Man Must Make His Choice

I have been reading a lot of news articles and blogposts relating to the Tibet incidence and find these informative and enlightening:-

- Roland Soong’s (ESWN) excellent post titled “How Can I Forget Tibet March 14” which contains links to several eyewitnesses’ accounts (translated blogposts);

- Civic China’s post titled “How To Resolve Tibetan Incommensurabilities: The Need for Information and Dialogue”, which contains other similarly readable blogposts (translated).

Please let me be clear at the outset that I am not going to comment on the event other than offer this observation: A common thread that seems to link the above posts is the basic distrust, each of the other, of propaganda from the two opposing camps, and a universal desire, on the part of reasonable spectators who have not taken sides, for the real truth and untainted facts.

Even in Western countries where freedom of the press is taken for granted, arriving at the truth is not always an easy task for journalists. But in countries where the press is tightly controlled by government, that task is taken to a whole new height of challenge. The frantic control of the press in mainland China is proving to be hampering journalistic efforts to get to the truth. Gandhi even went as far as calling such kind of control poisonous, as he put it in his autobiography, in which the great sage laid out his view on the aim of journalism:-

“I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.”

On the subject of attaining truth, I am reminded of some comments made by Cheng Yizhong (程益中), former editor-in-chief of Southern Metropolis and The Beijing News, in a recent interview with Southern Metropolis Weekly.

Cheng said China’s greatest hazard is her mindset about how an individual should conduct himself. He believed that what Chinese people lack is candidness and purity of heart. All one sees everywhere are platitudes about how to behave as a court (government) official or as a social being, as well as plebeian management knowledge. These platitudes and knowledge originate invariably from the concept of “thickness of skin and blackness of heart” (厚黑學) and the concept of under-the-table rules (潛規則).

“What I can see within this so-called knowledge is people’s innovative shamelessness in their scrambling towards their selfish goals. I often find it bizarre as to why people are never taught how to behave as honest, decent and righteous human beings. On the contrary, they are often taught how to be unctuous, smarmy and self-serving.”

He then went on to remark that while China’s rotten systems have brought adverse change and damage to an individual’s character, hastening its rotting process, the individual’s increasingly rotten character has also served as a spawning ground for even more rotten systems. The two elements are at the same time cause and effect; they feed on each other.

In an earlier interview during a discussion forum held late last year in Nanjing, Cheng spoke about the need for Chinese society to return to the path of common knowledge, as people are becoming more and more in denial.

“I often dwell on this tragic hypothesis: there existed once on this earth a super liar of a country, in which all the citizens’ energy was directed towards eliminating common knowledge from their mind. They adorned their souls with some glamorous lies which they called truth. They could live comfortably alternating between two masks. On the one hand they were disdainful of what they always liked to flaunt as the great truth, while on the other hand they looked upon common knowledge of mankind such as human rights, democracy and rule of law as voodoo. People were incessantly arguing about the meaning of truth, and they piled on interpretation after interpretation over the word, which were all embarrassingly vulgar.”

As unflattering as Cheng’s comments seem, they are nothing but an honest analysis of social behavior and it should be obvious that he does not mean to generalize nor offend. On the contrary, he is just one of many ethic Chinese people who wish China well and hope that she will behave as a fair-minded, honest, civilized and honorable nation. But ultimately it is up to each and everyone to make his own choice between hypocrisy and integrity.

When asked what dream he cherished most, Cheng said: “I hope that human rights, democracy and the rule of law can materialize in China, government officials will be scrupulous and dedicated to serving the public, the environment will improve, there will be fairness and justice in society and that people will have a good life.” Wouldn’t that be the same dream that every Chinese person cherishes?

Cheng was arrested in March 2004 on alleged corruption charges, which were believed to have been brought against him by the Guangzhou authorities in retaliation for his publishing SARS information in 2003. The charges were subsequently found to be groundless and he was released in August that year. He was awarded the 2005 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize but was prohibited to leave the country to receive the award. He is currently the publisher of Sports Illustrated Chinese Edition.