Jianli Yang is one of the world’s outstanding men. (How’s that for an opener?) He is a Chinese dissident, scholar, and hero. I have written about him for — what? Ten years now?
I met him in 2001, I think. That was in New York. The next year, he was arrested in China: and imprisoned for five years. During this time, his wife, Christina Fu, campaigned tirelessly for him. Some of us wrote about him, steadily. Then the happy day came when he was released. I had a long visit with him: and wrote a piece called “Leader of the Chinese” (here).
Yang, you may remember, has two Ph.D.s. The first is from Berkeley, and is in mathematics. Then he went slumming, indulging a softer subject: His second Ph.D. is in political economy, and is from Harvard. He is also a poet. In fact, he may be that before anything else.
Actually, he is probably a democracy leader, before he is anything else. And he is a guest and speaker here at the Freedom Forum. I should provide links to the previous parts of this journal: I, II, III, and IV.
It occurs to me, here in Oslo, that I have never heard Jianli speak. We have been friends for a long time, but I have never heard him give a speech. He is very good at it: surprisingly impassioned. I will say to him later, “You must be even better in Chinese than you are in English.” He just smiles.
The main theme of his speech is “The Myth of Han China.” He describes and condemns the racism and racialism of the Chinese state. Jianli is one of those guys — there have been plenty of them, and they are valuable — who come from a racial majority and defend racial minorities. (In the case of China, these minorities are Uighurs, Tibetans, etc.)
He talks about the PRC’s persecution of Christians. He talks about his friend Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel peace laureate. (He is in prison.) He talks about forced abortion, and cites an interesting, dismaying fact: China has the highest female suicide rate in the world.
He looks back at the Tiananmen Square massacre, when “thousands of my fellow students were killed and maimed by the tanks of the People’s Army.” That term is jarring, in this context: “People’s Army.” And he says — practically yells — that, in their six decades of dictatorship, the Chinese Communists have killed more people than “Hitler and Stalin combined.”
At the end of his speech, Jianli quotes Andrei Sakharov, that great man, and Nobel peace laureate (1975). Sakharov said, “A government can’t hold a gun to its people’s head forever.” Jianli looks forward to the day when the Communists’ arm gets tired, and the gun falls to the ground.
I find it somewhat amazing that he cares so much about his fellow Chinese. Jianli could be a comfortable, lauded, and well-remunerated academic, somewhere here in the Free West. But he persists in his activism. These men make a tremendous contribution.
‐Let me give you a little taste of the Norwegian elite — and just a little taste will make you gag. Elin Brodin is a novelist. And she had a reaction to the death of bin Laden, of course. She said that he was a “brave” man, an “idealist,” who “put his life in danger for what he believed in.” Gee, I thought his specialty was putting other people’s lives in danger.
And this brave idealist, bin Laden? He “spoke up against Rome,” according to Brodin.
I never thought of bin Laden that way. I thought of him as a small, twisted man who had his minions slit the throats of stewardesses and fly planes into buildings, where people had to jump from many stories up, holding hands.
Elin Brodin is a perfect product of contemporary Western education. That’s why we are in serious trouble.
‐One speaker here in the Christiania Theater is Busi Kheswa, a young woman from South Africa. She is a lesbian and a gay-rights activist. She gives a touching presentation.
South Africa is called the “rainbow nation,” she says. She further points out that Desmond Tutu — the 1984 Nobel peace laureate — coined this phrase. And yet gays, she says, are left well out of the rainbow.
I can’t help thinking that the rainbow is the, or a, gay symbol in America. Isn’t it?
In Kheswa’s telling, South Africa is a terrible, terrible place for lesbians. She gives example after example of abuse and sadism. She shows photos of these victims, too. In South Africa — and elsewhere, I’m sure — there is the phenomenon of “corrective rape.” And police merely snigger at the victims (or worse).
Kheswa says one thing that makes me smile — and, believe me, I don’t mean to make light of what she has to say. Her lovely, lilting accent contributes to the amusing quality of this story.
If I have heard her correctly, a woman once said to her and her friends, “You tomboys are asking to be raped.” Kheswa or one of her friends replied, “We’re not tomboys, we’re lesbians.”
‐There is no more effective speaker at this conference than Vincent Manoharan. He is a spokesman for the Dalits of India — the “untouchables.” He begins, “Hello, friends. Hello, fellow human beings.” He then says that, where he comes from, he must not call himself a human being: for he is untouchable and subhuman.
He says that, in the last couple of days, people here at the forum have discovered that he is from India, and a scheduled speaker. They wonder what he could possibly have to talk about. Isn’t India the world’s largest democracy? Isn’t India renowned for the promotion of nonviolence?
Manoharan has said to them, “Do you know about the caste system? Do you know about Dalits, or untouchables? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be one of them?”
This is the subject of his talk in the theater. He explains the origins of “untouchability,” and its terrible consequences. He has statistics, photos, and testimonies. The humiliation of the Dalits is one thing; but the violence directed against them is another. It is horrifying, stomach-turning.
I think back to a talk I had with Thomas Sowell, in January. I wrote a piece about him for National Review. May I quote from it?
Like many, but not all, writers, Sowell is a constant reader. Lately, he has been reading India Calling, a new book by Anand Giridharadas. Sowell is a veteran India-watcher. He classifies India as one of our “fictitious countries.” What does he mean by that? Well, “people in the West who discuss India, discuss an India that bears no resemblance to the country actually located in Asia.” We think of Indians as spiritual, peaceful, and gentle, unlike us crass and violent Americans. This is nonsense. “To think that India had the chutzpah to join the worldwide protest against apartheid in South Africa. If an untouchable in India had the choice to be a black under apartheid, he would take it in a New York minute.”
‐You may have heard me talk about the Progress party in Norway. They’re the Reaganite, or Thatcherite, party in this country. For NR, I wrote a piece called “Among the Progs” — a fun and admirable group.
Well, I meet up with a Prog friend of mine, and he tells me that, when a student, he started a publication called Ama-gi. Why that name? It is the oldest known word for “freedom,” coming from Mesopotamia. My friend says that he has that word tattooed on his arm.
That’s devotion, baby.
Thanks for joining me, and I’ll get working on Part VI.