Thubten Samphel, Tibet Policy Institute

Ran Yunfei says Chinese authorities are going overboard on Tibet (Photo: Ian Johnson/NYR)

In the old days when politics exercised the minds of most Chinese and not money as it does now, one of the nastiest abuses a Chinese communist could hurl at an enemy or a rival was that he or she was a running dog of America or of imperialism, or both.  The person so accused would spend wrenching weeks or months to write passionate self-criticism to prove that he or she was anything but. If the accusation stuck and in most cases it did, the running dog would find himself running for his dear life, from dark prison cells, from excruciating torture or gruelling struggle sessions. And that would be the end of a life of a running dog.

It is a sign of the enormous changes sweeping China that public intellectuals would now dare step forward and proudly admit being a running dog, not a running dog of anyone else but their own running dogs and find themselves none the worse for it. In an interview he gave to Ian Johnson for the New York Review of Books, Ran Yunfei, a Chinese writer, tireless blogger and democracy activist, says that he is own running dog. He says, “Yeah! They say I’m a running dog of the Americans. But I’m just my own running dog.”

However, being a running dog isn’t what landed him in trouble. Ran Yunfei landed in detention because the Chinese state decided that he was “inciting subversion of state power.” The authorities of  Sichuan where he works for Sichuan Literature, an official literary journal of the province, detained him in March 2011. They released him in August last year but kept him under house arrest till early February this year. The reason for his detention was that he suggested on his blog (on which he has thousands of followers)  that unless China introduced fundamental reforms it would find itself facing challenges and changes not much different from those sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

Ran Yunfei, 47 years old, is the author of several scholarly works, including The Lungs of Old Sichuan: The Temple of Great Charity. This, his latest book, was published while he was detained.  This book is a record of how the monks of the temple down the road where he lives were attacked after liberation. The deepest impression any Tibetan would have of Ran Yunfei while reading this interview of Ian Johnson’s is his views on spirituality and the spate of self-immolations that is raging in Tibet. Here’s the excerpt, the question Ian Johnson put to him and his answer. (Read the entire interview here.) 

Why did you pick a Buddhist temple to write about? Are you a believer? Buddhism? Christianity?

No, no, no. but I do have ties with Christianity. My wife is a Christian. I’ve been influenced by Christian thought through her and a friend who is a pastor of a local church. I’m not a believer but nor am I an atheist; I know the value of spirituality. I don’t deny the value. The communists really destroyed religion. They don’t understand it at all. Look at Tibet. I told the guobao  (the State Security agents) that, “you guys have gone too far. You don’t allow them to hang pictures of the Dalai Lama. You don’t have faith so you don’t understand. So the Tibetans get very angry and depressed. And then you go into temples and instead hang pictures of Mao and Jiang (Zemin) or Hu (Jintao). You’ve gone overboard! This isn’t right. Think about it. No wonder they set themselves on fire.”

The writer is the Executive Director of Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank that functions as a research-oriented intellectual platform for the Central Tibetan Administration.

(The views expressed here are that of the author and shall not be regarded as views and policies of Central Tibetan Administration.)


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