Push China toward democracy -- peacefully

Shen Tong

September 03, 1992|By Shen Tong

BEIJING — Bejing -- I AM back in China -- and I have found a China tha the outside world does not know about.

For three years I have yearned to return to the land of my birth. I was forced to flee after the bloody confrontation between tanks and people.

I have come back to touch, taste and smell the wonders of this beautiful place. I still have the same dream of democracy my friends and I struggled for in Tiananmen Square.

I don't know what will happen to me. But I do know that no gun, no tank, nor any attempt to buy people off by consumerism can destroy the human spirit's need for freedom.

I returned to stand again with those I left behind after the brutal crackdown of the democracy movement.

I am here to strengthen the bridge between those who were forced to flee and those who have carried on the struggle from within the key forces in shaping China's political future.

These past weeks I have found a country in confusion. China is at a social, political and economic crossroads.

It seems there is little political activity, that parts of the Chinese economy are bounding ahead, and that the Old Men have triumphed. But the truth is far different.

In recent days I have felt the scars of ex-political prisoners who have been tortured. I heard of a retired man who starved to death in custody.

I went into homes where parents grieve for sons and daughters who are still in prison or simply missing -- and the terrible thing is that many are frightened even to talk about it.

In one village I said to a group of people that 10 years of reform had apparently improved their standard of living.

One person spoke up and said, "But the government does only two things: it takes money and it takes lives."

Far more than the world realizes, corruption, strikes, dissent, hunger, violence and unbalanced development are forming storm clouds over China.

It needs to be modernized, everyone agrees. But to move toward that goal requires not just economic development, but also progress toward a real market economy, liberalization of society, the advent of cultural pluralism and steps toward democratic politics.

L Many forces of change swim below the seemingly calm surface.

People have gone beyond the stage of saying, "I don't give a damn; I'm just going to make money."

True, they have yet to seize on issues that will build a new politics. But they are quietly building a civil society independent of the decaying corpse of Marxist rule.

Some Communists believe that the 14th-party congress this fall will be a key event in charting China's future. Political positions may be set and the struggle for power at the top may be settled -- temporarily.

But some forces for political change are moving independently. The vigor of south China exists in spite of the politicians in the north.

Because of contacts with the outside world, a limited but impressive free society is coming into being. One day there will be a new politics to match it, one that is combined with economic development and relative social stability.

Nonviolent transformation is essential for this to occur.

Throughout Chinese history, violence has replaced violence and the people have gained little in the way of liberation. I believe that crystal goals can only be reached by crystal means.

I call upon the current authorities to recognize that China's future lies with pluralism. Dialogue between the current regime and the opposition is the first step toward evolutionary change.

I call upon reformers in the party: create open opposition within the establishment, using the limited freedom provided by the existing system.

I call upon China's established political underground networks to surface in a limited, organized fashion to create a larger role for themselves.

I call upon prominent individuals who have profound social influence -- liberal scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, religious leaders -- to speak out within their spheres. By protecting specific rights, such as freedom of creative expression, freedom of religious worship, freedom of publishing, they can build a base for pluralism and civil society.

These potential forces for change can no longer be silent. They must accept responsibility for their own rights and the rights of others. Rights, like power, must be taken; they are never given.

I have returned to China to encourage others to step forward. China is not lacking the forces to transform its repressive, authoritarian society.

A free China will be ours one day.

Shen Tong is chairman of the Democracy for China Fund. He passed this article to a friend on Monday, hours before he was arrested in Beijing.

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