By accident I was pulled out of my working mother cocoon in the fall of 2011 to co-blog at the now-defunct seeingredinchina.com. The only problem was that I didn’t know much about China, having left twenty years before. I began to read about it, unaware at the time that I was taking the first steps of a new journey.
Among the first articles I read was “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia”: lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s account of being beaten, having his genitals pierced with toothpicks, and urinated on in a Beijing basement — punishment for his daring to speak out on behalf Falun Gong practitioners who had suffered similar tortures. Reading about Gao shook me to the core.
Though my initial reaction to Gao’s story was that of disbelief, it was not long before I became intimately familiar with such accounts of state- perpetrated viciousness.
One of the early essays I wrote was a piece titled “The Other China.” In it, I expressed my initial encounter with the country I had left behind, and the guilt I felt for not knowing what was going on in those nondescript basements and “guesthouses” scattered throughout the land. It was a China I was completely sealed off from, all while I enjoyed good food and shopping excursions in the company of friends and family, marveling like a model tourist at the sparkling new highways and towering new buildings during my infrequent return trips. My ignorance was inexcusable.
Since the launch of ChinaChange.org on June 4, 2013, we have interviewed and profiled rights defense activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, pastors, feminists, dissidents, intellectuals, and more. It didn’t take long for me to begin to see the contours of the Other China through the stories of divergent individuals: Chinese with a new sense of freedom and power in a unprecedented era of economic expansion pursue their aspirations from their stations in life, work diligently, succeed, are met with repression, get beaten up or shut down, and see their careers cut short, if not ending up in prison. Some pay with their lives.
Following the same contours are the stories of Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a legal scholar and a pioneer of the rights defense movement since early 2000s; Guo Jianmei (郭建梅), a lawyer and one of the earliest NGO founders for women’s rights; Chang Ping (长平), news director of the famed Southern Weekly at the age of 30; and the two young pastors (仰华、苏天富) from the mountains of impoverished Guizhou.
Sometime last year, I came upon an article by Professor Qian Liqun (钱理群). After retirement from Peking University, Prof. Qian took up research on the political and intellectual thoughts and movements outside the Communist Party’s official narrative from the 1950s to the present. He concluded, “We have actually two Chinas. One is the China that has been magnified by the historical narrative and the Party's propaganda, the China that has been extolled and paraded. But there is another China that's been ravished, obliterated, stamped out in the dark. There are these two Chinas and two histories, and their clash and interaction has formed the real and complete history of contemporary China. If we only set our eyes on the China above the ground, the China that's sanctioned by the authorities, but ignore the underground China and the obliterated China, we will not have a complete understanding of China."
As we continue our interviews and profiles, we at China Change have decided to republish them in an eBook series for easy access and reading. What we hope to offer is a mural of the Other China. Book One contains nine stories, and is now available on Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, and Google Books.
Thank you and welcome to The Other China.
Yaxue Cao, director and editor of China Change