For Rights Activist Wu Qing, Change Begins With Oneself

Wu Qing at Asia Society New York on December 12, 2012.

NEW YORK, December 12, 2012 — Chinese advocate for human rights and rule of law Wu Qing labels herself a "verb."

"I always want to do something and take action," she said, in the midst of telling an Asia Society audience and Vice-President of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations Jan Berris, who served as interlocutor, about her mother and role model. Inspired by her experience in post-World War II Japan, Wu's mother wrote a book imploring mothers around the world to unite in friendship to urge their sons not to participate in war. Much like her mother, Wu believes that our world's conflicts and wars are a direct function of our lack of love.

Consequently, love is one of Wu's governing principles. To convey the rest of her principles to the audience at Asia Society, Wu wrote several Chinese characters on a board, dissecting their parts to reveal the meaning behind each word. One such word was "harmony." With one part meaning "speak" and the other part meaning "everyone," the word translates as: when everyone has the right to speak, there will be harmony.

In 1950s China, everyone did not have the right to speak, and for those who did, it was difficult to speak the truth. After proposing that China remain independent of both Russia and America in 1951, Wu's father was labeled a "rightist," someone opposed to the Communist Party of China. He was subsequently removed from his teaching position. To Wu, her mission is, and has always been, clear and simple: change the system from one governed by rule of man to one governed by rule of law.

In 1981, Wu was elected as a People's Deputy, and she was serious about her role. She studied the constitution and met with her constituents every Tuesday, becoming the first deputy to give reports back to her constituents on account of her belief in "accountability and transparency." Three years later, she became a local Beijing People's Congress legislator, a title she held until 2011, owing to seven re-elections. Recounting changes to the constitution she has witnessed throughout her years as a bureaucratic official, Wu was adamant that not only do people in China want change, but also that China has made progress. Amendments to the constitution that detail a "socialist legal system," rule of law, human rights, and protection of the "lawful private property of citizens" enable citizens to hold the state accountable.

Still, however, Wu urged that "China needs a long period of enlightenment," and that "if we want to change society, (we) must change (ourselves)." We must become "global citizens." The people of Japan did not commit war crimes during World War II; the Japanese military did. And so, Wu's mother taught her to draw a line between people and government, to work alongside people all across the world. As Wu put it, "every person is a seed and needs room to grow," and "every person is a goldmine with potential and wisdom."

Reported by Renny Grinshpan

Video: Highlights from the program (5 min., 45 sec.)


Related Links:
Watch the complete program
Asia Blog interview with Wu Qing