In praise of Hu Shigen

August 05, 2016 17:38
Hu Shigen's life has been filled with sacrifices for the cause of democracy in China. Photo:

Hu Shigen (胡石根), a veteran Chinese democracy activist, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison by a Tianjin court Wednesday on charges of subverting state power.

After graduating from Peking University with a major in Chinese Language and Literature, Hu became a teacher at Beijing Language College (now Beijing Language and Culture University). In 1991, he founded the Liberal Democratic Party of China (LDPC) with Wang Quoqi (王國齊).

In 1992, Hu was arrested as word leaked that he was planning to rain down fliers on Tiananmen Square from a remote-controlled airplane on June 4.

Two years later, he was handed a 20-year prison sentence for "organizing a counter-revolutionary ring" and "spreading of counter-revolutionary propaganda".

Serving the jail term, Hu was released four years early due to ill-health.

Following his release, the activist continued to participate in pro-democracy social movements. In 2014, Hu was arrested as he attended a June 4 seminar in Beijing in May.

Last year, he was arrested yet again and has now been sentenced to more than seven years in jail.

Hu's years of imprisonment will put him close to Nelson Mandela, who had served a total of 27 years in prison for his fight against the apartheid system in South Africa.

Hu's sacrifice and pain have been far more than just spending time in a prison cell. He once suffered a knife attack from his own wife following a dispute. Following the incident, Hu said he understood the tremendous pressure shouldered by his wife. Their marriage, however, ended in divorce.

Among other misfortunes, Hu was unable to see his mother during her last moments, as he was in prison.

Learning about his life story, one cannot but be heartbroken, given the sacrifices he made for the cause of democracy. The artist Ai Weiwei wrote on Twitter that Hu is morally flawless.

But Chinese authorities now won't allow any discussion in the media on Hu's work. I once saw an article on WeChat platform that spoke positively about Hu. However, it took less than a day for mainland censors to get it taken down.

It is now the era of forced silence. There's little hope for democracy or the right kind of rule of law in China in the foreseeable future. What kind of rule of law would be possible in a nation where human rights lawyers and their supporters get punished by the government?

There is always a minority group of righteous people who are willing to speak up the truth and make sacrifices for the greater good. But the majority is apathetic and has no guts to face the political reality.

What's worse, they pretend that they can't see any injustice. Without any backup, the forerunners are destined to suffer.

Does a cowardly population deserve idealistic heroes?

I can only remind people of what Lu Xun, a leading figure of modern Chinese literature, once wrote: if you don't break the silence, you will be engulfed by it.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 5.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic