Editor’s note: This is a review of the original Chinese version of My 1000 Days’ Ordeal: A Patriot’s Torture, which was published by China Alliance Press in Hong Kong in 2012. The title of the Chinese version is千日无悔－－一个爱国者的浩劫 (No Regrets for 1000 Days: A Patriot’s Catastrophe). All quotes from the book are from this version.
In One-Sided Statements,1 I wrote this: “People who believe in God are fortunate: fortunate people have no need to believe in God.”
Ching Cheong’s experience is one good example of this proposition. Ching Cheong originally was a materialist and an atheist. When he was younger, he attended a Christian school, but did not become a Christian as a result of this. He didn’t believe in God, but still lived an active life, and was very idealistic and upright. In April 2005, Communist Party of China authorities lured Ching Cheong to Shenzhen where they arrested him. He was later sentenced to five years in prison on trumped-up charges of being a spy. At one point while he was in prison, he almost had a nervous breakdown, his previous spiritual resources inadequate to support him. Afterwards, he was able to emerge from his depression through fortune-telling using the I-Ching, or the Book of Changes, and reading Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian works. But he was still not able to dispel his feeling of distress. In the end, by rereading the Bible, his soul was touched, he was so moved that he sobbed, and he converted to Christianity. As a result, he was able to lift the load from his heart, let go of his hatred, regain his self-confidence, and turn his negative feelings into positive ones. In addition, he learned how to maintain a happy state of mind in the midst of suffering.
He was released from prison early, and returned to Hong Kong on February 5, 2008. He wrote a book about his experience titled My 1000 Days’ Ordeal: A Patriot’s Torture, which was published by the Straits Times Press in 2012.
Contemporary Chinese literature has an abundance of prison literature. Prison memoirs are not easy to write. This is because the key characteristic of prison life, especially prison life in China, is that it lacks life, and is even devoid of life. Therefore, in much of prison literature, although the authors always spill their guts in their dismal enterprises, many readers find these works depressing, monotonous, and not that different from one another.
Compared to other political prisoners in China, Ching Cheong’s prison experience was not striking at all. Because of his overseas status, profession as a journalist, and visibility, he was not treated poorly, and his prison sentence was short and he was released early. At first glance, Ching Cheong’s memoir of his prison life may seem to have been even more difficult to write. But actually, this is not the case. My feeling after reading My 1000 Days’ Ordeal is that it is a very good book. There is much that can be said about this book. His transformation from atheist to Christian is just one such example.
According to Ching Cheong’s account, there is nothing more difficult to understand and accept in reading the Bible than asking someone who has been wronged, to put aside his hatred, forgive those who hurt him, and treat them kindly.
The forgiveness that we often speak about is a forgiveness with conditions attached. It’s a forgiveness that can only be expressed after the other person admits he or she has made a mistake and makes an apology. But the forgiveness that is advocated by Christianity is unconditional. When the average person talks about forgiveness it is implied that there is a precondition, which is that we have the ability to retaliate. We have the ability to retaliate but we willingly choose not to retaliate—only this can be considered forgiveness. In the case of Ching Cheong, he was thrown into jail and was powerless against those who persecuted him. Furthermore, his tormentors not only did not admit their mistake or apologize, but instead continued to persecute him. Under these circumstances, can one speak about forgiveness? Under these circumstances, how can one forgive?
It was this very type of reasoning that made it impossible for Nietzsche to accept Christianity and why he attacked it so strongly.
Nietzsche labeled Christian morality a slave morality. According to his analysis, Christian morality was in reality the product of a spirit of hate. Because the victims of oppression do not have the ability to resist, they feel hatred in their hearts. Then, through twisted and cunning means, they created a new value and a new ideology from hatred. And they turned cowardice and subservience into kindness and forgiveness in one leap.
Nietzsche said sarcastically: “The inability to retaliate should be called kindness,” “the inability to retaliate has been turned into not wanting to retaliate, and could even be called forgiveness (‘because they don’t know what they’re doing, and only we know what they’re doing!’). They even discuss loving one’s enemy, and furthermore, as they talk about this concept they drop beads of sweat.”
However, Nietzsche later slightly altered his view of forgiveness. He noticed that forgiveness was helpful to overcoming hatred, and that it was beneficial to our wellbeing.
And this is true. When your basic rights are being violated, and when you really have no power to punish your opponent, you will naturally feel anger in your heart but you will have no choice but to patiently endure your suffering. The Chinese word for endure is written with the character for knife sitting atop the character for heart. This knife originally should have been used to attack your opponent, but because you plunged it into your own heart, the first one it stabbed was you yourself, causing your heart to bleed continuously.
Nietzsche said: “There is nothing that can exhaust one’s energy more quickly than the emotion of hatred.”
The good thing about forgiveness is that it can free us from hatred and enables us to never again exhaust ourselves over emotions from which we can’t free ourselves. Unconditional forgiveness is a surmounting and transcending of hatred.
Ching Cheong explains this point very clearly in his book. After repeated reflection, he finally understood this truth.
Ching Cheong wrote: It is very important to let go of your hatred and learn forgiveness. “First, this is a critical step in psychological self-healing after having suffered grievances. It would be impossible to heal yourself without letting go of that baggage because the mind would not be able to truly quiet down. Second, it determines whether one can face the future. If I am being affected by my grievances all the time, which in turn affects my normal thinking and judgment, it means that I continue to live in the suffering of the past and in the dark shadow of my grievances.”
