Zhao Lianhai: we will not be silent

In a video posted to Youtube on April 5, Chinese activist Zhao Lianhai (赵连海) calls for the release of Ai Weiwei (艾未未) and other Chinese dissidents who have been jailed and detained in recent months or weeks. Zhao has worked tirelessly for the interests of the parents of children who were, like his own son, harmed in the 2008 poisoned milk scandal in China. In 2010, Zhao was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for “disturbing social order” through his activities. He was released on medical parole in December 2010.

In the video address, Zhao holds his son as he describes the pain he has felt as he has watched many of his friends and fellow dissidents suffer various forms of “persecution” at the hands of the authorities. He calls on the government to release Ai Weiwei and other “prisoners of conscience.”

The full Chinese text of Zhao’s video speech was transcribed by Hong Kong’s Apple Daily and included in yesterday’s edition of the paper. A full English translation follows:

Hello, everyone. My name is Zhao Lianhai. It’s been three months or so now since I’ve returned home. Of late, I’ve been greatly pained to look on as many of my friends suffer extreme allegations, persecution and pressure. [I felt this] especially a few days ago as I learned that Ai Weiwei, our Old Ai, has also gone missing.

Even now, the authorities have said nothing about his situation. As we see it, what we hope is that the authorities can treat more people with a greater degree of goodwill, and can with methods more rational face the problems in our society. We hope that all things can find resolution in the context of respect for the law. If a country hasn’t the most basic standards of law, we all live in an environment of fear. We hope . . . Our hearts are laid bare, and full still with a generous measure of goodwill, we hope that the authorities can on a great many questions seek to interact with the people with greater goodwill and sincerity, that they can really and truly face head on the just calls of the people, and not simply neglect them, or even turn violence upon them.

We do not wish to see China ultimately become what Libya is today, descending into such fierce conflict. We hope rather that China can, in the face of these important tensions today, in the face of these conflicts, see from the authorities greater sincerity of mind, greater consideration for the country, for the Chinese people, for the future of the country, and for the public. We hope that ultimately we have more applause, more fresh flowers, and even more fireworks. I’ve spoken quite a bit about this lately with my wife. These best intentions of ours, I think these best intentions express the true feeling of many of our friends, including our Ai Weiwei. Although there are times when we criticize the government, and sometimes this can be quite pointed, these are things we feel quite resigned about expressing.

Our son was one of the babies who suffered from kidney stones [as a result of the 2008 milk scandal]. In the more than a year I was not at home, I know my child missed me dearly. And I know to that now, even after I have returned, my child’s kidney stones have not abated. Moreover, I know that many more children are experiencing poor health, that the health situation for many children is growing more severe. We hope that the authorities can take real steps, and try new measures, to deal with many problems.

Just a moment ago, I was talking about these things with an older brother of mine, and we were saying how we Chinese place a lot of emphasis on human feeling (人情), that we emphasize human feelings . . . (weeps). A number of friends I know in the national security police, in a sense our relationship is predestined. In terms of respect, we refer to those older than us as older brother, personally that is. Of course, on other matters, well, business is business, and we still need to talk things through correctly. But we also hope that on more things, as I just said, they can treat us better, on a basis of mutual respect and greater understanding, knowing more fully the wrongs that people are suffering today. I’m always thinking to myself, our child was so young and suffered such harm to his body. Our conflicts today between the government and the people, I often talk about this with friends, including those friends [in national security], have reached a situation of extreme tension such as has never been seen. We fear that these sort of tensions might spark fierce conflict. We are worried.

Lately, the authorities have arrested a great many people. As I just said, there are a number of us who have been quite fierce in our criticism of the government, but we are still full of goodwill. If you take all of these calls that are full of goodwill . . . It is in this way that we hope to eliminate tensions, and once these people have all been rounded up, ordinary people will see no hope whatsoever, and many people . . . Let me put it simply. We have met many petitioners. And in the midst of these masses of petitioners there are many people like Ai Weiwei, including Ran Yunfei (冉云飞), who was also arrested recently. There are many people. There are people like Teng Biao (滕彪) and Tang Jitian (唐吉田) about whom we haven’t had any news at all. Many, many people. Many petitioners, including many ordinary people who have suffered injury and loss, they see that there are people like this and they feel a sense of hope. They too hope that many things can be resolved through legal channels. We, and many ordinary people, still have some sense of tolerance [or forgiveness] for many of our government leaders. This is an attitude we hope we can sustain. But the most important thing is our hope that these problems are properly resolved.

