“Our people love life; they hope for better education, more stable jobs, more satisfactory incomes, more reliable social guarantees, higher-level medical and health services, more comfortable living conditions, a more beautiful environment, and they hope that their children can grow up better, work better and live better. The wishes of our people for better lives are the goals of our struggles.”
Xi spoke of material matters, but soon he seemed to realize that his “dream” should include more spiritual elements. In a speech two weeks later, he said:
“Everyone has ideals and pursuits . . . . The greatest dream of the Chinese people in recent times has been to realize the great renaissance of the Chinese nation . . . . The future and the fate of every Chinese person is tightly bound to the future and fate of the state and the nation . . . . No one will be well off unless the state and the nation are well off.”
Now Xi’s version of the China dream had two levels: a daily-life material level and spiritual aspirations at the level of state and nation.
Editors at Southern Weekly, a publication based in Guangdong, saw a crucial gap, right at the dream’s center: It left out dignity for citizens. So they drafted an editorial, “China’s Dream: The Dream of Constitutionalism,” that said in part:
“Our dream today cannot possibly end with material things; we seek a spiritual wholeness as well. It cannot possibly end with national strength alone; it must include self-respect for every person . . . . We will continue to dream until every person, whether high official or peddler on the street, can live in dignity.”
This thirst for dignity, not quenchable by money or the success of a state, does much to explain why the Southern Weekly statement drew explicit support from many — public intellectuals, students, movie stars, popular bloggers such as Han Han and countless other Internet users, including the editors of major news Web sites. People responded to the “dignity” issue because they had seen it in their own experience. Southern Weekly’s fine contribution simply put the issue into the public arena; no one needed to be told the problem was there.
In an essay written shortly before he was sent to prison for “inciting subversion of the state,” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo observed, “Whenever a conflict breaks out between government and citizens, Internet opinion reflexively heads for the citizens’ side.” People naturally flock to the defense of strangers, Liu noted, because, though the victim may be unknown, the nature of the problem is all too familiar. In many cases in recent years, the underlying cause of public protests is that people feel an affront to their dignity.