人 權 群 像
 

Professor Seymour’s Reminiscence on Taiwan|James Dulles Seymour|人權群像第二季第七集|黃于哲
Huang Yu Zhe

 

An Interview with Professor James D. Seymour 司馬晉

Interviewer: Professor Mab Huang 黃默

Paraphrase By Huang Yu Zhe 黃于哲

Revised from a version originally published on line by the "Taiwan Human Rights Journal,” from the Chang Fo-chuan Center for the Study of Human Rights at Soochow University. Original interview is available on YouTube at https://reurl.cc/2gardE

 

Abstract

The aim of this interview was to provide Professor James Dulles Seymour an opportunity to reminisce about his experiences in Taiwan. Throughout his long career, Professor Seymour not only has dedicated his life's work to researching and writing on China and Taiwan, but has had extensive experience of working with Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a wide range of issues.

The interview is divided into eight parts. Firstly, it gives a detailed introduction of Professor Seymour. Secondly, it deals with his major research area and teaching. The third part is his view on the South China Sea issue and the Sengaku/Diaoyutai dispute. The fourth part is about the One Belt One Road. The fifth part concerns his views on the Taiwan’s situation. The sixth part focuses on his take on the rule of law in the United States and the United Kingdom. The seventh part is about his future plan. The last part is an assessment of achievements and challenges.

I.  Introduction

In October 2019 Professor James Dulles Seymour [1] came to Taiwan on a lecture tour. He visited Soochow University in Taipei on October 23, and granted an interview with Professor Mab Huang reminisce and comment on Taiwan and the East Asian situation.

Professor Huang began by saying that it was very fortunate to have with us Professor James Seymour, who is also known as 司馬晉. Professor Huang has known Professor Seymour since 1958. Through the many years, they have worked together on quite a few projects.

Professor Seymour came to study Chinese language in Taiwan in 1960. That was quite early—he had only just earned his master’s degree at Columbia University. He had written his thesis on the minority parties in China, the so-called 民主黨派, the largest being the 民主同盟 (the China Democratic League) [2]. And then, later on he turned to

the study of human rights, particularly in East Asia. And, through the Society for the Protection of East Asians’ Human Rights (SPEAHR), he published the journal SPEAHRhead (1979-1985), which likewise promoted human rights in East Asia. And still later, he was of a great help to Professor Huang, when the “Taiwan Human Rights Journal” was published here in Taiwan, and also with the “Human Rights Dictionary,” which appeared in 2007.

But Professor Seymour has not confined himself to the “ivory tower.” He took part, to a very large extent, in many social activities and movements. He was the founder and head of the New York University group of Amnesty International, and conducted several missions to Taiwan during the 1970s and early 1980s. Later on, in the interview, he would have had a little more to say about the human rights situation, which was very, very difficult in Taiwan, and what his missions were about, and his testimony in the United States Congress, all of which was crucial for the promotion of democratic rule in Taiwan.

Since 2005 Professor Seymour has divided his time between New York City (Columbia University), and Hong Kong (the Chinese University in Hong Kong 香港中文大學). He has been doing research and teaching on Tibet and Xinjiang, and western China generally. And during this time, he worked closely with Han Dongfang ( 韓 東 方 ) on promoting labor rights in China, and defending the interest and well-being of the laboring class in China.

Professor Seymour began by expressing his profound gratitude to Professor Huang. Professor Seymour pointed out that, as he said, they go back a long way to more than six decades. Once they had been students at Columbia University, and now here they are again.

Professor Seymour became interested in Chinese studies in the 1950s. In 1960 he expected to be drafted into the army and be sent to Vietnam. Due to the fluke of asthma, the Army rejected him, so he decided: they’d just given him two years of his life back, maybe his whole life back. Professor Seymour had asked himself, “What would I really want to do?” Well, he wanted to come to East Asia and study Chinese. In those days, Americans could not go to China, and Hong Kong was not a good place to learn Mandarin (普通話). Although Taiwan was not a perfect place to learn Mandarin (國語) because most people spoke Taiwanese, still it was not a bad place to do so.

ProfessorSeymourenrolledaclassatShih-fanDaXue(師範大學, NormalUniversity), KuoYuZhongXin(國語中心, Mandarin Center). Andatlunchbreaks, Professor Seymour often went to Professor Huang’s parents forlunch (Professor Huang was still being at New York. As Professor Seymour remembered, they lived in a little Japanese style home off of Hoping East Road. These lovely old houses have long since been torn down.

