‘The Hornet, the Bird and the Tortoise': Detained Chinese Rights Lawyer Pens Fable

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Li Tiantian, a Chinese human rights lawyer who went missing in February, re-emerged this week.  She announced her release in this evocative (if entirely allegorical) post:

It’s been a while since I’ve been in touch. First, let me tell you a story.

One day, a hornet worried unreasonably that a little bird would stir up its nest. (As it happened, some distant hornet nests had recently been stirred up.) The hornet grabbed the little bird and began stinging it frenziedly. Unable to bear the hornet’s stings and thinking there was no point to suffering this ordeal, the bird realized that no one would gain anything and that there was no way to change the hornet’s ways. So, the bird kneeled down to the hornet and kowtowed in order to extricate itself. The hornet, knowing that the force of justice was on the increase in the animal world, didn’t dare do anything rash to the bird and came up with a plan that would satisfy everyone. It agreed to release the little bird, but only if the bird promised: (1) not to speak of the past few months; (2) not to damage the hornet’s reputation; and (3) not to urge other animals to stir up the hornet’s nest. Finally the bird was free.

By the way, as for me, I’ve been in hospital for the past few months recovering from slightly elevated blood pressure. I went in on February 19 and was discharged on May 24. During this period I haven’t gone online, and the doctors have asked me not to go online so much in the future. In order to preserve my health and live a few extra years, I will go online less in the future. I’m sure everyone’s been worried about me — thank you, you can rest easy now. I’ll bet that there will be others in the future who, like me, will become increasingly mute, and I now know why many online friends from before have vanished from the Internet. After all, living is the most important thing. Under the present circumstances, there’s nothing wrong with being a tortoise hiding its head — at least they live to an old age. Maybe everyone should learn from me and be a tortoise hiding its head, for it’s because I’ve done this that not a single hair on my body has been harmed. Of course, perhaps there’s been a huge earthquake inside my heart. (Translation by Siweiluozi)

Hornets, birds, hearts split open — it’s easy to deduce what she’s getting at.  She is, after all, one of dozens of Chinese lawyers, artists and activists detained in China’s aggressive crackdown on dissent.

I think Li’s writing speaks for itself, so I’ll add just one thought: It will be interesting to see if and how the state responds. If the terms of her release were indeed anything like the little bird’s, the government is unlikely to ignore this unrepentant little turtle.

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