Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of Li Wangyang’s Death:
I am not a hero, I just want to be a man
Li Wangyang, a man who lived up to his words, once said that for freedom and democracy, “I won’t retreat even if I am beheaded”. For his belief, Li endured decades of hardship and finally was “suicided”. His suspicious death shocked many Hong Kongers and caused public uproar.
Li came from a very humble background with a very basic demand. In 1983, he was inspired by the Polish trade union Solidarity while working in a glass factory. Thus, he organized a “workers’ mutual help community” with his friends, hoping to follow the examples of workers in other countries, to enjoy freedom of association, learn and share their experience with other workers. In 1989, he founded Workers Autonomous Federation, to support the Tiananmen Square Protests led by students. Many Hong Kongers were moved by the same protests and still commemorate those who lost their lives in Beijing.
Li once defended himself at the court, declaring “Marches and protests, freedom of expression are constitutional rights, I did not commit any crime and I did nothing wrong.” For safeguarding his basic human rights, Li served twenty-one years in prison, very often in solitary confinement, on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement and subversion.
Life is politics. Staying away from demanding the end of one-party rule nor an official reassessment of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square Protests, does not keep politics at bay. As long as you care about your dignity, you cannot stay away from politics. Do you know Zhao Lianhai? He was sentenced for “disturbing social order” when he fought for his son, who became ill from drinking tainted milk. Let say Ai Weiwei, a political artist who lives under house arrest and surveillance for his outspokenness. Look at the human rights lawyers, who use their expertise to help victims to claim their legal rights, yet they become victims of White Terror and detentions. Many people, who have no intention to get involved with politics, are forced to fight against the notorious autocratic regime, in order to preserve their dignity and live honestly.
We all know that the Velvet Revolution broke out in then Czechoslovakia in 1989 and overthrew the autocratic regime. But what triggered this revolution? It was not a grand master plan to seize political power, but by passionate fans of the band “The Plastic People of the Universe”, including Václav Havel, trying to rescue the band members from being detained and fight for artistic freedom. Their action developed and became the major force of “Charta 77” in overthrowing the regime. Havel once described, “… the regime unknowingly exposes its true intention: to make life become monotonous, whatever is slightly different, individual, outstanding, independent, or things which cannot be classified, should be removed with a scalpel."
Indeed, what makes the Chinese Government worried the most are not dissidents in the orthodox sense, but people going through diverse daily struggles. Issues such as food safety concerns, employment security, environmental issues, religious freedom, artistic freedom and etc., are raising people’s awareness. The regime is getting more worried and hopes to control more. Thus, it is tightening its grip on civil society and penetrating at all levels. The grip is not only suffocating China, but endangering Hong Kongers. Bookstore owners were abducted, private schools were forced to shut down, musicians were arrested as illegal workers and etc., these are not random cases, but a systematic monitoring scheme to deprive us from our freedom.
Chinese poet Bei Dao once wrote, “… I am not a hero / in an age without heroes / I just want to be a man.” Maybe, the most important insight of the fifth anniversary of Li Wangyang’s death is, even we do not intend to become martyrs or heroes, we should stand firm for our human dignity. We have no choice but to defend it.
Biography of Li Wangyang
Li Wangyang (1950-2012), a resident of Huashi New Village, Daxiang District, Shaoyang City of Hunan Province. He was known as a pioneer of independent labour movement in China. In 1983, he established a “Workers’ Mutual Help Community of Shaoyang City” and in 1989, he founded the Workers’ Autonomous Federation in Shaoyang City and served as its chairman, to organize workers to support the Tianan men Square Protests. After the June Fourth Massacre, he organized several memorial services to mourn the victims. He was sentenced to 13-year imprisonment for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. In 2000, he was released for reasons of poor health. Yet, in 2001, he joined a hunger strike with other activists in Hunan Province, as a petition to hold authorities accountable for the torture he received and his disability they caused. He was given an additional 10-year sentence for "inciting subversion" and released in 2011. After 21 years of imprisonment and torture, he became deaf, blind, suffered from severe heart disease, hyperthyroidism and many other health problems. In 2012, he was interviewed by a Hong Kong television station, iCable TV. He said he never regret in supporting the democratic movement in China. The interview was broadcast on 2 June 2012, which attracted enormous social attention and the state security put him under surveillance again. On 6 June, Hospital of Daxiang District informed his younger sister Li Wangling that Li “had committed suicide”. His family and other dissidents doubted if the “suicide” was staged and accused authorities of forcing his family to cremate Li's body and sign the Certificate of the Cause of Death.