Skip to main content

Three Blind Mice 三隻盲鼠

Three blind mice, three blind mice
      See how they run, see how they run
They all ran after the farmer's wife
     Who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a sight in your life
     As three blind mice
English nursery rhyme

The blind mice unite

*                    *                    *

Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) is a blind man. He is also a self-taught lawyer.

Chen comes from a small village in southern Shandong (山東). He made a name for himself as a “barefoot lawyer” helping peasants and the disabled take on tax authorities and big businesses. Although he deals with a broad range of social issues, Chen focuses on women subject to forced abortions and sterilizations. China’s four-decade-old one child policy has been a financial bonanza for local governments across the country. Women pregnant with a second child must pay a fine, which is bureaucratic speak for hush money. Those who can’t afford the bribe will “consent” to an unwanted medical procedure, just like 29-year-old Feng Jianmei (馮建梅) who made international headlines last week for being coerced to abort a seven-month pregnancy.

Chen’s advocacy work made him unpopular in both the public and private sectors. In a place like his hometown, unpopularity can have dire consequences. In 2006, he was arrested for “organizing a crowd to disrupt traffic” and served four years and three months in prison. After his release, he and his wife continued to be harassed, beaten and placed under house arrest. Two months ago, the blind lawyer made an improbable escape by climbing over a stonewall in his backyard. With the help of an underground network of activists, Chen traveled 300 miles to the capital city before he scampered into the U.S. embassy in the dead of night. Negotiations between Beijing and Washington over his fate threw both sides into a diplomatic quagmire. Chen left China three weeks later and is now a “special student” at New York University Law School.

Chen under house arrest

*                     *                  *

Li Wangyang (李旺陽) was a blind man. He was also a longtime political dissident.

A Hunan (湖南) native, Li was arrested days after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre for counter-revolutionary crimes and served 21 years in prison. Throughout his jail term, he called for the vindication of the massacre and went on numerous hunger strikes. His recalcitrance made him a frequent subject of torture and solitary confinement. By the time he was released in May last year, he had lost his front teeth, his eyesight, hearing and mobility. Ever defiant, Li continued to speak up against China's one-party rule up until his death.

Two weeks ago, Li was found dead by his hospital bed. According to local authorities, the severely disabled 61-year-old hanged himself by making a noose out of bed sheets. But few believe that a tough nut who survived two decades of hell fire in prison, who carried the nickname “iron-man activist,” would take his own life or do so without leaving a suicide note, not to mention a photograph circulating on the Internet showing his feet touching the ground when he died. It would appear that Li had joined a long line of dissidents who were “suicided” (被自殺), a new term coined in blogosphere to describe state-sponsored murders clumsily staged as a suicide. To cover their tracks, Hunan authorities had Li’s body cremated promptly after conducting a dubious autopsy.

Li "hanged himself" in his hospital room

*                        *                      *

Zhou Yunpeng (周雲蓬) is a blind man. He is also a poet and songwriter.

After finishing university in Liaoning (遼寧), Zhou began traveling across China, performing on the street and at bars and coffee shops. With a distinct folk slant, his baritone beats out gut-wrenching ballads of heartbreaks. He sings not of unrequited love and failed romance, but of government corruption and social injustice. Although many of his politically sensitive works have been banned, Zhou continues to be a prolific writer. In the past two decades, he managed to record four albums and launch two magazines, as he drifts between the underworld and the tightly controlled upper world.

Zhou is best known for writing Chinese Children (《中國孩子》), a song about the misfortune of children born into the murky world of modern China. The twin evils of income inequality and corruption bear down on the young like a freight train: those who contracted the HIV virus from tainted blood transfusions and those who fell sick after feeding on melamine-laced baby formula. The most haunting lyrics in the song, however, recall the infamous 1994 Karamy Fire (克拉瑪依大火) in Xinjiang (新疆) that killed almost 300 school children. The fire broke out during a theater performance attended by students, teachers and visiting members of the Communist Party. Survivors blamed the high death toll on a local official’s order for the students to remain seated to “let our leaders exit first.”

Zhou travels across the country with nothing but a guitar

*                         *                           *

Although the three men cannot see, their stories open our eyes to the bleak reality of grassroots activism in China. In a country that tolerates no dissent, civil rights activists are household pests to be eradicated in whatever way necessary. Chen, Li and Zhou are the three blind mice that crawl the thin line between advocacy and subversion, all the while dodging the farmer’s knife that threatens to cut off much more than their tails. Their struggles and the causes they fight for lay bare the unaccountability of local authorities, as well as the inability of the central government to intervene. That all three men happen to be blind not only captures our attention, but also underscores the indiscriminate effect of these systemic failures.

