The Year 1971


The Best China (VIII)

‘Everything in China is under the leadership of the Communist Party: be it the party, state, army, civilian life or education; and everywhere as well, be it north, south, east, west or in the centre’ 黨政軍民學,東西南北中,黨是領導一切的. China’s Chairman of Everything, Everybody and Everywhere is now on an untrammeled path to becoming Chairman for Life (see Who’s on First?China Heritage, 20 November 2017).

To mark this unremarkable development (unremarkable, that is, for anyone who has been paying attention for the past five years), we offer a recent essay by the celebrated Hong Kong commentator, editor and essayist, Lee Yee 李怡 written for his ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生 column published by Apple Daily 蘋果日報.

— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor
China Heritage 
28 February 2018


On Chairman Xi’s Apotheosis:

Further Reading:

  • Lee Yee, The Best China EssaysChina Heritage, 1 October 2017-
  • Geremie R. Barmé, ‘Living with Xi Dada’s China — making choices and cutting deals’, 15 December 2016, published under the title Cutting a Deal With ChinaChina Heritage, 20 July 2017

The Year 1971

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


Although I still haven’t seen the film The Post, I’m more than familiar with the story. The incidents it depicts had a profound, long-term influence on my life as an editor and a writer. 電影《戰雲密報》(The Post) 還沒有看,但故事背景絕不陌生。回想起來,這件事對我其後的編輯寫作生涯還有關鍵的潛在影響。

The Post, directed by Stephen Spielberg, 2017

It was in 1971 that The Seventies Monthly the journal I had founded — really took off both in terms of readership and influence. The zealotry of the Cultural Revolution was receding and the power struggle between Mao Zedong and Lin Biao was intensifying. The violent uprising led by Hong Kong leftists had been quelled and confidence in the British administration of the colony was restored. Reporting on the Protect the Tiao-yu Islands Movement among overseas Chinese students and the breakthrough in Sino-US relations that followed in the wake of Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing boosted the readership of The Seventies. Sequestered in the editorial department of the magazine and absorbed in those issues, I didn’t pay much attention to the events surrounding The Pentagon Papers in June that year. But subsequent reports had a deep impact on my thinking. 1971年,正是我創辦的《七十年代》月刊在銷路和影響力方面起飛的一年。這一年,文革的狂熱已經退潮,但隱含的毛澤東與林彪的內鬥越趨激烈;香港左派暴動平息,港英政府和港人信心恢復;由海外留學生掀起的保釣運動,和基辛格秘密訪華帶來中美關係突破,使《七十年代》在突出的報道和評述中崛起。在編輯室,我聚精會神於保釣和中美的議題,對發生於這一年6月的美國「五角大樓密件」事態沒有太多關注。然而,從後來的有關報道中,卻對我思想帶來深重衝擊。

[A whistle-blower] stole 7000 secret documents from the Pentagon related to the war being prosecuted by the government of the time and they appeared in the press. Wasn’t that ‘treason’? How come the media had the right to publish material stolen from the government? The underlying principle of the leftist press at the time was that you had to maintain an unwavering political stance, and only then might you consider whether the views you were expressing were correct. Things like technique and methodology came a distant third. When The New York Times published the ‘Pentagon Papers’ it was behaving in a way quite foreign to my understanding of the expression ‘freedom of the press’. After the US Justice Department obtained a warrant to ban further publication of the material, The Washington Post continued on regardless. It was completely unimaginable to me that the news media could challenge the power-holders in such a manner. 從國防部偷出7,000頁密件,交給報紙發表,而密件內容直接與國家正在進行的戰爭相關,這還不是「叛國罪」?新聞界哪來的權利可以刊登從國防部偷來的文件?當時左派的辦報辦刊原則,首先要站穩立場,其次要觀點正確,再次才是論述的技巧、方法。《紐約時報》刊登「五角大樓密件」完全超越我對新聞自由的常識。在美國司法部取得法庭禁制令之後,《華盛頓郵報》居然接續刊登,新聞界可以如此對權力挑戰,更出乎我的想像了。

