Saturday, June 13, 2009

Exile or Not?

After the bloody crackdown of the 1989 June Fourth Protest at the Tiananmen Square, arrests and persecutions for those who were involved in the "counter-revolutionary rebellion" began in earnest across China. The most well-known nation-wide men-hunt was for the so-called “21 Most-Wanted List”, originated from Beijing City Public Security Bureau. Most of these leaders were around 20 years old and all but one was university students. In the May 31th issue of World News Weekly世界周刊, a Chinese publication in America, there was an article by one of them - Feng ConDe封從德who provided an update of these individuals.

It is interesting to look at some statistics based on that article. Out of these “21 most-wanted”, 7 successfully escaped the country to France or U.S. via Hong Kong within the following 2 years after the protest. Out of these 7 escaped, two of them now reside in Taiwan and the rest are in U.S. The remaining 14 were arrested, imprisoned and harassed regularly or re-arrested after releases. Out of these 14, eventually 7 of them were exiled (by Chinese Government) or escaped on their own to U.S. The other 7 are still in China and at least one of them has openly declared that he does not wish to leave China. A majority of these 21 now are engaged in various fields ranging from science/technology to financial investments. While they continue to believe in the cause, only few of them appear to be able to devote significant amount of time or energy to stay active with it.

Upon reading the news reports, I can’t stop wondering how each of them have felt about their choices over the last two decades, in particular, the dilemma of exile (to other countries) or staying in China? Would one be able to achieve more staying alive but isolated in prison? Would one be able to do more going abroad, living and speaking freely?

Perhaps it is useful to digress and look at some inspirational figures and symbols of recent history in the world who had led the fights against the regimes in search of rights including freedom, democracy, and self-determination.

The first one comes to mind is Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He was an anti-apartheid activist and the leader of the African National Congress's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (yes, he one time was pursuing bombing and guerilla warfare tactics.) He spent 27 years in prison (1964-1990) and after the release, led the successful negotiations to end the apartheid peacefully and hold the first multi-racial election. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. His unwavering belief of a multi-race democratically governed South Africa enabled the healings and peaceful transition of the power.

Incidentally Mandela was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, father of India, lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1913 where he began his non-violent civil disobedience campaign as an expatriate lawyer in the resident Indian community's struggle for civil rights. He returned to India in 1915 and led the successful Indian Independent Movement with Non-cooperation movement, no small task for a historically divided and fragmented nation consisted of many kingdoms and tribes. Ghandi had been imprisoned many times and many years in both South Africa and India. He was assassinated in Jan 1948, shortly after overseeing the declaration of independence of India from Great Britain. His non-violent and passive resistance approach worked effectively with the culture despite with a very diverse and divided society.

The first Southeast Asian figure comes to mind is Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (formerly Burma), a pro-democratic activist and political leader. She was to become the Prime Minister after her party won an overwhelming victory in the 1990 general election, the first since 1960. However the Military Junta would not acknowledge the result of the election and instead held her under house arrest on and off for a total of 13 years since then. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Aung San Suu Kyi has consistently refused Military Junta’s offer to leave the country and chosen instead to continue the fight for democracy and freedom from within. With her stature and personal sacrifice, she has been able to keep world’s attention and pressure on the repressive military dictatorship of Myanmar.

For the totalitarian and now dissolved Soviet Union, Andrei Sakharov, a human rights activist and 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner had experienced similar reprisals to those in other countries including isolation, internal exile and imprisonment. He was a trained nuclear physicist and became active first in anti nuclear proliferation.

A more intriguing icon of Sakharov's countrymen is a non-political figurethe, the 1970 Nobel Literature Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn whose 3 volume seminal work The Gulag Archipelago were sneaked out and became available in the West in 1973. Some have noted that the work has single handedly indicted the Soviet Union totalitarian system and stopped the proliferation of communism in Europe. He was exiled in 1974 and returned to Russia in 1994 after the breakup of Soviet Union. Unlike many, he has been vocal and critical to aspects of Western culture and remained as a strong believer in Russian Nationalism and Orthodox Church.

Closer to China, there are examples from Taiwan and Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama , the1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, left the theological Tibet in 1959 and exiled to India at age 9 when Communist China took over the control of Tibet Autonomous Region. Since then he has been heading the Tibet exile government (in India) and pushing for the autonomy of Tibet through peaceful means. His moderate position and approach has not been met with reciprocity from Communist China nor welcomed by more militant factions of the independence movement. His personal charm and popularity are not likely to be passed onto his successors. Further, time is not his side.

In Taiwan, first person comes to mind is Peng MinMing彭明敏 who is often considered the Godfather of Taiwan Independence Movement for his 1964 “Declaration On Taiwan Self-Salvation Movement”. Peng was arrested, jailed and later released a year later under house arrest till January 1970 when he escaped from Taiwan and received political asylum in Sweden. He later moved to U.S. and did not return to Taiwan until 1991 after the martial law was lifted. He ran unsuccessfully for President as the opposition party DPP candidate in 1996 (against Lee DengHui of Nationalist Party). While he was an early leader of Taiwan Independence Movement, his loss in the popular election after long absence from Taiwan does suggest how one could lose his/her political bases from an exile.

Another important figure of Taiwan is Shi MingDeh 施明德, a long time champion and leader of democratic movements and anti-authoritarian power. Twice sentenced to life-in-prison, he spent over 25 years in jail in total before he reached the age of 50 in 1991. Refused to be paroled, pardoned several times and eventually unconditionally released, he is quite a principled man and remains to be the conscience of Taiwan. He led the anti-corruption demonstration of 2006 against the DPP government (of which he was one time the party chairman) and attracted, by some account, more than one million participants.

All these well-known examples and others do not seem to suggest obvious answers to the dilemma of exile if and when one faces it. On one hand, exile would keep you and your dream alive. It allows for the continuing development of the ideals and often the freedom of dissemination of one’s belief and ideas. It is thus easier to gather resources and persuade others outside the country to support or join the cause. However in gaining such freedoms, exile would make it difficult to get attention of your countrymen who after all, are the ones care most about domestic politics and development. At the emotional level, I could imagine it is hard to run away and stay alive with the burden of bearing witness of the dead and the continuing struggle. Yet, what is the use of sacrificing one’s life if that would not advance the cause? . We can never second guess the choice by each one of them.

Indeed there is really no right or wrong choice and we should never second guess the choice made. At the end, the cause and ideals are bigger than individuals and are what count. Growing and speaking out is always better than being ignorant or staying silent. One thing for sure though reform and changes can only be successful ultimately from within.

Talk to you soon!

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