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China: Ran Yunfei’s Blogging for Political Change

The Deutsche Welle International Blog Awards, as GVO writer Filip Stojanovski and Juliana Rincón Parra have written about, is one of the most prestigious awards for online content producers. Organized by German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, it features 17 categories with winners chosen in two ways – those by the jury and those by Internet users who can vote until April 11.

Ran Yunfei at the 2009 China Blogger Conference. Photo taken by Rebecca MacKinnon and posted to Flickr.

In the Best Blog Chinese category, a number of political writers are nominated. Amongst them are Ran Yunfei, Chang Ping and Yang Hengjun, who have been subject to the latest round of crackdown on free speech and the media in China this year. Leading journalist Chang Ping was forced out of his job at the Southern Media Group in January. Sino-Australian blogger Yang Hengjun mysteriously disappeared for a few days in March, and nearly caused a diplomatic role between China and Australia.

Ran Yunfei has received the harshest treatment. An internet activist, blogger and writer from the Sichuan province, he is known for his advocacy of rule-of-law and democratic reforms. On February 19, he was detained by the authorities and, after five weeks of unacknowledged custody, formally charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’ on March 28. This is the same crime that China’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and many other dissidents have been charged with.

A prolific writer and editor, his writings range from current affairs, politics and history to literature. Ran once reflected on why he keeps on writing one blog per day to criticize social wrongs:

一个民主自由制度的建立固然重要乃至是绝顶重要,但把争取民主自由当成自己一生修练,恐怕才使自己不至绝望而崩溃,这也就是我为什么赞赏胡适先生日拱一卒、功不唐捐的原因。即令我的努力没能见着民主自由的实现,也不枉我一生努力过,就像司徒华先生所谓:成功不必在我,成功我在其中。我很欣赏刘宾雁先生的墓志铭:躺在这里的中国人,说了他该说的话,做了他该做的事。

The building of a democratic and free society is of the utmost importance. But you have to make the fight for democracy and freedom your life-long discipline, so that you will not lose hope and collapse. That’s why I appraise Mr Hu Shih’s spirit of ‘If I give my all each day, it would all have been worthwhile.’ Though I might not be able to witness the realization of democracy and freedom in China, my efforts would not be wasted. Like what Mr Szeto Wah said: I don’t have to achieve the success, but I am part of the success. I admire the saying on Mr Liu Binyan’s epitaph: The Chinese buried here have spoken and done what he should have.

Apart from his daily blog entries, he also tirelessly publishes a weekly selection and critiques of major news and social issues, and a weekly update on the development of civil society and NGOs in China.

Following Ran Yunfei’s custody and arrest, a number of writers in China have voiced their support for him.

Fellow activist writer Yu Jie from Sichuan wrote:

冉云飞的言论,表面上看像鲁迅,骨子里却更接近胡适,即便作怒目金刚状之时,亦遵循“有一分材料,说一分话”的原则。他是以积极自由的方式来捍卫更多人的消极自由,他的文字是清晰的、坚定的、简洁的。在《通往比傻帝国》一书中,他着力批判的便是官方愚民的宣传、教育以及对历史的伪造。他对史料的搜集可谓竭泽而渔,其结论才能如铁板上钉钉,让官方教科书中的那些造假之处昭然若揭。

On surface, Ran Yunfei’s writings resemble those of Lu Xun, but at heart it is closer to Hu Shih. Although his writings at times appear angry, they follow the principle of ‘speaking with evidence’. He uses his proactive freedom to defend the passive freedom of the majority. His writings are clear, determined and concise. In his book The Road to the Empire of Stupidity, he criticized the stupefying official propaganda and education and the fabrication of history. Because of his comprehensive collection of historical materials, his conclusion is authoritative, making the lies on official textbooks all too clear.

Xiao Han, professor at the China University of Politics and Law, published an open letter to Ran Yunfei:

十数年间,我读过你很多文章,所喜欢和认同的你,即在你出世地入世。你写过关于庄子的专着,有着自由精神和独立思想的读书人,谁能不喜欢庄子呢?我曾撰文,认为你的言论无论质和量,都堪称当代中国公共知识分子第一人,你的文字,文采与论理并举,激情和理性兼美,倡导者无非公义、情理与善政,反对者无非邪恶与暴政,倘因此而被视为“颠覆国家政权”,那一定是他们自认为代表着邪恶与暴政,是公义和善政之敌。

Over the past tens of years, I have read a lot of your essays and love and agree with you, albeit you keep a distance from actual politics. You have written about the sage Zhuang Zi, and have demonstrated your liberal spirits and independent thinking. And who will not like Zhuang Zi? I have once noted that, whether in terms of quality or quantity of outputs, you are the number one among China’s public intellectuals. Your essays, at once stylish and theoretical, romantic and rational, promote justice, common sense and good governance, and criticize evil and tyranny. If this is why the authorities charge you with ‘inciting subversion of state power’, then the authorities must be evil and tyrant, and the enemy of justice and good governance.

Wang Yi, a Christian activist and friend of Ran Yunfei, wrote:

据云飞说,1992年后,他停止了写诗。这个国家也在那时,停止了对一场屠杀的追悼。邓小平的南巡讲话,就像漫长的葬礼上,有人干咳了一声,然后一部分人就先笑起来了。越笑,越理直气壮。越笑,越讨厌那些为什么还不笑的人。此后,云飞就从一个言辞稀少的哀歌诗人,变成四川盆地内分贝最高的作家,和一个推崇胡适式的渐进改良的、自由主义知识分子。用阴笑、嘲笑、冷笑和皮笑肉不笑,来抗议一个傻笑的时代。

Ran Yunfei stopped writing poems in 1992, at a time when the country stopped mourning the massacre. The Southern Tour of Deng Xiaoping is like a dry cough in a long funeral, after which a number of people started to laugh. The more they laugh, the more confident they become, and the more they hate those who do not laugh. Afterwards, Ran Yunfei evolved from an elegy poet of rare words to the loudest writer and liberal scholar in Sichuan who advocates the progressive spirit of Hu Shih. He responds to the age of foolish laughter with sneer, ridicule, derision and contempt.

This is how retired newspaperman and columnist Ceng Boyan described Ran Yunfei as an intellectual:

冉云飞以他前期写诗的诗感,锻炼出那敏感时代的神经,去敏感现时为文,往往快捷得令海内外惊奇,借助互联网的信息,某些刚出现的社会溃败、邪恶或镇痛,很快就在他的博客或推特中反映与评说。却反映得准确,评说得很到位。他的博客,每天一大早就有人等着出炉。在天涯社区未封之前,跟帖长达数百。其日拱一卒之勤奋,引人浩叹。人家闷声发大财时,云飞在放喉吐真话。不爱钱也不爱权的这种说真话的书生,也是自古以来称为知识分子脊梁的,难道60年来你们重拳打断那么多知识分子的脊梁,种也不留一个才放心么。

Ran Yunfei applies his early sense of poetry to develop his sensitivity for current affairs. He is a surprisingly fast and responsive writer. Utilizing the Internet, social corruptions and evils are quickly reflected and criticized in his blogs and tweets, with accuracy and sharpness. His blogs are eagerly awaited. They consistently attracted hundreds of comments on the Tianya forum before they were shut down. His diligence of writing a blog a day makes one exclaim in admiration. While most people are amassing fortunes, he is speaking the truth. Such kind of scholar who despises wealth and power but speaks the truth has long been regarded as the bedrock of the intellectual. Will the Chinese Communist Party not be assured until the last of these intellectuals are destroyed?

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