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In China, a Grass-Roots Rebellion

"I was afraid, but I had already signed it hundreds of times in my heart," blogger Tang Xiaozhao said about deciding to sign Charter 08. (By Ariana Eunjung Cha -- The Washington Post)
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"China is at a critical moment of transition. We must recognize the general values of the world and follow the trend of democracy," said Teng Biao, a Beijing-based lawyer. Teng was summoned by police after signing and was warned not to take further action related to Charter 08.

One significant aspect of Charter 08 is its less famous signatories, such as Tang.

By most measures, Tang is a model citizen. The spunky, 4-foot-10 Sichuan native who lives in Shanghai loves her country, pays her taxes, volunteers at a school for migrant workers' children and is a major fan of one form of traditional Chinese opera. She grew up the eldest of three girls in a rural area where she says the schooling was weak but she taught herself by reading everything she could get her hands on, from Japanese novels to political treatises about the Middle East.

She posted a blog entry in December titled "I signed my name after a good cry," which Chinese censors have repeatedly knocked offline. Nevertheless, it has been widely circulated via e-mail and on Web sites outside China.

"We all grew up by feeding on 'political melamine.' Fear has been consolidated into stones in our bodies," Tang wrote, according to a translation by China Digital Times, the news site edited by Xiao, the Berkeley journalism professor and human rights activist.

Tang was referring to the chemical that was illegally added to some infant formula and pet food manufactured in China, creating the appearance of higher nutritional content but sickening or even killing some who consumed it.

Tang said in an interview that her fear turned to anger after she noticed that her blog entries and other references to Charter 08 kept being deleted by censors. One night, she said, she was hit by a great sadness that she did not have freedom of expression. So she took action.

"If me, a little frightened person, signed it, then maybe others will feel inspired," she said.

Before her blog was shut down entirely Jan. 13, the comments section was filled by online friends who said they had signed Charter 08. Tang counted 17 so far.

"I also signed," one person wrote. "I cried when I knew Xiaozhao had cried. I wasn't moved to tears by her tears, but I cried out of frustration and helplessness." Another saw hope in the censorship: "They wouldn't have been deleting posts in such a crazy manner," he wrote, referring to Chinese authorities, " if they were not scared." A third person said he "prepared my clothes right after signing my name. I am ready. I don't want to go to jail, but I am not afraid of going to jail."

Tang said she, too, is ready to accept the consequences of signing: "I know exactly what may happen to me since I signed my name, but I am not afraid anymore. It is my right to express my choice to an idea by signature and I won't give up my rights."

Researchers Liu Songjie and Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.


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