With the Verdict in Hand, Is Diploma Still Needed?
When the Students Demonstration reached the stage of hunger strike, there were outcries from all over the society, one being the Li Peng government to start immediate dialogues with students to put the hunger strike to an end; another being for the students to give up this self-inflicted hunger strike and choose another way more sensible to pursue democracy. Both outcries had a common goal of advancing the course of democratic politics in China.
However, what happened next showed nothing but fake kindness from the government, being it Li Peng’s dialogue with the students’ representatives, or Yuan Mu’s statement as the spokesman of the State Department, saying the government perfectly understood the patriotic passion of the students, and there would be no “post-autumn settlement seeking”, nor would there be any political persecution against the students who participated in the June 4 Incident.
I wonder what “political persecution” really entails – does it count as political persecution to withhold someone’s diploma? My school, the Jiangsu Commercial Management Institute (now known as “Jiangsu Economics & Commerce Institute”), an associate-degree college at the provincial level, is located at the Stone Gate Hold outside the Guanghua Gate in Nanjing. During 1989, being a student enrolled by the Commerce & Economics Department in 1987, I was looking to graduate in the summer of 1989. I was fortunate enough to participate in the Students Demonstration erupted in 1989 and became one of the leaders of the colleges in Nanjing. (My involvement in the Confederation of the Nanjing Universities and the North March to Democracy will be detailed in my future articles.)
A few days after June 4, our college was going through the final exams and thesis defenses. One morning out of nowhere, all the radios and TV channels started rolling out non-stop the arrest warrants issued by the Nanjing Public Security Bureau. I was taken aback hearing my name announced, still trying to digest the government’s promise of “no post-autumn settlement seeking”. It was not until the security staff from the school showed up in front of me did it start to make sense to me. Well, “no post-autumn settlement seeking” does not mean “no summer settlement seeking”. It did not have to wait till autumn.
This was, naturally, a golden opportunity to glow for the security staff. They tried to play games by telling me, “We’ll send you to the Yuhua Branch first, so that it counts as remanding yourself. If we were to go to the City Bureau, it would not be a remanding.” I got in their car without saying anything. For fear that I might try to escape, they made me sit in the middle. Actually I never planned on escaping. Many people asked me, “Why didn’t you try to escape?” What a joke! Where do you think I could escape to? “Any inch of the earth belongs to the King. Anyone on this earth is under the King.” In China, what makes you think you even have a chance to escape? Since I took the street, started the protest, led the movement, the least I could do is to take responsibility. Now in retrospect, many leaders of the democracy movement like Chai Ling have escaped to U.S. for 20 years, but what kind of dream of democracy have they given to the Chinese people?
I was sent to the Yuhua Branch by the car of the school security. After that, I was sent to the Fulu City Bureau by the school security together with the Yuhua Branch. After standard inquiries, I signed the papers and was booked. Then I waited till the evening, when the City Bureau finished all the procedures of releasing on bail, I was picked up by the school. I felt somewhat confused yet somewhat lucky – does this mean I remanded myself? Actually at this point, the National Security Bureau had already taken over. They had a plan of reeling in on big fishes, which was all history down the road, but it is not to be discussed here.
It was already July and all the exams and thesis defenses were over. Everyone got his diploma, except mine. I went to the school’s Administration Office. I remember the teacher’s name was Gong Nuo. He told me that per the request by the provincial government, my diploma had been sent to the Educational Committee, and the school had received the notice for my diploma to be withheld. I asked for a written statement to that effect. After consulting the management of the school, Mr. Gong issued me a statement as attached. I wonder if this statement serves as “post-autumn settlement seeking”, or political persecution. As a matter of fact, out of all the students’ leaders from the Confederation of the Universities in Nanjing, I was the only one who got to enjoy the special treatment of the withheld diploma pending issuance. It has been pending for 23 years now.
