This will make some rough reading: But that’s one of the things the Chinese government has going for it: Its abuses make very rough reading, so people tend to turn away. And get on with the business of making money, somehow, off the PRC.
Really, who wants to hear about organ harvesting when there’s gold in them thar hills? (And there’s less gold than eager Westerners think. This is one of the themes of Ethan Gutmann’s enlightening book Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal.)
There is a man named Gao Zhisheng, and he is a defense lawyer. He has defended Falun Gong practitioners, “house church” activists, and other targeted citizens. He himself has been targeted. His wife has written,
On the night of September 21, 2007, my husband, with a black hood thrown over his head, was kidnapped and brought to an unknown location. For 59 days, many people tortured and ravaged him in all kinds of ways, including beating him with an electric prod, inserting bamboo sticks into his reproductive organs, holding lit cigarettes close to his eyes and nose, etc., so that his eyes would burn and he would be forced to inhale smoke. My husband told me later that he was in such unbearable pain at the time that his sweat, blood, and other bodily fluids covered the floor. Among the reasons the authorities gave for tormenting my husband was that he had written to the United States Congress.
Gao’s wife, Geng He, wrote those words in a letter to Congress of her own. More about that in a moment.
On January 9 of this year, Geng He took Gao’s and her two children and escaped, making their way to Thailand and eventually to the United States. I will now quote from the group Human Rights in China: “On February 4, Gao was seen taken forcibly from his hometown, Xiaoshibanqiao Village in Shaanxi Province, by more than 10 state security policemen. He has not been heard from since.” In other words, he has been disappeared.
Geng He’s letter to Congress is dated April 23. You may read it in full here. And I would now like to provide some excerpts:
I have no doubt that [Gao’s most recent capture] was the Chinese government’s retaliation for our escape. In view of his horrific experiences in the past, I’m extremely worried about my husband’s safety.
Honorable members of the U.S. Congress, as a wife I am terribly distressed and doubt our decision to leave China.
Think about that mental state. Think what the Chinese government, and other totalitarian regimes, does to human beings.
Though I had been mentally prepared to face adversities alongside my husband, our children, ages 16 and five, have already been unable to go to school due to the kidnapping, intimidation, and beatings by the authorities. My daughter even ran away from home. Our relatives and friends are worried that she will become mentally disturbed from her fear. If we had not left that horrific country, their whole lives would have been ruined. However, that my husband was prepared to be tortured for the sake of our escape is like a knife in my heart. My children ask me every day, where’s dad? I’m alone and isolated here and can only appeal to you to pressure the Chinese government to stop persecuting my husband and tell the world his whereabouts and condition.
My friends tell me that this great nation of the United States, which regards human rights as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, would never just sit and watch my husband suffer and do nothing.
I’m afraid her friends are wrong: terribly, grievously wrong.
Thus they encouraged and advised me to write to you to seek help. I remember that, when my husband was still free, whenever major human rights cases arose in China, he would always look towards the United States. He always said: The United States is the cornerstone of world freedom, human rights and social order; the United States would not tolerate despotic rule and the wanton abuse of the weak and the masses.
Does the United States deserve such beliefs about it, such faith in it?
In the past, whenever I was worried about my husband because of his challenges against tyranny, he would often console me by saying, evil cannot win over good, the ones upholding justice will always have help. He said that if one day he would be persecuted because of his ideals and sense of justice, the people in the world who believe in justice would stand by him and support him. I know that he would still harbor this light and hope in his heart while enduring various torments in prison! When faced with a huge machine of tyranny, this hope may seem small and weak but it is extraordinarily steadfast, because his faith in the United States is at the core of his hope and expectation.
I don’t know, ladies and gentlemen: Given our record — and given hard present-day facts — I’d like to think that Gao has a much higher hope and expectation.
More from the letter:
Now, I am willing [to] do all I can to not let him down! I hope that he can gain the help of the great United States through you. That is the faith and hope he holds in his heart while enduring all forms of torture in that dark prison cell!
Honorable members of the U.S. Congress, please help me support my husband, lawyer Gao Zhisheng, so that the evil forces will know that there is resistance against persecution; so that the millions of Chinese suffering this despotic rule will know that the United States is concerned about their human rights situation, and will not give up. My husband would be more resolute because of this, the Chinese people would feel inspired because of this, and China and the world would eventually transform because of this!
Many thanks for your concern!
“Congress, please help . . . so that the evil forces will know that there is resistance against persecution.” That is one of the strongest, frankest, clearest statements I have read in a very long time. All I can say is: Good luck, lady.
And Geng He joins Avital Sharansky, Christina Fu (wife of Jianli Yang), and others in the pantheon of brave spousal caring. There is no love like a marital love — which is why Beethoven’s Fidelio is about as high as you can go, in that particular artistic field.
‐Let’s see what we in the United States think of Communism. A reader sent me information about an event to be held at Bowdoin College, one of our most respected institutions. In the words of the college, Bowdoin “will host a conference on International Worker’s Day — Friday, May 1, 2009 — to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall . . .” Read all about it here. And I will do some quoting — some further quoting:
“Redefining the Common Good After Communism,” featuring faculty scholars from 10 colleges and universities, will be held all day beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Main Lounge, Moulton Union.
