OPEN A NEW WINDOW.’ THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT’S MAY 24, 2012 REPORTON GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS FOR 2011, CHINESE GENERAL SECRETARY AND PRESIDENT ZEMIN,AND ME.
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by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s program note. It is 4:58 a.m. Eastern time, and I ought to be in bed, not least because last evening I took a nasty fall and sprained my ankle. But I cannot lay about, simply cannot, with all the ingredients for an important story, perhaps a world-changing story at hand. My ankle is puffy but of no account, my brain and fingers raring to go.
Here, like a recipe, are the features:
Item: A copy of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011.”
Item: A clip of film from the 1939 tear-jerker “The Little Princess” starring that pint-sized money machine Shirley Temple.
Item: The then General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President Jiang Zemin in my front yard, just inches away from me, just the two of us (and a chauffeur).
Item: Angela Lansbury’s always stirring song “Open a New Window” from the 1966 Broadway production of “Mame”.
And more than a dollop of cock-eyed optimism, for after all I am a Midwestern boy.
Are you ready for this ride?
Then go to any search engine and find Lansbury’s soaring achievement and play it now. Sing loud and proud… make your good wishes for a better world than the one outlined in the document before me be heard around the globe, especially in Beijing which needs to open that new window more than anyone…
“Travel a new highway/That’s never been tried before.”
Let me start this with a paean to America and a recommendation. Goodness knows we have our problems in these United States. Let’s be honest. Simply by perusing any newspaper on any given day, you’ll find the full panoply of horrors. However, when you read even a fraction of Secretary of State Hilliary Rodham Clinton’s latest report on global human rights violations (easily accessible on line), you cannot but perk up and say, “There but for the grace of God…”
Thus, Recommendation #1. I suggest the Secretary of Education (no slouch at producing long, windy, indigestible tomes), get this into the hands of every school board, superintendent, principal, teacher, student and parent. Let’s cut the America bashing and look at the record. All this would take is the will, a link, and an email suggesting this. Not difficult at all.
The shocking 2011 Chinese human rights violations.
In opening her report to Congress Clinton wrote this, “The world changed immeasurably over the course of 2011.” And mostly for the bad. Indeed, there is such a plethora of woe, you may be forgiven for wanting to pull the covers over your head and turning on the Disney Channel. This stern, even somber document relates in explicit detail just how 194 countries managed to oppress their own citizens. Now consider this: there are just 196 countries. Thus in plain language, where there are humans, there are human rights violations, even in places like the tiny principality of Andorra which was cited for failing to effectively protect the right of workers to bargain collectively.
This is bad but almost derisory when compared to the chronic, systematic rights violations daily perpetrated by the usual suspects, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belarus… and China. Their records are appalling, distressing, dismaying, the stuff of nightmares and a shock that seems ironically to diminish as the flagrant facts inexorably increase, no more so than with China. We know… but we do not want to acknowledge, not least because the health of our fragile economy now depends on China expanding its open door policy. Laissez les bons temps rouler… never mind garden-variety outrages like these… They are serious, of course, but not important. Thus page after page of unmitigated detail taken randomly from this deeply disturbing report…
How in 2011, there was continuing “deterioration in key aspects of the country’s human rights situation.” How this was manifested in repressions and coercions, particularly against enumerated organizations and individuals involved in rights advocacy and public interest issues. How political activists and public interest lawyers were silenced. How authorities resorted to extralegal measures including enforced disappearances, “soft detention”, strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members.
And so it goes, word by alarming word, line by disheartening line, page by page of proven indignities, not merely conjecture, but actual, certain, confirmed. Those desiring to inform the world and shine the full light of day on such malice have done their laudable work well and responsibly, and they must continue to do so, at the risk of profound dismay in the face of so much chagrin.
Jiang Zemin and me, an incident that haunts me.
On the morning of November 1, 1997, I went for my morning walk as usual. But this was to be no ordinary day. I stepped out of my residence and crossed the ancient narrow lane to the Common near at hand, my task to walk and think. But then in this city of Harvard, where there is nothing more usual than the unusual, something different occurred. It was a limousine with diplomatic trappings, a small flag… the flag of China… on the hood. The car was running slowly along the sidewalk… and then it stopped, blocking the path.
It was Jiang Zemin, Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party (1989-2002), President of China (1993-2003).
I knew him at once and I deduced the situation immediately, for I had seen the mass of protestors marching through Harvard Square en route to Memorial Hall where this man, more powerful than any emperor, the butcher of Tiananmen Square, the very incarnation of what was once called the Red Menace, was to give an address entitled “Enhanced Mutual Understanding and Build Stronger Ties of Friendship and Cooperation.”
He was idling in his official car whilst the police cleared his path through the disruptive throng just blocks away. And so the chauffeur waited… Zemin and I, exemplars of such very different systems, face to face, no police, no escort, just us.
I did what you would have done. I smiled and waved… so did he. What next? I wanted a scene like the one from “The Little Princess”, where, at film’s end, Temple’s character throws herself at the feet of Queen Victoria and pleads successfully for the great sovereign’s help. That classic scene brought refreshing tears to millions. And no wonder, for we all want to believe that a chance encounter with greatness could change history. It is one of mankind’s enduring beliefs.
“The road not taken.”
I should have knocked on the window or beckoned him out, inviting him home, just a few steps away. I should have told him our peoples must be friends, problem-solvers, not wary, cautious, and suspicious. But of course I did none of this… thus as I read Secretary Clinton’s report of near unremitting gloom, I rebuked myself… and will always wonder “what if?” What would have happened if I’d trod the road not taken and so helped open the new window humanity so desperately needs? I’d give anything to relive that moment to find out.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today.