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Teng Biao, a lawyer for the Chinese

Chinese jurist and human rights activist Teng Biao (Courtesy of Teng Biao)

Before the closing of the Beijing Winter Olympics, I wanted to speak with Teng Biao – and I did on Friday. For our Questions and answers podcast, go here. Teng Biao is a prominent jurist and human rights activist in China. Back home, he was detained three times and tortured. He came to America in 2014. He has taught and worked at many of our top universities: Harvard, Yale, and Chicago.

He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He comes from a poor village in northeast China. An exceptionally brilliant kid, of course, he reached the heights: Peking University. There he obtained a doctorate. in philosophy of law. He then taught at another prestigious institution in Beijing: the Chinese University of Political Science and Law.

However, he threw it all away. What I mean is that he sacrificed his career to defend human rights. (Andrei Sakharov, one of the Soviet Union’s most honored scientists, did it most spectacularly.)

Growing up, Teng Biao was brainwashed, he says. He was indoctrinated with communism, the official ideology. When he became a university student, he got his hands on underground books and he met independent-minded professors. Eventually, he says, “I gave up communism and accepted liberal democracy.”

He was a staunch liberal Democrat his entire adult life.

In our Questions and answers, I discuss many issues with Teng Biao. One of them is that according to some Chinese – even in the West – a distinction between a government and a people is a Western notion. In China, the government and the people are one. You criticize the government, you criticize China.

I remember a Putin lackey in the Duma – who said, infamously, “There is no Russia without Putin.”

Anyway, what does Teng Biao think of all this?

Like his fellow Chinese in general, he was indoctrinated with the belief that there was no distinction between the Communist Party and the nation – between the government, or dictatorship, and China itself. But then he read and travelled, which led him to realize: It does not make sense. Teng Biao loves his country and his compatriots. He loves his fellow Chinese people enough to risk his skin to defend their rights. At the same time, of course, he is an implacable enemy of the dictatorship.

A question, for all of us: can you love a people – or people, as individuals – and also love a totalitarian gang that rules them?

Teng Biao could have had a great academic career. With privileges that relatively few people in China have. Why did he throw it away (my wording, not his)?

“I believe it is my moral duty to speak out for the voiceless, for the helpless, and I believe in freedom and human dignity, and as a lawyer in China, I have seen so many people suffer of the dictatorial regime, so I can’t just keep silent. If I don’t fight for human rights, when I have the capacity, when I have the resources and the skills to do so, I I will not live in peace, I will not enjoy happiness.

That’s it. You will want to get to know Teng Biao. Again, for our Questions and answersgo here.