I’ve just said that we Chinese place a high priority on human feelings. Of course, we hope that all matters of human feelings can be resolved within the framework of the law. If a nation has no laws, if the people of a nation cannot use the law to protect our rights and interests, if we cannot use the law to protect our younger generations (weeping) . . . We . . . Our human feelings are marked not only by pain, but we have more feeling. We are suffering, hurt, discouraged.

Ah, it’s been months now, connecting with the authorities and officials all along, no matter on what issues or sharing what views, and we’ve all been full of goodwill. We’ve suffered some wrongs as individuals, but that’s fine. We’re all adults, right. We can withstand it. But we hope that this country has a brighter future, so that more of these children who will grow up in our wake live in a happy country, without fear, without persecution. Ah, I didn’t think I would get so worked up. These words I’m saying are coming right from my gut. I hope our leaders can hear this, can understand our wishes as the people. The errors and mistakes of the past don’t matter. We have time to make amends, including the government. Ah, right here, right now, all I can do is let out my voice, calling on the authorities to release Ai Weiwei, and to release all of those who have been arrested recently — these people who have such a strong sense of responsibility to their society.

I believe that, well, if the authorities express definite goodwill, we are ready to feel it. And are also extremely heartened by the hope that we might see such a moment. We hope that in the not-too-distant future, we can work in consultation together to resolve all of the problems we face. In this China of ours, with its vast civilization of 5,000 years, a vast nation in the world, we should be able to show a civilized attitude before the rest of the world. But some actions of the authorities today, we can be silent about them no longer. We must offer our criticism. Of course our attitude is first and foremost one of expectation. We hope that we can work together to resolve many issues, working together to make this a better country, so that there is no more of this persecution, so that no more families suffer.

I’d like to say just a few things about the babies who were injured [in the 2008 milk scandal]. I’ve recently come to learn something more of the situation, and it seems that many children have been unable to receive timely treatment, including some children whose cases have become more serious. Local governments, and relevant departments included, have simply turned their backs. We hope first of all from a humanitarian viewpoint, from the most basic consideration of our children, that some practical things be urgently done. I’m sure that all parents will have an attitude of tolerance in looking at the tragedies that befell each of our families. In this age of hours, we can withstand a measure of grievance. But we hope that all of the ills we bear can bring more goodness for this country of ours, creating a better social environment for those who come after us. In that society, all of our generations will live in security.

There is one more thing that needs to be emphasized. [We] hope that all things are handled through procedures of rule of law, that all things will be fairly and impartially resolved through the law. Many problems that we face, as I’ve just mentioned, we understand as a matter of human feeling, but human feelings as a precondition must be built within the framework of the law, built within a domain of fairness and justness. As to some methods of the authorities today, we can only criticize them. As to how we will be handled after we have voiced these criticisms, this is something we can’t consider. We hope that what we do, even if our voices are weak, can rouse the minds of more people to deeper thought, and can rouse our rulers, those authorities in power, even if it prompts just a bit of reflection. Even if we suffer more injustice, we would be grateful [for such reflection]. Finally, I want to call again, stress again, that Ai Weiwei be released quickly, and that all, including Ran Yunfei, who have entered prison for their consciences be released. In this country of our, we must let things of conscience live on. (child sleeps).

Ah, my child is so small. Since I’ve come back, my child has worried constantly that I’ll be taken away again. My child always says to me, Dad, don’t do things anymore, or else they’ll come arrest you again. When they are this way, I can only encourage my child, and talk about this with my family and with my wife . . . I’m confident that when my child grows up he’ll understand, and will approve of all of these things I’m doing today. We also hope that the efforts we make today, as I just said, the injustices we suffer, the harm we suffer, can guarantee that they will suffer less in the future, or not at all.

I believe, simply put, that children are the future of our nation, and the future of every family. I want to say to the authorities, and down to all of us ordinary people, let us all go an reflect on all of these abnormal things happening today. Then, rationally and urgently, let us come up with plans to solve them. Of course, the most critical part still lies with our authorities, because some things done by the authorities today should be sharply criticized by us, and there are some things that have already reached such a point that we can no longer withstand it. We have no other way. We cannot remain silent, and we reject silence. Ah . . . For the sake of the most basic justice, for this world, for this nation of ours, for the sake of the most elementary justice in our society . . . That’s it, I guess, my child . . . he’s sleeping. That’s it.

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