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"What am I scared of? I'm scared of nothing!" he said, gritting his teeth.|
What happened next was a blur. I didn't know whether the bus had been driven to us, or if we'd been taken to the bus. Again we were forced onto the vehicle. Xiaoshan screamed: "I've remembered you! I've remembered your faces!"
Afterwards, Xiaoshan and I discussed what we'd seen. My argument was that they weren't all bad people. Perhaps, they'd fallen for something they shouldn't have fallen for. If they truly believed that Chen Guangcheng was a national traitor, then naturally they would hate him, and by association would hate his supporters. This was normal. Xiaoshan, however, disagreed. "They don't count as good people either. They're doing this for money. 1600RMB every month to do nothing. To beat people. Where do people even find jobs like that?"
In the end we agreed: this was a group of individuals who'd been sedated, who couldn't care less about good or evil, who cared only about their immediate wellbeing. In certain cases, at certain times in history, these were the people who had the capacity to assist monsters. If they had a gun, they would aim it. It didn't matter to them who they aimed at.
Wang Yanan, the former president of Xiamen University and translator of Das Kapital, once said: "There are three types of people in a pre-modern society: liars, fools and mutes." I think he must have overlooked the fourth type: the participant. In an abnormal society, the participant makes up the society. There are lots of them so each of them has only to do very little. None of them needs to own up to their actions. When times change most of them will be able to defend their actions by saying that they were fooled by someone else, that they were victims too. This isn't untrue, but it is because of their willingness to participate that makes them the very creators of evil itself.
The return to Beijing
We rode our bus back to Lingyi. A black Buick followed us the whole way. This was probably the world's most patient car. Wherever we went, it went. We pressed the gas, it pressed the gas. We turned around, it turned around. We stopped to drink sodas and eat noodles, and they sat outside waiting for us. I didn't know who owned the car, but I can bet that they were spending taxpayers' money.
We arrived in Xuzhou at three in the afternoon. Every one felt more relaxed after leaving Shandong. Someone called Xiaoshan to ask him where he was born. He said that we'd left Shandong, and didn't mention Xuzhou. If someone had asked me, I would've answered. My thoughts were that we were just going to see a friend. There's nothing more normal than this and there's no need to be dramatic. Later some things happened, proving that Xiaoshan, an old pro, was right to take precautions. It also proved that in an abnormal era, one pays a price for normal behaviour. This is China and I am a Chinese citizen. I have the right to lead a normal life. This is the lowest requirement for life. But at this time, in this place, it has become a dream.
Four days later, the five of us met up in Beijing. Xiaoshan played with his smart phone. Enchao wore a different leather jacket. Zhongqiang played poker. Nuola sat beside us smiling. I'd offended Enchao with another inappropriate joke and spent the rest of that meal apologising to him. We ate, drank two pots of coffee, and said things we didn't need to say. It was as if we'd returned to our ordinary lives, but we were all deeply aware that at that very moment, Chen Guangcheng was still in Dongshigu, still sitting alone in a dark cell. I know that Nuola will never forget. Zhongqiang will never forget. Enchao will never forget. Xiaoshan will never forget. There are others who will never forget. As we sat in that bright and clean room with our drinks, Chen Guangcheng was still in Dongshigu, sitting alone in a dark cell.
If you live in Dongshigu you are very close to Chen Guangcheng. When he fell foul of the government, everyone fell foul of the government. His fate is everyone's fate. A single man captive, the whole of man captive. You don't have to care about Chen Guangcheng, but you do need to know that at the moment his freedom was arbitrarily taken away, your freedom came under threat.
I once read this passage on the internet: "China's road towards development is long and slow. It doesn't promise to be smooth. If there's going to be blood, then please, start with me. If we're doomed to bear loss, then please, start with me. I will bleed, but that means that you cannot let others bleed. I am willing to bleed to death. If I lose, no one else is allowed to lose. I am willing to lose everything."
Chen Guangcheng did not write these words, but it might as well be him who said it. I hope, in a future not too far away, to read this passage to him on a warm spring day. I hope to sit down and have a drink with him. Then finally I would have realized this dream: To live a normal life.