Most of the friends he made in the course of eight months were mainlanders. And Professor Huang introduced to him to a lot of different people. Politically, those were very depressing times in Taiwan. Seymour was rather careful when he was here as a student. “I tried to keep my ears open but my mouth shut.” Well, that didn’t last forever. Eventually he became more vocal.

After President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) died in 1975, the government announced that there would be a 減刑 / commutation of prisoners’ sentences. So, the human rights organization Amnesty International, asked Seymour to come to Taiwan from New York, and appeal to the government to include political prisoners in the commutation, which they did. That was his first mission to Taiwan to promote human rights. Later the same year, the Amnesty International sent him again, hopefully to attend the trials of eight political prisoners, held in Jing Mei (景美).

Unfortunately, when he got to the Taiwan Garrison Command 中被總部 at Jing Mei, the authorities would not permit him to observe the trial. So, in a sense, he had come all this way from New York to Taipei for nothing. But it turned out to be a rather productive visit anyway, because he met a whole lot of people, young little-known dissidents, but who would become famous later on. And, in fact, many of them went to jail in the wake or the 1979 Meilidao (美麗島) Incident.

Professor Huang noted that many people in Taiwan know Seymour quite well. Although they think that he was quite supportive and sympathetic to Tang Wei (黨外—outside the party) , Professor Seymour emphasized that he was trying not to be partisan about it, and not supported this political party or that political group. He just supported human rights and democracy. And what the people of Taiwan decided to do with their future, it’s not really his business. But promoting human rights considered to be his and everyone’s business.

Professor Huang thought that he was quite right, and that was the right position for him to take; it had allowed him to go a very long way. But still, it was a difficult art, as Professor Huang found when he surveyed the situation in which Professor Seymour found himself. Professor Seymour was on the government’s blacklist throughout most of the 1980s, and not allowed to visit Taiwan.

Then maybe he crossed the line, losing his non-political bonafides. But he is “proud” to say that he had been on the blacklists of both the Kuomintang ( 國 民 黨 ) the Chinese Communist Party at one time or another. So, he joked about that: at least he can claim to have been even-handed. Professor Huang said that, for sure, that proved that Professor Seymour had done things right.

Professor Huang added that doing things this way is kind of difficult. Because many of his own colleagues, very well-educated persons, professors at the university, sometimes would be drawn into one camp or the other. So, he thinks, for him, the lesson he learned was that this political turmoil can really cause very serious problems for the intellectuals. And if you study the intellectuals, the Chinese intellectuals for the past twenty years, you would know very well that it’s very difficult not to take sides and they often ended up in a bad situation.

Professor Seymour said that he had had various friends here who settled on quite different approaches about how to handle things. Some were quite militant, even lived in exile in Japan and supported Taiwan independence. And other people were much more cautious – “conservative liberals” people like Seymour’s good friend Hu Fo (胡佛), Professor at National Taiwan University. Actually, Seymour and Hu Fo were originally introduced to each other by Mab Huang. Then the two travelled together in late 1960 as the only passengers on a Taiwanese freighter from Los Angeles to Keelung. That's how Professor Seymour first got to Taiwan.

Professor Seymour remembered that Professor Hu Fo was always very cautious. He tried not to antagonize Kuomintang, indeed tried to stay in the good graces of Kuomintang, at the same time, promoting the cause of constitutionalgovernment. So Professor Seymour had friends who took all these different various approaches, but he didn't deal with the political situation himself. Obviously, in his view, there was no right way to do it nor wrong way to do it. Everybody had to figure it out forhimself.

II.  Seymour’s Major Research Area andTeaching

Professor Huang mentioned that now Professor Seymour divides his time between New York and Hong Kong. Professor Huang asked what kind of research and teaching he had been doing, and what kind of activity he has, social activity that he has participated and supported? Professor Seymour said that he moved to Hong Kong, having largely retired from Columbia in 2005. And the reason for the move had to do with his personal life and family situation.

But once he got to Hong Kong, he became active in various capacities at the Chinese University of Hong Kong 香港中文大學. They were setting up a new master's degree program called "Global Political Economy," and they wanted to offer a course on 中國西部大開發, in English:"Development of West China and New Silk Road." At that time, the "Silk Road" was a buzzword—a subject that many were interested in. As he put it:

They couldn't find anybody to teach this course. And one of the people setting up this program said to Professor Seymour, "Would you teach the course?" And he said, "Development of West China and New Silk Road, what, what was it about?" They said, well, "Whatever you want it to be about, it could be about.” Thus,

Professor Seymour developed this course out of whole cloth. It included a lot of political, cultural, historic background and the political economy, and also environmental and ecology issues. They were the whole gamut and focused on West China, [3] and to some extent, Central Asia. Professor Seymour had a lot of fun with this course.