The conference will broaden Bowdoin’s campus-wide conversation about the common good by extending the question to a region that historically was seen as “the enemy.”
A region was never seen as “the enemy.” Enemy governments were; and the peoples of the region were seen as their victims. This is part of the sleight of hand in which the Left always engages.
For the better part of four decades, Communist ideology was held up as antithetical to the values of Western-style democracy, and shaped our political consciousness in deep and enduring ways. Citizens of the United States and other Western countries partly defined what was good about their own societies by contrasting it with that of the USSR and its satellite states.
I’m sort of amazed that Bowdoin College allowed itself to say “satellite states.” Anyway . . .
The simplistic division of the world into “good” and “evil” facilitated a general ignorance about how communist societies actually worked and encouraged complacency about the practices of Western democracies and market economies. Yet now, as post-communist citizens question and alter political and economic practices that have long been settled in the West, their struggle illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of our own status quo.
Yep, yep. For the millionth time, I wonder whether Americans — whether we — deserve the freedom we have been granted, thanks to the wisdom, humanity, and sacrifice of our forefathers, plus a measure of luck. I do wonder. I wish the Bowdoin people had to live under Communist regimes, to see how they “actually work.” Would love to trade them for some Cubans, Chinese, and others I know.
Just a pipedream . . .
‐As regular readers know, I make a strict separation between music and politics. (In general, I work by day as a political journalist, and by night as a music critic.) I insist on this wall. Only when musicians drag politics into the music world — as happens all too frequently — do I comment politically. In other words, they have to start it.
If you did not have a strict separation, you would go nuts. You could barely function. First, consider the Nazis — so many of them. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the great soprano, made five films for Goebbels. Herbert von Karajan, the conductor, joined the Nazi party twice: the first time, when it was illegal (in Austria). That’s true-believing.
There are many Communists, too. Take Dmitri Kabalevsky, an underrated composer, in my view, and one for whom I have a particular fondness: a Communist enforcer.
And how about those who are active today? In some of his positions, Daniel Barenboim aligns with, not merely the PLO, but Hamas. And two Italian musicians, Claudio Abbado and Maurizio Pollini, if they are not Communists — not party members — are certainly pro-Communist.
Does any of this affect what I say about these musicians in my music writing — when they leave politics out of the picture? Not in the least. I have praised them all to the skies, and criticized them when that, too, is merited.
Which brings us to the case of Krystian Zimerman. A Pole, he is one of the best pianists in the world. Indeed, he is one of our best musicians, period. I have written about him many, many times. Zimerman probably has no better friend in the musical press than I. And I have long known that, unlike most Poles, he is a fierce anti-American.
I quote to you from an L.A. Times piece, dated April 27:
[Zimerman] created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation’s military policies overseas.
Before playing the final work on his recital . . . Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.
“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. “Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”
Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. Zimerman responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.
Just a couple of points (because you could write forever about this). “Get your hands off of my country”? Interesting. Did he mean Poland? Was he talking about America’s relationship with Poland? Other countries have had their “hands” on Poland: namely, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. And the United States opposed them both, mightily.
Possibly, Zimerman had in mind U.S. anti-missile defenses in Poland. And that leads me to wonder: What are his views on Moscow? Is he happy to play in Petersburg, etc.?
And, hell, we might ask about Iran — against whose missiles those defenses are installed. Would Zimerman play for the mullahs? Ordinary Iranians? How about in Damascus? How about in Pyongyang? How about in Havana? How about in Harare?
You’ve read in the report that the L.A. audience — the majority of them — cheered. Of course they would. Zimerman had found a perfect venue for his politics: a bastion of American self-hatred. Except that, of course, they don’t really hate themselves: They hate other Americans. In any case, why would Zimerman want to do without such audiences?
And will he? Will he keep his word not to play in America again? Sometimes they don’t — do not keep their word. I think of Donald Runnicles, a Scottish conductor who has a busy career in San Francisco, New York, and other American cities. Before the 2004 election, he announced that he would leave the country if George W. Bush were reelected. The reason: The first time (2000) might have been a mistake; if Americans elected him a second time, that would mean they really wanted him.
Well, Bush won — and Runnicles stayed put. As I remarked at the time, “Another broken campaign promise.”
‐Did you see Impromptus yesterday or miss it? Just in case — here it is. The subjects include Obama abroad, Chris Buckley’s new memoir, school choice, the Bay of Pigs, and environmentalist scare-mongering. (An assortment, huh?) And if you would like Impromptus via RSS — please consult the “button” at the top of this column, grouped with “Author Archive,” “Send to a Friend,” etc.
‐What should we end with? Music? (We’ve done some of that, in a way.) Language? How about Fun with Names? Here’s a note from a reader:
Back when Julius Erving was playing at the University of Massachusetts, college basketball was rarely on TV, and, when it was, you were likely to see a big-name school such as Kentucky or UCLA — not an unknown school such as U-Mass. Erving, as you might imagine, put up some very impressive numbers. Jews all over America would read the box score and the name “Julius Erving,” and, never having seen him, they would think, “Finally, another great Jewish basketball player!” (Jews were very prominent in the sport in the ’20s and ’30s.)
You never know by a name.
You remember that wonderful police chief from South Carolina, Reuben Greenberg? Anyway . . . see you!