July 28, 2016
Teng Biao is a human rights lawyer and a visiting fellow at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.
Two years ago, I was invited by the American Bar Association to prepare a manuscript for a book to be titled “Darkness Before Dawn.” This book was to describe the decade I spent engaged in human rights work in China and what those experiences tell us about the country’s politics, society and future. But the ABA soon rescinded the offer. The reason I was given? The group did not want to anger the Chinese government.
I don’t write this to pick on the ABA. There was nothing uncommon about this episode, but the details are useful in illustrating the corrosive influence of the Chinese Communist Party on the West. Far too many Western organizations and scholars working in China practice self-censorship — and for perfectly understandable reasons. If their conclusions on a sensitive political topic anger the regime, they won’t get a visa, and their work and funding will be jeopardized.
Whenever Chinese politics is mentioned, most think of the factional struggles among Communist Party leaders. But this is only part of the picture. The stories I’ve long sought to tell are otherwise: About activists given heavy prison sentences for forming opposition political parties. About human rights lawyers representing persecuted Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uighurs. About rights defenders whose activism helped end the labor camp system, the one-child policy and forced demolitions.
I am intimately familiar with this work, because I am one of their number. For my activism I’ve been banned from teaching, forced out of a job, disbarred from practicing law, jailed and tortured.