He also said that we should learn to use forgiveness to dissolve hatred, and good will to dissolve enmity; as it’s said in the Bible, we should not do evil to achieve victory, but rather use charity to overcome evil. “I feel such an attitude helps me to live more positively and happily,” he writes. “The Bible also teaches me to view the current calamity as a test, to cheerfully accept this kind of tempering, in order to achieve greater honor.”
It should be pointed out that Ching Cheong’s ability to let go of his hatred, learn forgiveness, more actively and happily uphold kindness and righteousness, and, moreover, to see suffering as a test and an honor cannot be separated from his belief in God—“The Lord says Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” That is to say, it cannot be separated from his belief in an omnipotent God who upholds justice. But as we all know, Ching Cheong originally did not believe in God, or the existence of God. Then, how did he make the leap from “not believing” to “believing”? Perhaps this goes back to what some Christians say: because there is a strong need to believe, therefore we believe.
No matter what, when facing such a huge calamity, Ching Cheong’s ability to believe in God was fortunate because his faith in God enabled him to gain self-confidence, tranquility, and the courage to uphold his ideals.
In reality, it is not an absolute necessity to believe in God. In China, there are many dissidents and rights activists who, like Ching Cheong, have suffered cruel persecution, but they have not chosen to convert to Christianity, and they still are able to exhibit enormous courage and to maintain their inner calmness and positive state of mind.
In my opinion, Ching Cheong’s account of his path to believing in God is really the story of how a person, suffering cruel persecution for holding on to his ideals, emerges from the initial pain, anger, and despair, restores his self-confidence and courage, and establishes a positive and tranquil state of mind. Ching Cheong explains every step in the process of this transformation. This description is the highlight of My 1000 Days’ Ordeal.
Reading Ching Cheong’s book is helpful to us in understanding many issues.
Take for example Liu Xiaobo’s final statement “I Have No Enemies.” This phrase has been praised by many people, but it has also prompted many criticisms. Critics feel that this expression is insincere, false, or cowardly, or even pandering.
Of course there is no basis for these criticisms. Leaving aside the examples of foreigners, even in China today, many dissidents and rights activists coincidentally have said before “I have no enemies,” including Qin Yongmin, Guo Feixiong, Wu Yilong, Tan Zuoren, Guo Guoting, Liu Shui, and others. These people have repeatedly had setbacks in fighting for their ideals, and repeatedly fought back after setbacks. To say that all of these people are insincere or cowardly is obviously not in line with the facts. But even if that was so, “I have no enemies” is still difficult to understand: Are not the Communist Party autocrats our enemies? Do you mean to say that you believe that we can just use kindness to dissolve their enmity? Not all of these people believe in a religion, and they don’t necessarily all believe in an omnipotent God who upholds justice, punishes evildoers, and rewards good deeds. So how can we let go of the moral indignation we feel in our hearts?
Take for example Feng Zhenghu’s phrase “finding joy while defending rights.” Feng, who has long suffered intense crackdowns for his rights defense work, was repeatedly put under house arrest, had his home searched and his possessions confiscated, was kidnapped, and was even hit by a police car. His normal life was repeatedly disrupted. The average person would go crazy with anger. So how was Feng able to remain moderate and happy in the face of such injustices?
Reading Ching Cheong’s book makes it relatively easier for us to understand certain things.
When someone is the victim of an unreasonable infringement of their rights, especially when one has been persecuted by an autocratic government for taking a stand on freedom and justice, it is natural, normal, and justified to feel indignation, and even hatred. And this kind of indignation and hatred is not a selfish emotion, but, rather, the manifestation of a consciousness of dignity and a sense of justice. However, falling deeply into this kind of emotion for a prolonged period is not good for one’s health, and will result in serious harm to one’s psychological state and physical well-being. So one has to learn how to adjust one’s state of mind, and to learn how to let go of those intensive negative emotions.
Of course, if you choose to surrender and give up, it will not be difficult for you to also let go of your indignation and hatred. The entire nation was angered by the gunfire during June Fourth. But many people soon after chose to give up out of fear. And because they gave up the fight, they avoided persecution. And not long afterwards, the original feeling of indignation gradually diminished and then vanished. If one distances oneself from suffering, gives up the fight, and talks wildly about having no hatred and no enemies, and about forgiveness and happiness, that’s actually quite easy to do. But it’s also meaningless.
But if one refuses to give up and is determined to persist, then one cannot but face difficulty and endure pressure. In this case, one will need an even stronger spiritual support to be able to overcome all types of negative emotions. Ching Cheong relied on religion. Those who don’t believe in religion rely on history (for Chinese people, history is our religion). Both help us to have faith, as we are standing on the side of right, which will be the side that will inevitably achieve final victory. Meanwhile, our opponents are on the wrong side, and will inevitably be the ones to suffer defeat. Thus, those who have faith can see their suffering as a test, the necessary sacrifice to achieve victory in the fight for justice, and thereby take pride in this suffering. Based on this moral superiority, they’re able to take the high ground in looking down at those who have harmed them, and simply not lower themselves to the level of their opponents, and thus they no longer harbor any grudges.
In My 1000 Days’ Ordeal, Ching Cheong records all of his experiences in prison, exposing the darkness of the current system in China. In addition, he has described the entire gamut of inner emotions, the transformation of his state of mind, and the evolution of his thinking, which came from profound introspection and continuous self-analysis. This helps us understand not only how an autocratic regime ravages human nature, but also how fragile human nature is, and how tough.
1. One-Sided Statements is an unofficial English translation of the title of a book in Chinese by Hu Ping published by Mirror Books in Hong Kong in 1999.^
Hu Ping is the New York-based editor of the Chinese-language monthly Beijing Spring, and is a member of the board of directors of Human Rights in China.