Since Deng Xiaoping’s market-oriented reforms in the 1970s, the Communist regime has done wonders for the nation. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, old cities transformed into modern metropolises. With the country's G2 status, high speed trains, an Olympic Games in Beijing and a World Expo in Shanghai, and even men and women in space, national pride is at an all-time high. To the vast majority, the benefits of economic transformation far outweigh the costs. But don’t tell that to the mothers who lost their children on Tiananmen Square 23 years ago or to the wives of the dissidents tortured and killed since then. Forgive them if their calculus of costs and benefits are a little different from ours.

The story of the three blind men compel us to examine the wisdom of economic development at any social cost. They make us question whether prosperity and dissent have to be mutually exclusive, and whether moral bankruptcy is a prerequisite for affluence. And if murders and massacres can be justified by the collective good, what does that say about us as a people? Modern China is a society of grim irony: it is where the blind see more clearly than the sighted, and where the disabled are trampled by the enabled. Forgive me if I didn’t jump for joy when Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou 9 (神舟九號) blasted into orbit this week.

This essay is dedicated to the late Li Wangyang who struggled and died for the betterment of the country he loved.

An ambitious space program, but at what cost?

Popular Posts

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK).

Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Revie…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events and speaking engagements in 2018


Commencement of spring semester at Faculty of Law of University of Hong Kong, LLM program
Course: International Securities Law
Venue: Centennial Campus, Pokfulam
Dates: 26 January - 27 April

Book launch of HK24 (2017 anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle)
Venue: Bookazine, Prince's Building
Date: 13 February
Time: 6:30 - 8:30pm


Speaker for Enrich HK's "Ask the Experts" series
Topic: TBD
Date: February

Talk at Kellett School
Topic: "Faith"
Venue: Wah Fu, Pokfulam
Date: February
Time: TBD

Moderator at screening of documentary "The Helper"
Venue: BNP Paribas, Two IFC
Date: 28 February
Time: 11:30am - 2:30pm

Speaker at Wimler Foundation legal workshop
Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture"
Venue: Philippine Consulate General, Admiralty
Date: 18 March
Time: TBD

Book launch of 《香港二十: 反思回歸廿載》, Chinese translation of PEN Hong Kong anthology Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections on a Borrowed Place
Venue: TBD
Da…

The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. 
Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singi…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

The Joshua I Know 我認識的之鋒

When I shook his hand for the first time, I thought he was the strangest seventeen-year-old I’d ever met.
It was 2014, and considering how much Hong Kong has changed in the last three year, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Joshua sat across from me at a table in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, with his iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other. I ordered him a lemon iced tea with extra syrup.
He was eager to begin our conversation, not because he was excited about being interviewed for my article, but because he wanted to get it over with and get on with the rest of his jam-packed day.
During our 45-minute chat, he spoke in rapid-fire Cantonese, blinking every few seconds in the way robots are programmed to blink like humans. He was quick, precise and focused.

He was also curt.
When I asked him if he had a Twitter account, he snapped, “Nobody uses Twitter in Hong Kong. Next question.”
I wasn’t the least offended by his bluntness—I chalked it up to gumption and precocity. For a te…

When Free Speech Isn't Free 當言論不再自由

The school year had barely begun when two incidents—both testing the limits of free speech on campus—unfolded at Chinese University and Education University and sent management scrambling for a response.
On Monday, at least three large banners bearing the words “Hong Kong independence” were spotted in various locations at Chinese University, including one that draped across the famous “Beacon” sculpture outside the school’s main library. Within hours, the banners were removed by the school authorities.
A few days later, a sign “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin (蔡若蓮) on her son’s recent suicide appeared on Education University’s Democracy Wall, a public bulletin board for students to express opinions and exchange views. Likewise, the sign was taken down shortly thereafter.


That could have been the end of the controversies had university management not succumbed to the temptation to say a few choice words of their own. In the end, it was the reaction from the schoo…

The Beam in Our Eye 眼中的梁木

With 59 confirmed deaths and over 500 wounded, the Las Vegas mass shooting is the deadliest one in modern American history. Places like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Sandy Hook, Orlando—and now Sin City—are forever associated with carnage and death tolls. 

Not a week goes by in America without a horrific gun attack in a shopping mall, a school or a movie theatre.People outside the U.S. can’t fathom why the world’s wealthiest country can be in such denial over a simple fact: more guns means more gun-related deaths.

But they don’t get it, don’t now? Instead, they tell us foreigners to stay out of the debate because we don’t understand what the Second Amendment means to the Land of the Free.
So the anomaly continues: each time a shooting rampage shocks the nation, citizens respond with prayers and tributes for a while, but their lawmakers do nothing to change gun laws. And we—the foreigners—shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how many more innocent lives need to be lost before the co…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…