More than seven million Chinese follow Li Chengpeng's microblog. After winning DW's Best Blog award, the activist from Chengdu is getting noticed beyond China. In a DW interview he talks about power, censorship and love.
DW: First of all, congratulations on winning the top prize at this year's Bobs Awards. What does the prize mean to you?
Li Chengpeng: I was delighted. In China I had competed in several occasions for different awards, but strangely I never made it past the last round. I view Deutsche Welle's Bobs award as one of the few really important prizes I have been given in the past years. Although no author needs an award to prove himself, the distinction means much more. It is precious to me because I don't receive any awards in China. As you might know, authors who speak out the truth have a rough time.
Hu Yong, the Chinese jury member at the Bobs said: "Li Chengpeng has become a role model for the Chinese youth. He gives young people the strength needed to express their opinions and stand against censorship." The jury was particularly impressed by the "silent" reading sessions of your latest book "The Whole World Knows." You wore a dark face mask and a white T-shirt with "I love you all" imprinted on it and didn't say a word. What message did you want to get across?
There are many ways of protesting. You can state your opinion or take concrete action. I decided to take on a civilized way of protest. The phrase "I love you all" means that I fight power with love as my weapon. I don't express my opposition by subduing, removing or destroying adversaries. I place great value on using love as a means of protest. I believe love is an everlasting concept, regardless of whether it is used in Germany, Argentina, Cambodia or China. We have protested against many issues and voiced our opinions. But in the end it all comes down to the questions: What is love? How do we get it? And why don't we get the love we deserve?
You just came back from visiting areas struck by the recent earthquake in Sichuan province. Your civilian relief team brought tents to the affected villages in a bid to provide shelter to the victims. But you were later criticized for failing to deliver the tents to the villagers. You reacted immediately by publishing pictures and evidence in an effort to invalidate the accusations. Do you believe you have been treated unfairly?
Civilians contributed greatly to the help effort after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, especially by registering the victims. The publication of the casualty figures indirectly exerted pressure on the Chinese government. This is why authorities are now so keen on excluding civilian relief groups. Just recently, members of our aid team in Sichuan were woken up early in the morning by police. The officers wanted to inspect our credentials and the commendatory letter issued by the authorities.
Government loyalists make absurd accusations all the time. However, villagers have proof that we donated a total of 498 tents. Everyone who has access to the evidence no longer doubts us, thus rendering inspections by the authorities futile. The Chinese Red Cross, which has close ties to the government, is involved in shady business deals and the diversion or misuse of funds. Chinese authorities now claim that civilian organizations work likewise. I consider the whole thing to be pure entertainment.
Your experience also shows that the emerging civil society in China is facing strong opposition. What are the prospects?
Despite the many obstacles along the way, water melting from an iceberg always manages to reach the sea. There is huge potential behind civil society. I urge the government to cooperate with all civil society groups, instead of tainting us with unfounded allegations. Such smear campaigns only make us gain even more credibility. Apart from that, I believe the new Chinese government handled the recent crisis well. Troops arrived at the earthquake site even faster that in May 2008. Nonetheless, it remains my duty as a blogger to uncover the shortcomings. The authorities shouldn't have a monopoly on relief efforts. The government only creates more problems for itself if it doesn't respect civilian aid workers.
You have over seven million followers on "Sina Weibo" - China's most popular micro-blogging platform. Your postings are often censored. However, one can read the blocked content on the internet portal "Freeweibo," which also won a Bobs award in the category "Best Innovation." How do you regard attempts to evade censorship?
It's simple. Technical innovation is speeding up the democratization process. The regime can control everything but technology. Even the North Korean government has to face up to the growing technological challenges.
You have been invited to Germany to personally take delivery of the prize. There you will have the opportunity to meet bloggers from other countries where there is no freedom of opinion. What are your expectations?
I am very much looking forward. Everyone enjoys meeting like-minded people. I would like to speak to them on how they manange to break through their "walls." An author doesn't stand for the truth, but for the pursuit of it.