Falling Short: Common Sense As a Weapon

Common Sense As a Weapon

“Using common sense as a weapon, we will surely destroy the nightmare woven with fear and lies.”

Cheng Yizhong, former editor-in-chief of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News), was detained for five months in 2004 after the Guangzhou paper’s investigative reporting embarrassed local officials. The newspaper broke news that a young graphic designer, Sun Zhigang, was beaten to death in police custody in March 2003. Yu Huafeng, the paper’s general manager, and Li Minying, the former editor, were rounded up at the same time. Li was released in 2007, while Yu was held until February 2008.

In recognition of the newspaper’s courageous reporting, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded Cheng its 2005 Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Cheng could not attend UNESCO’s award ceremony in Dakar, Senegal, but sent prepared remarks dated April 28, 2005. Here are translated excerpts:

“I thank my friends, relatives, and colleagues. … Your cries have swept away obstacles and blown down layers of dark curtains and towering walls. I must also thank the politicians who undid this mischief after making such mischief in the first place. Without your savagery and stupidity, I would not have received this honor, and cases of injustice on a greater scale would have continued as if the accusations were real. In a society where the system of law is unsound, any type of injustice can be pulled off, and cases of injustice always seem so solemn and extraordinarily perfect. I would like all the more to thank my comrades-in-arms and fellow inmates, Mr. Yu Huafeng and Mr. Li Minying. Your sufferings are the shame of all of China. …

“Using common sense as a weapon, we will surely destroy the nightmare woven with fear and lies. Do not go against common sense. Do not go against conscience. Be on guard against despicable politicians who attack the truth in the name of the truth, who give vent to their own anger and seek their personal gains in the name of political correctness. … For us, the first priority is to expand the public’s right to know and improve political transparency.

“We have been lost in fear and lies for too long. Fear is omnipresent and lies are omnipresent—we are going farther and farther on the road of deceiving ourselves and others. … If we become used to the prevailing evil, then we are accomplices in persecuting ourselves. Bei Dao’s poem says: ‘We are not innocent, and a long time ago we became accomplices with history in the mirror.’ …

“I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to make this appeal: Let the truth return to our lives, just like the earth returning to under our feet! In 1975, [Václav] Havel said these words in an open letter to [Vladislav] Husák, Czech president and Communist Party general secretary: ‘If life cannot be eliminated forever, then similarly, history cannot be fully stopped, either. Beneath the deep layer of inertia and falsehood, a secret river still flows slowly; slowly and unnoticeably, it erodes the deep layer. This may be a very long process, but one day, it will happen: That deep layer begins to crack.’

“This will also surely be our future.”

» return to Chapter 6:
Local Threats: The Bureaucrat’s Tyranny