Teng Biao’s 2008 Democracy Award Speech

Reflections on receiving the Award

The National Endowment for Democracy has, in the past, given this Democracy Award to Mr. Havel; and it is not a coincidience that his philosophy and actions have inspired countless rights defenders and intellectuals in China.

The fates of people are interconnected, the violation of freedom and dignity to one individual is a violation to all.  Freedom and democracy is the profession of all mankind. 

Yet, this reasoning as been called an empty “fantasy,” and gradually abandoned or mocked. The stories of persecution against people who have faced these challenges are unknown to the outside world, and many around them cannot understand their choice to struggle for freedom.

Life must continue for those people living under authoritarian regimes, whether they are given praise or not.  Where I am from, even to protect basic dignities, to obey the call of conscience inside one’s heart, requires tremendous effort and sacrifice.   

For example, in March of this year, when I was abducted by secret police, they covered my head, stuffed me into a car, brought me to a secret interrogation room, took out an already printed version of my article, and threatened: “just based on these articles, we can imprison you for five or ten years.”  They confiscated my passport, cancelled my lawyer’s license, and again and again told me to keep my mouth shut. 

In several prisons in Guizhou, Jiangxi, Hebei, and Guangdong, I have had conversations with several prisoners wrongfully sentenced to death because of confessions extracted through torture.  They all believe that one day they will be proven innocent and given freedom.

I too have hope and believe that greater freedom will come to China one day, but not because time will bring change.  Rather, it will be earned by the hard work of citizens.

My thanks to the National Endowment for Democracy; you stand on the side of democracy and the people, not out of a cost-benefit analysis, but out of a commitment to shoulder a common responsibility toward humanity. 

While the fight for freedom itself enriches our spirit and makes us happy, because of the existence of NED and other international supporters’ voices that firmly guard universal values, those alienated, forgotten, and imprisoned people shall feel some joy and comfort.

I know that if Chen Guangcheng could communicate from his prison cell he would join me in thanking all of you for standing with us in our struggle.