Flies and Tigers, Fish and Bicycles – Some Thoughts on Reading
A Harbinger of History (part 10 of 10)
Author: Shi Tao
Translated by Roberta Raine
Apparent progress in freedom of the press in China is ultimately illusory given the absolute power of the authorities
to revoke it at any time.
"Kill flies but don't kill tigers" — this is a "commandment" strictly adhered
to by those in the news industry in mainland
China. Everyone knows that tigers should not be provoked, that one should not slap a tiger on its rump, whereas killing flies
is very easy and gives one a great feeling of accomplishment. The news industry coexists peacefully together with tigers
without a problem, but the more it swats at flies, the more numerous the flies become. With tigers, if you feed and take care
of them, they get fatter and reproduce at an alarming rate. Tigers work together in groups, as if with one breath, while news
agencies hardly dare take a breath, much less make a stink, and they are forced to keep their resentment towards tigers to themselves.
Not long ago, an anonymous young writer in this province who held the position of editor of a newspaper supplement gave this
kind advice to several friends at the newspaper: "They (referring to the leadership of news agencies, as well as leaders in
other types of fields; in other words, all kinds of tigers) are so powerful and so strong, you really don't want to provoke them."
He was not yet 30 years old, but he spoke such a depressing "truth." It really makes one feel sad for these poor bastards —
all the poor writers, journalists and editors in (mainland) China. Sure, tigers are scary and sure, you wouldn't want to try to
kill one, but can't one at least shout at them? In a newspaper office, one may not dare swear or shout abuse, but can't one swear
and complain while out eating and drinking with a few friends? If he doesn't have that much integrity, I'm afraid that even the
flies he kills won't respect him.
In A Harbinger of History, there is an editorial from the Communist Party of China's Xinhua Daily dated March 30, 1946
entitled "A Single-Party Dictatorship Would Spell Disaster." The article pointed out that under Kuomintang rule,
were occurring throughout the country. And yet, just a few years later under Communist Party rule, not only did natural disasters
increase more and more, but human misfortunes also increased year by year at an unprecedented rate. There was so much tragedy in
the human world, even the gods were angry! Awful precedents were set during that time of human misery, and the news media
certainly can't avoid taking some of the responsibility for that. For example, on January 5, 1970 the "Tonghai Earthquake"
struck Yunnan Province. It measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and killed 15,621 people, nearly as many as were killed during the
great Tangshan Earthquake. However, the detestable "single-Party dictatorship" had its mouthpiece, the Xinhua News Agency,
issue only one short, simple statement on the earthquake to the outside world. It said not a single word about the situation
in the disaster area, and it even downplayed the magnitude of the earthquake on the Richter scale. As a result, the "single-Party
dictatorship" adopted a closed policy towards international disaster relief, and domestic relief efforts were mainly aimed at
providing "spiritual aid" with the result that, after the earthquake the disaster area was sent tens of thousands of copies of
Quotations of Mao Zedong and tens of thousands of badges bearing the portrait of Mao Zedong from all over the country.
As for the material and financial assistance that was so urgently needed, the amount given was pitifully small.
Although compared to the "Cultural Revolution," today's news media is able to "kill flies" — which is progress,
historically speaking - is this progress really so great? Today's press has the freedom to "kill flies," but the tigers can,
after all, deprive them of this one very small freedom at any time; they can revoke at will the pitiful right to "kill flies."
There is an editorial in A Harbinger of History that states that "limits on free speech and publication make people ignorant"
and "whether it's a democracy or dictatorship, there is no such thing as free speech." However, the news media in these advanced,
modern times still vigorously works to kill flies as much as possible, still vigorously promotes
"the Three Represents"
and still sings the praises of Jiang Zemin's core group of leaders. The news media is thus surely more repulsive than flies!
Recently, the whole country has been awash in propaganda about the "Three Represents," with one wave after another until
it reached a climax. What is incomprehensible is that even well-known writers, scholars and certain other well-known
personages have also been talking at great lengths about the benefits of the "Three Represents." It seems as if everyone
has been inhaling some sort of mental opium and talking utter nonsense! In the middle of the 1980s, there was a popular
expression in the UK among feminists that a woman needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle. Paraphrasing this, we could
say that the "single-Party dictatorship" needs the "Three Represents" like a man needs a woman. But when we talk about the
sad state of "freedom of the press," to say that the news agencies need the "Three Represents" is just as absurd as a fish
needing a bicycle, isn't it?
Gorky once said, "if you put a man in a pigpen but expect him to become an angel, it's a foolish expectation." By the same
token, to expect the ideology of the "Three Represents" to guide the way for the news media, or to expect someone who is
good at killing flies to be molded into a "hero at killing tigers," is equally foolish. Moreover, given the current state
of freedom of the press, freedom of publishing and freedom of assembly, to place our hopes in all the different tigers, or
to place our hopes in the "single-Party dictatorship," or to place our hopes in the "Three Represents" — now that
would really be the height of foolishness!
Flies are used metaphorically here to refer to low-level officials in China, while tigers refer to high-level officials
in positions of power.
The "Three Represents" is a theory first put forth by Jiang Zemin in 2000 to guide the future development of the country
and Party. It states that the CPC must always represent the three most productive parts of Chinese society: the
development of advanced productive forces, the orientation of China's advanced culture, and the fundamental
interests of the Chinese people.