We mentioned in this earlier post that Prof. Li Yinhe, the noted sexologist, had just written on her blog that she was being pressured to keep her mouth shut, i.e. not talk about spouse-swapping and not submit proposals to officials about legalizing gay marriage in China.
Then we read this opinion piece from Southern Metropolis entitled “A China This Big Cannot Tolerate Even One Li Yinhe?” (偌大的中国怎么就容不下一个李银河？）
The piece is not just about Li Yinhe, but freedom of speech in China as a whole. The article says right off the bat that although Li’s ideas are a bit too radical for most people to stomach, that her “silencing” is still a tragedy and a step backwards for society. (但尽管如此，李博士的被迫缄口，仍是我们时代的悲剧和退步，所显示的是我们这个社会对言论自由的叶公好龙。)
Then the author says that freedom of speech’s enemies are not only the political powers that be but also public opinion or the tyranny of the majority. (历史告诉我们，言论自由的破坏者不但来自政治权力，也来自大众的不宽容，特别是在民主社会，后者对言论自由的威胁似乎更大，其实质是民主和自由的永恒矛盾.) He/she cites as examples of the latter the poisoning of Socrates in a supposedly democratic Athens and the thought of J.S. Mill, who warned against this in his political treatises.
The author then proceeds to tell us that the fact that Prof. Li is only being opposed by public opinion and some folks who are “not your average citizens” (非一般老百姓, Li’s words on her blog), is already a sign of progress. They say that one day, Li’s voice will no longer represent a small minority of people, and when that day comes, it will be impossible for the majority to shout down the minority the way they can now.
The author then concludes that one day, when there are so many different voices and sides and perspectives that we don’t bother trying to “silence” anyone, China will have effectively entered the era of free speech.
Shanghaiist has to say that we, like this author, lament what has happened to Prof. Li, though unlike them we aren’t as thankful of the fact that they haven’t burned her at the stake. Perhaps we take this for granted, being from the US. Another thing we perhaps take for granted is that there is more to freedom of speech than just being one voice among many, albeit one that cannot be silenced—what we mean is that what good is freedom of speech if you can’t, as that old lefty credo goes, “speak truth to power?”
The author states that political power is one of the thing that limits free speech, but of course, doesn’t return to that topic—either an oversight on their part or perhaps proof of the truth of that very statement.
Li Yinhe is no stranger to trials and tribulations of being a public figure in the cross-hairs of public opinion. That never silenced her before. This time, the pressure comes from those who are not “average citizens.” These people presumably have above-average levels of influence and power, which makes them in some way more dangerous than the anonymous lynch mob member dashing off a tirade on the internet instead of getting back to work after lunch.
In the latest entry from her blog, we found this passage:
我想，自由为什么最美好，理由根本用不着去说，对每一个不甘心做奴隶想做一个人的中国人，都用不着去说服他，规劝他，让他相信自由的价值。我们需要的只是讴歌自由。无论是诗人、学者、工人、农民，我们都来讴歌自由。让自由这个词在我们中国从贬义词变成一个最美好的词。(Why is freedom so beautiful a thing? I don’t think that I need to give a reason. For any Chinese that wants to be a person and not a slave, there will be no need to persuade them of freedom’s value. What we need is to sing the praises of freedom. Regardless of whether one is a poet, scholar, worker, or peasant, we all need to sing the praises of freedom, so that in China, the word “freedom” can go from being a word with negative connotations to becoming the most beautiful of words.)