For decades thereafter, a line from the ruling by Associate Justice Hugo Black of the Supreme Court guided my editorial work, and it is why to this day I continue to write media commentaries. 大法官布萊克 (Hugo Black) 在判詞中的一句話,使我終生受用,指導我的編輯寫作生涯數十年,直到今天我仍然不放棄寫評論也因為這句話。

He said: 他說:

Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. 出版自由的最大責任,就是防止政府的任何部門欺騙人民。

This statement is preceded by the following: 這句話的前面,他還說:

In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. 在憲法第一修正案中,開國先驅們向新聞自由提供了保護,以保護新聞界在民主制度中所必須履行的重要職責。新聞服務的對象是被管治者,而不是管治者。政府對新聞界的檢查權力必須取消,而新聞界永遠有監督政府的自由,使它可以挖掘政府的秘密,給人民知情權。

Black’s ruling not only protected virtually unlimited free speech (apart from clear and present dangers[1]), it emphasised the crucial responsibility of the media, and the fact that any part of the government could attempt to deceive the people. This lays a heavy burden of responsibility on members of the media. 布萊克大法官的話,不僅是為新聞界開拓了幾乎沒有限制的自由(除了不能造成「明顯和立即的危險」之外);同時也闡明了甚麼是新聞界的重要職責,以及政府的任何部門都有可能欺騙人民。新聞工作者怎能把這段話輕輕放下?

Those events of 1971 had an impact not only America but on the whole world. They were far more important than the breakthrough in Sino-American relations. Free speech not only benefits the media, it is also crucial for government; it has allowed America to become a nation that is most capable of correcting its own mistakes. Everyone enjoys its benefits as it allows all people to be independent, to think freely and it endorses individuals who dare to do the seemingly impossible. As Philip L. Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post said, ‘Journalism is the first rough draft of history.’[2] 1971年發生的這件事,影響了美國及世界其後的歷史。比中美關係突破重要太多了。言論自由不僅惠及輿論界,而且惠及政府,使美國成為世界上最能夠修正自己錯誤的國家;也惠及所有的人民,因為言論自由而賦予每一個人獨立精神、自由思想,人人敢於作一些看來不可能的嘗試。正如《華盛頓郵報》前發行人Philip L. Graham所說:「新聞是歷史的第一份草稿。」

Netizens on the Mainland claim that although Americans might discover truth — on an average they win two to three Nobel Prizes annual in fields such as physics, chemistry, medicine and economics — the Chinese, however, invent a new ‘Thought’ every decade: Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, The Three Represents, The Scientific Development View and Xi Jinping Thought for the New Epoch. 大陸有網民說:美國人不斷發現真理,諾貝爾物理、化學、醫學、經濟獎,美國平均每年拿兩、三個;中國人不斷發現思想,毛澤東思想、鄧小平理論、三個代表、科學發展觀、習近平新時代思想,平均10年發展一套。

The Chinese Communists want people to align their thinking with the Centre, not to express equivocation. The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would have us in lockstep with Beijing and eliminate any independent, self-determined, autonomous voices unwelcome in the north. The end result will be the disappearance of freedom of expression and the freedom of thought; this road to nowhere only tolerates people who think the same Thought. 中共要人民的思想要統一到中央的思想上,不得妄議中央;香港特區政府亦步亦趨,也扼殺一些獨立、自決、自主等北京不想聽到的聲音,後果將是言論自由和思想自由的消失,把香港帶到「思想統一」的絕路。

— 李怡, 1971這一年, 2018年2月9日

Translator’s Notes:

[1] Hugo Black’s judgement in this regard reads:

What finally emerges from the ‘clear and present danger’ cases is a working principle that the substantive evil must be extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high before utterances can be punished…It must be taken as a command of the broadest scope that explicit language, read in the context of a liberty-loving society, will allow.

[2] Graham’s statement from a speech made in 1963 is:

So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand … .