Holding Fast

Viral Alarm

On 22 April 2020, the unaffiliated journalist Li Zehua 李澤華 suddenly reappeared after having being detained by the Wuhan authorities some two months earlier at the height of China’s coronavirus crisis, on 26 February. Prior to this, Li had resigned from his job as a news anchor at the state-run China Central Television and decided to act as a citizen reporter on the front lines of the epidemic that was unfolding in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. Shortly after arriving in Wuhan, he was forcibly restrained and then held incommunicado by the authorities. (For details on this development and a comment on Chen Qiushi 陳秋實, the best-known ‘Wuhan virus citizen journalist’, see ‘The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, China Heritage, 10 March 2020.)

In a video statement with English-Language subtitles posted on YouTube dated 22 April, Li Zehua offered an account of his disappearance and subsequent treatment at the hands of the authorities, as well as providing details of his lengthy period under police-mandated quarantine. The video is titled: ‘我是李泽华Kcriss,这是2月26日至今关于我的一些情况。I’m Kcriss, here is something about me since February 26th.’

A report of Li’s video statement provided the following summary:

At least three men entered his apartment, identifying themselves as public security. Li then went with them to a local police station where he was told he was being investigated on charges of disrupting public order.

Police later said they would not charge him but because he had visited “sensitive epidemic areas” he would need to undergo quarantine.

Li, who had to give his devices over to a friend, spent the next month in quarantine in Wuhan and then in his hometown in a different province. He was served three meals a day, monitored by security guards and able to watch state broadcaster CCTV’s evening newscast.

“Throughout the whole time, the police acted civilly and legally, making sure I had rest and food. They really cared about me,” he said. Li said he was released on 28 March and has been spending time with his family. He wished those who suffered during the epidemic a fast recovery. “May God bless China and the people of the world unite.”

Li’s tone and comments, neutral and patriotic, were markedly different from his previous videos. Li, who had worked for the state-broadcaster CCTV, travelled to Wuhan to report on the crisis after another citizen journalist and activist Chen Qiushi disappeared.

In his videos, he reported on a local neighbourhood committee’s efforts to cover up new infections and interviewed sick residents. He visited a crematorium where a worker said people were being paid more to transport bodies.

At the time Li said: “I don’t want to remain silent, or shut my eyes and ears. It’s not that I can’t have a nice life, with a wife and kids. I can. I’m doing this because I hope more young people can, like me, stand up.”

— ‘Missing Wuhan citizen journalist
reappears after two months’The Guardian, 22 April 2020

***

Li’s report to his viewers also features somewhat mannered scenes of the former TV presenter  engaged in everyday lockdown activities such as brushing his teeth and working out. In his voiceover Li praises the ‘civilised and legal behaviour’ of his captors. However, the update ends with a famous line from ‘The Instructions of Yu the Great’ 大禹謨, a chapter in The Book of Documents 書經, or the Classic of History, an ancient collection of texts attributed to legendary figures that has immense cultural and political significance. Li recites it in practiced and sonorous tones, ending with the words 允執厥中 yǔn zhí jué zhōng, or ‘hold fast to the mean’, an expression that occurs in various guises in classical Chinese texts, as well as frequently featuring in the political and social life of dynastic China. We would suggest that, in its modern guise, these words can be taken as a statement of self-reflection, an encouragement by Li to himself that he should remain faithful to his principles without fear or favour.

Here we offer the powerfully resonant line quoted by Li Zehua and an annotated translation by James Legge (1815-1897) as part of our series ‘Viral Alarm’. (For the contents of the series, see below.) It also constitutes a brief ‘Lesson in New Sinology’.

I am grateful to Annie Ren 任路漫, a Fellow of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology 白水書院, for locating Legge’s translation with alacrity.

***

The whereabouts of Chen Qiushi 陳秋實 and Fang Binbin 方彬彬, two other citizen journalists mentioned in ‘The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, remain unknown. As for Li Zehua, although in his video update he mentions ‘planning for the future’, he offers no hint as to his next (permitted, let alone possible) career move.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
23 April 2020

***

允执厥中 yǔn zhí jué zhōng, ‘Hold Fast to the Mean’, in the hand of Aisin-gioro Hongli, whose imperial reign title was Abkai wehiyehe, or Qianlong 乾隆. Source: Photograph of an inscription in the throne room of the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City, Beijing

Holding Fast to the Mean
允執厥中

人心惟危,道心惟微,惟精惟一,允執厥中。

The mind of man is restless, prone to err; its affinity for the right way is small. Be discriminating, be undivided that you may sincerely hold fast the Mean.

trans. James Legge

The translator offers the following gloss:

道心 is still 人心, the mind of man in its relation to the path of duty. The two clauses together tell us very truly that the mind of man, uncertain, unstable in what is good, is ever more likely, without a careful self-government, to fall into the way of evil.

惟精惟一, these denote the exercise of mind and force of will by which the 人心 can be kept from disturbing the 道心 and there will result in practice the strict adherence to the Mean.

James Legge, The Chinese Classics Vol. 3,
London, Trübner & Co. 1865, Book Two, p.61

***


Viral Alarm, a China Heritage Series