Duel between intellectuals stimulated debates about law and rights

Alia | July 8th, 2012 - 6:41 pm

Which story this week in China has completely diverged people’s attention away from the environmental protest in Shifang or the death-toll-number-forever-unknown fire in Jixian, Tianjin? It’s a duel between pro-government intellectuals and liberal intellectuals outside the gate of a Beijing Park. Beijing Cream who has put together a full account of what has happened called it “playground blogger fight.”

It all started with a war of words between Wu Fatian, assistant professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, and Yun Yan, a liberal journalist who used to a police officer. Wu is one of China’s leading pro-government intellectuals who claims his mission is to “refute rumors, educate about law and protect rights.” “Rule of law” is probably the most frequently mentioned phrase in Wu’s Weibo posts but he himself is called a thug due to his constant pro-government BS. On the other side, Yun Yan isn’t a widely-known figure before this incidence. We know that she used to be a police officer and is now a journalist and that she belongs to the liberal camp and is good friends with many famous liberal intellectuals.

Earlier this week, when Wu commented that the pollution caused by the now-closed molybdenum copper plant in Shifang may not be as severe as the protesters claimed, it irritated Yun Yan big time, who came from Sichuan (where Shifang is located). They started off arguing with each other, then cursing each other, and at last, asking each other for a duel outside the gate of Beijing Chaoyang Park.

Yun Yan vs. Wu Fatian

One’d think it’s stupid enough to agree on a duel based on an online quarrel. Well…the more stupid thing is that not only did Wu and Yun go, so did tens of other onlookers who heard the news of the duel online, among which were Wu Yuan San Ren, another famous liberal intellectual, and Ai Weiwei, a world-known China dissident and artist.

Ai Weiwei at the scene

The fight ended up with Yun Yan detained by local police. Wu and some of his supporters at the scene claimed that it was a “mass brawl” where Wu was beaten by Yun and several of her supporters including Ai Weiwei. A self-claimed neutral onlooker 胡杨林717 who has been trying to protect Wu from being beaten throughout also reported that the attacker used “weapons” such as bricks. On the other hand, Yun Yan and her supporters at the scene denied any serious beating, calling Wu a big fake and the whole incidence a trap set up by him to get Yun Yan in trouble.

Though the story itself is very entertaining, what’s more interesting is how netizens made sense of what has happened.  A fun fact from the fight can pretty much summarize the different reactions from netizens. When announcing his agreement to the duel, Wu called it an opportunity to “educate the public about law.” But during the fight, a young supporter of Yun shouted several times: “Morality overrides law.”

Video  of what’s happened (Mind that the video was clearly shot by Wu’s supporters, so may have some leading cuts and editings)

Should pro-democracy, pro-human rights liberal intellectuals use violence against someone with opposing opinions? 

贺江兵: “Strongly condemn those who beat Wu Fatian. A group of angry people vent all their dissatisfaction with local government on an assistant professor. This is just wrong. You can curse him or hate him, but you don’t have the right to beat him, even if he is a Wu Mao (professional online commenters who were said to be paid 5 cents for one pro-government post). Is beating him a demonstration of universal values? Can beating him throw down a certain party’s rule? Can beating him eliminate corruption? Why don’t you try beating a county-level corrupted official? Aren’t you the ones who promote “I may disagree with what you have to say, but i shall defend to the death your right to say it’?”

宋幼兵: “Democracy means tolerance of different perspectives. Otherwise, we are no different from those dictators and thugs. We should let people with opposing opinions have their voices, too. If we don’t agree, we can just ignore them.”

青白色烟灰: “On one hand, they ask for democracy and freedom of speech. On the other, they beat people with opposing opinions. It looks more and more like another Cultural revolution.”

胆小鬼梦奇: “He may be despicable, but he has rights, too, and deserves to be protected. We protect his rights not for him but for everyone of us because we may someday be called “despicable”, too.”

What if someone asks for it and deserves to be beaten?

DHLml: “What’s the deal here. The two persons involved felt that arguing wasn’t enough and that they need a fight. So there was the fight. To defend his right to say what he wants to say dosen’t mean we cannot beat him. Don’t you see that he is still saying all he wants to say? Besides, fists are violent but words can be violent, too.”

游走的三毛驴: “If he was there for argument and lecture on law, then it would be a “call for debate” not “duel.” What kind of duel it is if someone doesn’t get beaten?”

WWW_HP: “Why China Communist Party turned to war when the Nationalist Party refused to talk? Under certain circumstances, argument has no use.”

千里之内007: “Honestly, if someone like Wu keeps crossing people’s bottom line, there is no doubt that people will be mad at him. If you don’t be mindful about you say and act and there is no law to regulate you, people’s anger will lead them to beat you.”

天戟V: “Can someone who speaks for a authoritarian government be called person with opposing opinions?”

蒙面黑侠99: “If they agreed on a duel, then violence was to be expected. Setting up a woman was enough to prove that Wu is an @sshole.”

shoukerkin秦: “He [Wu] lies about right and wrong. He betrays his own conscience and willingly becomes a tool of those in power. He deserves to be beaten because he’s no longer a human.”

This debate can go on and on and points to a very important problem of the current China – Zhang Heci, famous Australia-based Chinese dissident who was detained 24 hours on route to 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, comments: “I’m more and more disappointed at today’s intellectuals in China. Democracy fighter becomes synonym for gangster. ‘I may disagree with what you have to say , but i shall defend to the death your right to say it’. They know the words by heart, yet they defend using violence….They have become a group that cannot be criticized, relying on asking others to choose a side. Whoever criticizes them, who is a Wu mao. Whoever criticizes the government less severe than they do, who is a Wu Mao….Today, the word ‘public intellectual (often used to describe pro-democracy liberal intellectuals who fight for human rights and criticize Chinese government from all angles) has increasingly become a derogatory term.”



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