Hu Jia: some Time, in an unguarded Moment…

Hu Jia (胡佳), 37, may be released from jail in June next year. Obviously, noone can tell for sure. Even top officials find at times that the judiciary in China frequently lacks “rightful procedures”. When Hu was an environmental activist, but not yet considered guilty by the CCP (and hence by every “legal” mainland Chinese publication) of “libeling the Chinese political and social systems” and “inciting subversion of state power”, a China Youth Daily Freezing Point supplementary journalist named Cai Ping met with him at the newspaper’s venue, and in July 2001, she wrote an article. She was “moved” by Hu Jia’s life, and apparently found much of it disturbing at the same time. The following excerpts of the Freezing Point article quoted here are translations by Black and White Cat.  Cai asked Hu:

“What will you do in the future? You work so hard, how is your health ever going to get better? [Hu had contracted hepatitis several years before he talked with Cai.] How will your girlfriend come back? [*) see “Note” underneath] Do you plan to get married? You can’t depend on your parents your whole life.”
Hu Jia can’t answer this. He sighs deeply and says: “I can’t turn back. I don’t dare think about the future. I know that if I want a family and a career, I need a basic monthly income. […]”

Hu is an exceptional individual in many ways – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be completely indifferent to the way others, including people outside his life, may view him. And even if he still is indifferent – as he apparently was when he was interviewed in 2001 -, he will probably be aware that the state organs who persecute him will use any of his personal problems to make his place in society appear questionable. When he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in April 2008, Xinhua newsagency referred to him as an unemployed father aged 34 and [..] holder of a college degree. Xinhua’s characterization of Hu seems to correspond to some extent with Cai Ping’s perception, almost seven years earlier, even if less benevolently than hers. Xinhua’s reference to Hu’s place in society carefully recommended the question, “what’s wrong with that man?”, rather than to address any of the problems Hu had pointed out before he was abducted, placed under house arrest, and finally jailed.

A life in accordance with ones own conscience in a country ruled by a party with unlimited powers against the individual can come at any price such a party wants to exact. Life under such circumstances is frequently referred to as kafkaeque once conflicts occur, and it may be a fitting adjective here. In one of her best-known books – Between Past and Presence, Six Exercises in Political Thought (New York, 1961), Hannah Arendt quotes Franz Kafka‘s parable “He”:

He has two antagonists: the first presses him from behind, from the origin. The second blocks the road ahead. He gives battle to both. To be sure, the first supports him in his fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he drives him back. But this is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? His dream, though, is that some time in an unguarded moment – and this would require a night darker than any night has ever been yet – he will jump out of the fighting line and be promoted, on account of his experience in fighting, to the position of umpire over his antagonists in their fight with each other.

If Hu Jia would wish to be in an umpire’s position is impossible to know. In any case, Arendt’s way of reading Kafka’s  parable wasn’t that “he” would want to become a power that be which could then rule over his antagonists. Rather, “he” would be an umpire in that he could judge the force of the past (that one pushing him from behind) and the force blocking his road, and pushing from, ahead (and, one might assume, to make corresponding, sound decisions for himself, based on his ability to understand the nature of those forces).

But while Hu Jia’s intentions can’t be assessed  (given that he isn’t free to communicate them),  a parable (no matter what it originally intended to say) is free for all kinds of interpretation, and for everyone’s hunches. The Chinese state likes to see itself not in the role of an antagonist to its own people, but in a benevolent and helpful role. Everything that goes wrong must originate from the individual’s faults, not from the state. This applies to its conformist and non-conformist subjects alike. Dissidents – or people who are on their way to become dissidents – are habitually “invited for tea” – to be asked  questions, because the state organs want to know  the dissident’s or nonconformist’s  positions and intentions in advance, to give him or her specific instructions, or to make unveiled threats (but without ever conceding that these threats come from those who are offering the tea – and rather acting as if any trouble ahead stemmed from some kind of natural law, due to the individual’s “mistakes”). The CCP’s first approach to blocking a possible dissident’s road ahead has become “a cup of tea”. Or, as Ronald Reagan, an American president, suggested in 1982, in a speech to the British House of Commons (referring to the Soviet Union then), democracy’s enemies have refined their instruments of repression.

Given the unlimited role of a totalitarian state (even if it voluntarily takes a more refined approach than before when it appears suitable), such a state – in Kafka’s picture – would be a defining factor in both the force pushing the individual from behind (the past), and in the force pushing the individual back from the road ahead (the future). According to Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) – and confirmed by Cai Ping’s 2001 article -, Hu Jia’s father, of Qinghua University, and his mother, of Nankai University, were both condemned as rightists as students. Hu’s parents may not have condoned the life their only child lead in 2001 – “The people who understand me most are my old girlfriend and my best friend Lin Yi” -, but they wouldn’t let him down. His friends and family, more or less understanding of what he does or who he is, and having been under the party’s rule for most or all of their lifetimes, appear to be forces behind him.

Besides, parents are parents. Cai Ping quoted Hu’s father as saying that “if Hu Jia needs a liver, I’ll give him my own”.

____________

Note
*) Apparently, she wouldn’t come back. Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, his wife, became acquainted in 2007.

Related
Kou Yandin: yi qie cong gai bian zi ji kai shi, Hainan Publishing House, 2007

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