinking and speech. If we do not join in and get involved in campaigns like this and speak out, and we don’t even think about it after we go home, can we still be saved? Are we still worthy of the title ‘intellectual’? Dare we claim ourselves to be the social elite in any form and dream to enlighten others?”

What Wang Yi said emphasized the meaning of saving oneself intellectually. In fact, signing the petition is not only valuable for saving the consciousness of intellectuals, but precious in many other aspects.

First, the signatures help gain international attention concerning the issue. China is no longer isolated or insulated from the rest of the world. As part of the international community and in the age of Internet access, Chinese authorities can no longer “shut the door and beat its own children” whenever they want to. To gain international attention we Chinese must speak out loud and strong, and this signature campaign is just such a way.

Second, signature campaigns provide support and encouragement for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel related his experience, “News of outside that people lent their support helped me to survive in prison.” Appeal letters from the outside have irreplaceable value. Havel continued, “Even for no other reason, this kind of situation already makes the appeal letter very important.”

Third, the Chinese government can ignore one person or one group, but they cannot ignore more and more people speaking out on critical issues.

These “silent people”, have signed the petition for Liu Di and Du Daobin; they include students, workers, clerks and housewives. They are a group of ordinary people, and apparently what has not disappeared is their conscience. They act based on their nature and their conscience; they added their names as ordinary people to the open letter. It will be a horrible thing to that autocratic government when people do not accept living in lies and the nation is not suppressed by living in terror anymore.

Therefore, signing an open letter can only improve the human rights situation. Havel said: “it (appeal letter) has also a deeper meaning: people regain courage and civism. Although the government did not react to these appeal letters, they will eventually. The results are indirect, proper and widely affected, but they do exist.”

When every ordinary person in China starts doing even small things like signing a petition, they are actually demonstrating the “power of the people.”

Not long ago eastern European Czech writer Milan Kundera did not believe in the “power of the people.” He thought it was totally useless, because the human rights campaigns organized by Havel were repeatedly defeated in Czechoslovakia. He thought Havel was only to showing off. But Havel, who stayed in the Czech Republic went to prison again and again, insisting, “ I can act whatever way I think is suitable. I believe everyone should do this, taking responsibility for himself/herself. Someone will be against this and say it is useless. My answer is very simple: It is useful.”

History proved that the effort made by Havel and Czech citizens under the autocratic system is useful. Today, China will begin to respect human rights when more and more Chinese people use the “power of the people.”

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