Five Years Ago Today — Xu Zhangrun’s Sublime Madness in the Soul

Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium

Appendix XLV

& Xu Zhangrun Archive




‘Tonight, Taking Flight on Wings of Poetry I Soar Out of My Confinement’ 今夜越獄,詩詞為羽 is the title of a poem composed by Xu Zhangrun on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the fateful day on which he released his jeremiad ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’ — a Beijing Jeremiad 我們當下的恐懼與期待. In it, he dissected the first five years of Xi Jinping’s ‘new era’ and offered an emergency remedy to China’s predicament.

Over the five years since the appearance of ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’, China has experienced an even more precipitous descent into political, economic and social regression.

Today, we mark the release of Xu Zhangrun’s warning with a poem, two videos and a photograph. We also recommend ‘The Sixth of July’, Chapter Two of Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
24 July 2023

A day on which Xi Jinping’s name did not feature on the front page of People’s Daily


Further Reading:

Xu Zhangrun’s Fears and Hopes

‘…since I published “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes,” everything I feared might happen has come to pass, and new evidence in support of my case emerges every day. The “Eight Fears” that I identified in July 2018 are now a reality. … As for my “Eight Hopes,” they remain nothing more than wishful thinking.’

Xu Zhangrun
24 July 2021

‘Eight Fears’

That China’s party-state is: 1. undermining private property rights; 2. reviving an emphasis on all-consuming politics touching every sphere of life; 3. re-engaging with class struggle; 4. pursuing a new closed-door policy; 5. indulging in wasteful and grandiose gestures of foreign aid; 6. continuing to repress the intelligentsia; 7. engaging in a new arms race that will contribute to another cold war; and, 8. abandoning substantive economic reforms while returning to totalitarian methods of social control.

‘Eight Hopes’

That: 1. the government will put an end to wasteful international projects; 2. it will curtail diplomatic extravagance; 3. the authorities will eliminate the secret privileges of the Party gentry; 4. will abolish the pervasive system of special provisioning that serves the nomenklatura; 5. government officials will divulge their assets; 6. the new personality cult of Xi Jinping will be dropped; 7. term limits for state president will be restored; and, 8. there will be a formal re-evaluation of the events around June Fourth 1989.


Mr Xu Zhangrun

recorded by Tang Shizeng

17 July 2023


Tang Shizeng (唐師曾, 1961-) is a retired photojournalist, author and blogger known for reporting for Chinese state media on conflicts in the Middle East. For his YouTube channel, see 唐和尚Peaceducktang. Below, Tang explains the fly-on-the-wall style of reporting that he pursues post-Xinhua News Agency:

A Sublime Madness in the Soul

Reinhold Niebuhr labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

‘This sublime madness is the essential quality for a life of resistance. It is the acceptance that when you stand with the oppressed you get treated like the oppressed. It is the acceptance that, although empirically all that we struggled to achieve during our lifetime may be worse, our struggle validates itself.’

Chris Hedges, ‘The Price of Resistance’
Truth Dig, 18 April 2017


China Heritage was launched online in December 2016. At the time, I quoted a famous line from the Annals of Tacitus, ‘Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant’, which Lord Byron translated as:

Mark where his carnage and his conquests cease!
He makes a solitude, and calls it — peace.

The Xi Jinping era has, above all, been characterised by an increased policing both of public speech and private expression. The expression used to describe the quelling of China and its voluble population is 被禁言 bèi jìn yán, ‘to be silenced’.

China Heritage, however, along with numerous other publications and sources has demonstrated that China’s restless, voluble and thoughtful world continues to express itself in irrepressible and irascible ways.


As we noted in ‘The Sixth of July’, despite reports about China’s demographic decline, the country’s population of Former People is burgeoning. Former People is an old Soviet term. Under Xi Jinping the ranks of Former People have increased at a rate not seen since the heyday of Maoism. They are pariahs, non-persons, others: individuals of reduced  status, lowly identity. They are social ghosts, the invisible, reprehensible, unredeemable and unapproachable.

‘Banished to a Separate Registry’ 打入另冊 dǎrù lìng cè is the Qing-dynasty term that enjoyed an unofficial revival during the Mao era. In Xi Jinping’s China, the ‘Separate Registry’ includes countless individuals and families. There are those who have dared to resist, or have even gone so far as to speak out and protest against Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium. The ranks of Former People have been swollen by large numbers of people interred or sequestered in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as an ever-increasing cohort in Hong Kong.

Xu Zhangrun is one of China’s Former People. Despite his having been silenced at the lectern, rejected by university and his academic fellows, banned from publishing or expressing himself online, and with his books removed from libraries, Xu Zhangrun remains doggedly tireless in finding ways to express himself. Flouting the bans placed on him he has nonetheless produced a series of books — China’s Ongoing Crisis: Six Chapters (2019) continued his earlier work and Ten Letters from a Year of Plague (2020) was a multifaceted farewell to his former life. In Reading Erich Maria Remarque and Joseph Brodsky, rejecting the barbarism of our times (2022), he investigated the literary connections between two disaffected European writers and in From Heaps of Ashes (2022) he produced a poetic meditation on his fate. In an essay published by The New York Review of Books in August 2021, he dissected Xi’s particular autocratic style of rule.

Below, we celebrate Xu Zhangrun’s ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’, his daring jeremiad, and pay our respects to all of those who have dared to challenge China’s embargo on public expression and free speech.

yuè, transgress, exceed, bound, in the hand of the monk Huaisu 懷素 of the Tang dynasty


Tonight, Taking Flight on Wings of Poetry
I Soar Out of My Confinement


A poem by Xu Zhangrun


translated by Geremie R. Barmé 


So, what now? Tonight, I’ll break out of jail!
Wings of poetry will carry me beyond the bars.
In the direction of the grave silence reigning over darkling ruins,
Where even now a stately woman approaches having travelled from afar.


If life had not flourished, whence these smoldering ashes?
Every burnt offering begets renewal among the stars.
Blame the Maker for creating Human Kind too hastily,
A premature birth nourishing the Earth with tears.


This is no masterless realm where we can hunt at will,
Yet on that evening, for one moment in my life, I had a name.
Make your appeals to Heaven on High for an explanation,
Yet Heaven itself is speechless; the sentient multitude lives on as best it can.


The river water in a monk’s begging bowl brims with a universe of life
The truth remains undeniable: this is the cycle of birth, being and death.
Tonight, though, I have broken free and in my dreams I can imagine.
But, God, tell me, why did you teach your creation to build walls?


The Twenty-eighth Day of the Fifth Lunar Month
of the
Guimao Year of the Rabbit
15 July 2023



Mr Xu Signing Books

recorded by Tang Shizeng

17 July 2023



I will not submit,
I will not be cowed

Xu Zhangrun


Xu Zhangrun with Tang Shizeng, 18 July 2023