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‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’ – Chang Ping’s Acceptance Speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award

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Chang Ping  |  ChinaChange

This article was published first on China Change web site on December 1, 2016

Chang Ping a China journalists accepting the award (ChinaChange)
Chang Ping a China journalists accepting the award (ChinaChange)

From the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression website: “Chang Ping is one of China’s best-known journalists who reports on political issues. He writes about sensitive topics including democracy, media censorship, the failures of government policy and Tibet. He is the winner of the International Press Freedom Award. This award recognizes the outstanding courage of journalists who work at great personal risk and against enormous odds so that the news media remain free. Establishing himself in the 1990s, he first reported from Guangzhou. As censorship has tightened in China, Chang’s pleas for transparency and accountability have put him under a political spotlight. In 2011, while working as the editor-in-chief at the now-suspended weekly magazine iSun Affairs in Hong Kong, [Chang Ping] was denied a work permit and forced to live in exile in Germany with his family. He remains there today and his columns and books are banned in the country.” — China Change Editors

Thank you, thank you, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression — and thank you everyone!

I am honored and certainly very happy to be here — but at the same time, I can’t really say that I am. When a Chinese citizen receives an award outside China, I don’t know whether he or she should be happy or worried. It could bring punishment to the recipient and his or her family. In China, a foreign award is often described as sugar-coated poison which should be firmly rejected, because the foreigners always have an agenda, usually a plot to overthrow the Chinese government.

What’s maddening is that it’s been so long and the foreigners still haven’t succeeded in implementing this plot.  

Freedom, peace, human rights, democracy, constitutionalism, independence, civil society… these are frightening words that have sent some of China’s most courageous men and women to jail: Wang Bingzhang , Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, Ilham Tohti, Liu Xianbin, Yao Wentian, Dolma Kyab, Gulmira Imin,  Kunchok Tsephel, Gheyret Niyaz, Hada, Liao Yiwu, Shi Tao, Hu Jia, Xu Zhiyong, Tan Zuoren), Chen Xi, Chen Wei, Guo Feixiong, Liu Yuandong, Wang Mo, Liu Ping, Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen, Tang Jingling, Wu Gan, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yanyi, Li Heping

…and sent some of the most ardent advocates of these values to their deaths: Wang Shiwei, Chu Anping, Lin Zhao, Yu Luoke, Zhang Zhixin, Li Wangyang), Cao Shunli…

Tonight, we gather to celebrate freedom of speech. So why did I read the names of so many of China’s political prisoners? That is because most of China’s political prisoners are made criminals for their speech. They might have been convicted of various trumped up crimes, but all they have done is nothing more than express dissent.

China’s political space is very narrow, and getting narrower. Citizens have almost no way of engaging in opposition activities other than speech. Meanwhile, speech is the beginning of everything. Dictators often realize the power of speech more than anyone else.

That’s why they brutally suppress every independent voice in China. That’s why they hate the demonstrations in Hong Kong. That’s why they are buying up news media in Taiwan. That’s why they are pushing their propaganda on the world, especially in Western democracies.  

They demand that all Chinese media must toe the Party line; they build partnership with newspapers in Australia and radio stations in the United States; they deny visas to foreign journalists; and they are forcing Facebook to build a wall and pay for it.

Mr. Trump, who also wants to build a wall, will have to learn from China’s leaders, or he’ll have no chance to be praised by Prime Minister Trudeau as a “remarkable leader.”

If you are a slow learner, don’t worry. The Chinese government will be tireless in teaching you. Lesson one: For Whom the Bell Tolls. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, clearly taught you this here in Canada in June: “You have no right to speak about our human rights. Only the Chinese people have the right to speak about this issue.” But the truth is that the Chinese people are actually never allowed to speak out.

I have been fighting for speaking out. People often ask me: Why are you willing to make such sacrifices for freedom of speech? I have never hesitated in answering: Without freedom of speech, nothing will be left in the civilized world. Speech is freedom itself. If we don’t fight for it, our freedom will be completely lost.  

My seven-year-old daughter loves museums. She once said to me, “Daddy, don’t become more handsome, or you will be locked in a museum.” What she meant to say is that, Daddy is capable of everything except speaking German as well as she does. But she doesn’t know that I’m unable even to explain to her why we can’t return to China. How do I tell her that, in many places where human beings live, people don’t even have the freedom to say what they want to say?

To my mother and my father in Sichuan, China, I wish you could be here with me to share this beautiful night. You have always been proud of me, but I can’t even tell you about this prize I’m receiving. All my loved ones in China, I have stopped contacting you, precisely because I love each one of you.

Thank you everyone!

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