How much does a diploma mean in China? It depends on what it is used for. If for seeking employment, self-advancement, qualifications evaluations, promotions, they all need a diploma to certify your education. Nowadays, scandals break out all the time about the fake diplomas by celebrities or officials. Does it not manifest that a diploma plays such a big role in one’s advancement in life that people would venture to produce fake ones, or better yet, the fake ones from the famous universities or from overseas. It certainly covers you up and elevates you to where you want to be. The 1980’s was an era that a diploma counted for everything, even a fake diploma, as long as you did not get found out. As to whether you actually have any capability is another matter. In Chinese society, everything depends on your social resources and connections. A famous ragged verse says it all, “If they say you are good, you are, even if you are not. If they say you are not good, you are not, even if you are.” The footnote of it is, “Quit fighting.”
In July 1997, after spending 2,500 days and nights in prison, I regained freedom. When facing my parents who had raised me for the last 30 years, I was overcome with guilt. I realized that before talking anything about democracy, I first needed to make a living on my own. So I had the one and only interview in my life. I walked into the talents market with my resume.
I did not give a thought about the government agencies and state-owned banks and enterprises for gas, coal, water and electricity, and went straight to the private businesses. I focused on a wanted ad from a local appliances company in Nanjing called “SuXXX Appliances”. It was, at the time, more successful than Huang Guangyu’s Gome Group, and was going through aggressive expansion. Another reason I applied with this company was because I knew that its owner was “disciplined” by the government when he was younger, I should probably have less chance of being discriminated by them. So I gave it a shot by sending them my resume. Much to my surprise, the screening was tighter than the political screening joining military. I explained to them that my diploma was withheld by the Provincial Educational Committee because of my involvement of the ’89 Students Demonstration, but it should not negate my college education. I also showed them the original statement as such issued by the school.
The beautiful Human Resources Manager said with a deadly serious look on her face, “You participated in the riot, so you are disqualified politically. We’re looking to go public on the market. How can we hire someone disqualified politically?” I looked at her face made stiff with too much make-up and told her coldly, “Then I guess you can ask your boss Mr. Zhang. If he himself is disqualified politically, wouldn’t there be no point for your company to go public?”
It was actually quite easy to obtain a fake diploma since 1990’s. I could have easily bought a couple of fake overseas diplomas (known as the “Wild Roosters’ Diplomas”), just like Tang Jun’s from the Pacific Western University. It would have not only made me in front of the beautiful HR Manager a fake overseas student returning home, but also covered up the sensitive June 4 Incident in 1989. Who knows, it might even get me a higher rank position under the government. Even if I would risk of being found out and investigated because of the media exposure, how many people really lose their titles because of the investigations of the fake diplomas? Plus, what do you have to lose for a position won with lies anyway?
But, I cannot deceive myself. I have always held firmly that there is nothing to be ashamed of having been in the prison of the Communist Party!
Ever since the interview, I never tried that route anywhere else. I have depended on myself, and managed by myself. For the job applicants of my own business, the only thing I look at is their abilities. I care little about their diplomas, because I know darn well that it can be obtained easily from the street stands.
Mr. Wang Zhiqiang, the Party Secretary and the Chancellor of my college while I was there, was an underground Chinese Communist Party member in Nanjing before 1949. He was also an intellectual who dared to speak the truth as a young man. He was labeled as the “rightist” in 1957 and went through the Cultural Revolution, and was not rehabilitated till 1978 with the collective rehabilitations led by Hu Yaobang. He returned to his original post after many others had already theirs. I have always respected him. During the June 4 Incident, despite the extreme pressure he was under, he never made things difficult for me. Instead, he was criticized severely by the upper officials because of me. Many years later when I saw him again, he was already in his 80s. He still remembered that my diploma was withheld and asked me to go with him to talk to the school, and he could explain whole thing to the current chancellor, so that the school could state my case with the Provincial Educational Committee (later changed to “Provincial Educational Department”), and hopefully the withheld diploma could finally be returned to me. The only thing is that I do not consider it necessary anymore at this point. I told my chancellor, “Do I still need the diploma now that I have the verdict?”
That is truly how I feel. It is such a shrewd political decision for the Provincial Educational Committee to withhold my diploma. Without the diploma, the only thing I could have is the verdict, and I know that it does not take a diploma to go to prison.