Minqi Li: “On June 3, about one year occasion of the 1989 thing, and I was giving a speech in a student assembly within the Beijing University campus. And I was arrested and later sentenced to a two year imprisonment… It was out of a very spontaneous student assembly. And I only had a chance to speak for three or four minutes. So, really, just a few short sentences.”

Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA (VOICEOVER): Forty-three billion dollars is the officical amount that China will spend on the Beijing Olympic Games. Some have called it China’s global coming out party. Others, one of History’s most expensive PR campaigns. But, according to former political prisoner Prof. Minqi Li , all the dazzle of the olympic games does not cover the growing social inequality in China. Senior Editor Paul JAy spoke with Prof. Minqi Li.



JAY: Minqi, you were involved yourself in the protests in Tienanmen Square, and after that you went to prison for some time. Could you talk a little bit about those experiences? What did those protests represent? And why did you go to jail?

LI: Well, let’s see. First answer, the short question. And, you see, 1990—not ’89—1990, and in, I think, on June 3, about one year occasion of the 1989 thing, and I was giving a speech in a student assembly within the Beijing University campus. And I was arrested and later sentenced two year imprisonment.

JAY: What did you say in that speech that the authorities didn’t like?

LI: Well, basically, criticizing the government, advocating a workers’ democracy. And so that was seen as an anti-government speech.

JAY: What did you mean when you said they were attacking workers’ democracy?

LI: Well, it was at a very spontaneous student assembly. And I only had a chance to speak for three or four minutes. So, really, just a few short sentences. And I was, like, 21 years old.

JAY: So you were jailed for four sentences.

LI: Right. Right. Yeah.

JAY: What were those sentences?

LI: Well, as far as I can recall, I said – argued for a workers’ democracy, workers’ control of the state-owned enterprises, democratization of the education, politics, as far as I can recall. Yeah.

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JAY: Now, if you made the same kind of speech today, would you still fear for arrest? Or have things changed?

LI: Well, depending on the nature, because at the time, you know, the spontaneous student assembly itself was obviously a protest related to the 1989 thing.

JAY: By 1989 you mean the big protest in Tienanmen Square.

LI: Right, right. Back to 1989, we are talking about not just one protest. It’s a series of protest movements that lasted about two month.

JAY: So my question is: that was a very politically charged time. The authorities felt besieged. Now people say things have relaxed, things have changed, to some extent. How much have they changed? In today’s China, could you still be arrested for making a three- or four-minute speech?

LI: Well, depending on the content of the speech. You know, if I call for the overthrow of the Chinese government, and then, obviously, I would get arrested. And otherwise, you know, it depends on, you know, how you are going to deliver your speech. And so many things have changed a lot since then, but I would not say, in general, things have changed for better for the majority of the Chinese population. But things might have changed for better for some of the, let’s say, relatively privileged section of the Chinese population, including the intellectuals from all different political perspectives.

JAY: The opening Olympic ceremonies were stunning. China’s saying this system works. If you just look at the celebrations in terms of the message they wanted to send with these celebrations, they have been extremely successful. This is modern rising China, a sophisticated, benign, threat to no one. And, the most important, perhaps, is the future vision of bringing the best of consumerism to millions and millions of Chinese peoploe. So, this is the vision they painted forus. How real is that?

LI: Obviously there seems to be a consensus in the media—this is a spectacular success—about this opening ceremony. And I checked the the Chinese Web sites within China. Most of them seem to be enthusiastic about this, but there are also a few dissenting voices. And, for example, someone questioned about the celebration of Confucianism, the celebration of the Confucian ritual, and they pointed out that this Confucianism thing is a symbol of obedience, subservience, oppression, instead of peace and harmony. And it is quite ironic that at the moment, when this Olympics thing is celebrating, supposedly, peace and harmony, a war is breaking out in Georgia. And there are also others who point out that there are many among the Chinese, for example, that they work as peasants and who have lost their jobs, or even some middle class members who are struggling, who pay the mortgage, and not necessarily so enthusiastic about this Olympic thing. And also some people pointed out that those migrant workers who have to build those wonderful architecture for this Olympic will not be among the privileged audience.

JAY: Well, Minqi, in the next segment of our interview, let’s discuss just who are the winners, who are the losers of this new Chinese expansion? And just what does this harmonious society really mean? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Minqi Li

Minqi Li is an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah. He is the author of The Rise of China and The Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Pluto Press, 2009) and is the editor of Red China Website (a leading Chinese leftist website).  Minqi Li has published many articles in the field of political economy, the Chinese economy, global capitalist crisis, peak oil, and climate change.