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INTERVIEW: Chen Kai recounts his journey to activism 陈凯访谈
INTERVIEW: Chen Kai recounts his journey to activism 陈凯访谈in 陈凯论坛 Kai Chen Forum 不自由，毋宁死! Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death! Fri Oct 14, 2011 4:04 pm
by fountainheadkc • 1.387 Posts
INTERVIEW: Chen Kai recounts his journey to activism
By Loa Iok-sin
Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008, Page 2
"The US didn't educate me about freedom and democracy. Rather, it was me who created the US," said Chen Kai (陳凱) as he sat down in the lobby of a Taipei hotel for an interview with the Taipei Times.
"I did not learn, or discover, human rights in the US," Chen said.
"It was, rather, the millions of freedom lovers like me who created the US, not the other way around," he said.
A former soldier in China's People's Liberation Army, Chen was also a basketball player with the Chinese national team.
Since his retirement from sports, he has been a pro-democracy activist working against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and last year launched an "Olympic Freedom T-shirt" movement in the US.
For the campaign, Chen designed a T-shirt with the writing "Beijing 1989 -- Tiananmen, Beijing 2008 -- the Olympics" with blood pouring out of the words "1989" and "Tiananmen."
Beneath the writing is a picture of the "Goddess of Democracy" used by pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Beneath the picture are the words "We'll never forget."
Chen asked all athletes and visitors who care about human rights abuse in China to wear the T-shirt if they visited Beijing.
So far, Chinese human rights and pro-democracy activists Qi Zhiyong (齊志勇), Hu Jia (胡佳) and Hu's lawyer Teng Biao (滕彪) have done so and posted pictures of themselves wearing the T-shirt on the Internet, Chen said, showing the pictures.
To promote his campaign, he has run with the T-shirt across several cities in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany.
He ran in Taipei on Saturday.
Asked if it was his experience of living in the US for over 20 years that had helped him recognize the importance of freedom and democracy, he said no.
"I'm a freedom lover, so I would stand up for freedom wherever I am," Chen said.
"There must be people before there is a state -- that's what we call democracy," he said.
Chen learned to cherish freedom and democracy the hard way, as he and his family had been victims of what he called the "evil and illegal regime of the CCP" long before he set foot in the US.
Born in Beijing in 1953, Chen and his family were forced into exile in rural areas in northeastern China, where living conditions were harsh in the 1960s.
"We were exiled because our uncle was an officer with the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] government's air force and fled with the KMT to Taiwan in 1949," he said.
"My parents were forced to work in factories. The fields were not arable, the weather was miserable and we often didn't have enough food," he said. "My grandfather died soon after we were exiled."
Later in his life when he was serving in the military, he witnessed the 1976 Tiananmen Incident, which began as a public mourning for the late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來), but turned into a mass protest against the Chinese leadership.
On April 5 of that year, tens of thousands of people clashed with security forces that tried to clear the square.
Although security forces only had wooden sticks, many demonstrators were beaten to death.
"While the military told us not to go near the square, I still went there, in plain clothes, to take pictures," Chen said. "And was naive enough to send the film to a shop for print."
To this day, Chen is unsure who reported him to the authorities. Luckily enough, he got off with a warning.
"I guess it's because they still needed me to play basketball," Chen said, who was a basketball player for the army team.
He eventually made it to the national team and played in many countries.
It came as a shock when he learned that all athletes had to turn in whatever souvenirs they received while playing abroad.
"They said we belonged to the state, so naturally we had to turn in whatever we got," Chen said. "The CCP didn't see people as people. It regarded us as slaves of the state."
He had had enough, Chen said, and he applied to study in the US in 1981 as soon as a ban on studying abroad was lifted.
For the most part, the 1980s were a more liberal decade, as China under Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) seemed to be opening up to the rest of the world.
Restrictions on the economy and on foreign investment were loosened and the Chinese government seemed to tolerant of media criticism, Chen said.
But the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre "again exposed the evil authoritarian origins of the CCP," Chen said, adding that he was in Beijing at the time and saw the repression with his own eyes.
"Killing its own people wasn't the biggest crime," he said. "What's worse was that the CCP tried to cover it up."
Greatly disappointed with the CCP, Chen decided to join the pro-democracy movement. He participated in protests and wrote a book, One in a Billion, telling his own story.
"Some people say that China is failing and that we need to save it," Chen said. "I say don't save it, let it die, so that it can be reborn."
Chen believes that Taiwan, as a Chinese-speaking country close to China, should keep a record of crimes committed by Chinese officials, as well as stories of Chinese pro-democracy activists "so that there will be records to look into when Chinese officials are put on trial after the CCP collapses," he said.
As for the future of Taiwan, he said it was for Taiwanese to decide.
"I can see there is open debate on independence or unification -- I think it's a good thing that people can talk about the issue in public. It proves Taiwan is truly a free country," he said.
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Copyright © 1999-2008 The Taipei Times
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