But after a decade, China tightened its grip more on Hong Kong, and then, it became more and more untenable to teach objectively the history of what it is now of West China. According to his interpretation of history, these nations had been negotiated out of existence between China and the neighboring countries, which were usually Russia, with those countries usually being divided in half. But, that's not the way the Chinese understand their history. Their understanding of history is that Xinjiang (新疆) has been part of China for two thousand years. Tibet has been part of China, they used to say, since the Tang (唐朝), which is no basis in fact. So, then they said, Tibet had been part of China since the Yuan ( 元 朝 ) -- the Mongol period -- which is not exactly wrong, but it's kind of odd interpretation of history. Professor Seymour taught all this, from his point of view, which is rather different from Beijing’s point of view. Well (to borrow a line from the famous film “Casablanca”), one has to be “shocked, shocked” to learn that the course is no longer offered. But Professor Seymour was able to pull it off for many years.

III.  Seymour on MaritimeDisputes

Professor Huang pointed out that he has been struck in the past few years that Beijing has increasingly placed increasing emphasis on historical claim, such as their positions regarding the South China Sea and Diaoyutai (Japan’s Sengaku) islands, so it is not only about Xinjiang and Tibet. He wanted to know how Professor Seymour would interpret this emphasis on historical claim. Professor Seymour thought that as far as the South China Sea is concerned, the big issue is: Is China going to respect international law or not. There is a huge body of Law of the Sea, which China supposedly adheres to, but they rather interpret it out of existence.

He admitted to having a peculiar American point of view on all of this. After the United States got its independence from England in the 1770s, they thought they had solved all of the problems with England. But, all of a sudden, the British were kind of nasty to them on the ocean. They were a weak country and the United Kingdom was a strong country. So, they fought what Americans consider “the war of 1812.” From the American point of view: that issue, everybody, weak countries, small countries must have equal access to the seas, and no one should interfere with anybody else; nobody has a right to privatize or territorialize. Professor Seymour remembered that Professor Huang used to joke about how the British considered the Mediterranean as a place they owned as a private lake.

But that sort of thinking was contrary to what Americans consider a core principle, freedom of the seas. So, now they're trying to uphold this principle in the South China Sea. But it's not so much up to them, as to the countries bordering on the South China Sea: Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It's a question of: Can those countries pull themselves together, form some kind of unity, and stand up for the principle of freedom of the seas, or are they each going to try to grab a little piece of it? In the latter case they'll never prevail, because China would grab the whole thing. But Professor Seymour believed that they ought to decide this on the basis of international law.

All that is quite different from, say, Tibet. Professor Seymour pointed out, you could say that it was part of the Qing dynasty, but, more accurately, the Manchus ( 滿 族 ) ruled a great international empire. Their own homeland (Manchuria) was one country. Then the

Han area (former Ming) was China. And Tibet was Tibet. And the Manchus -- Qing dynasty-- ruled loosely over all these discrete areas. (What is now called “Xinjiang,” was a special situation – it was very fragmented.) And, of course, there's Mongolia, which was divided in two, half becoming a Soviet satellite, and half becoming Chinese. The northern part ended up as a free and independent and more-or-less democratic country. The southern part, now the “autonomous” PRC region of “Inner” Mongolia, was not so lucky.

IV.  Seymour and Huang on “One Belt OneRoad”

Professor Huang raised the question about the One Belt One Road. When that idea had been first proposed by China’s Xi Jinping in 2013, Huang was skeptical that it would ever happen. But still, he had hope that a commitment to the One Belt One Road would bring Beijing closer to adhering to international law. Alas, up to this point, it doesn't turn out to be like that. Still, Professor Huang believes, at some point there will be a turning point, and that China will indeed join the international community, and the One Belt One Road would involve a commitment to the international law, just as happened with the Western imperial powers.

Yet, Professor Seymour said that Professor Huang is being very charitable toward the old imperialist powers. He doesn’t think they consistently adhere to these principles that, Professor Huang is saying, are so lofty. Now China is behaving very much like the old imperial powers, just trying to gain economic influence, loaning money to all (building indebtedness on the part of) these little countries, including Pacific island countries. And it's quite a worrisome situation, from Seymour’s point of view -- they are really sacrificing their independence, in the name of economic development, and China is in control of the outcome.

As for Central Asia, in many ways, Professor Seymour believes that it's very good, for example, to see railways across Asia. Nobody can really argue with that to the extent that it facilitates international trade. But if it means China getting a grip, and politicizing the development of these countries in a way that simply benefits China, that's somewhat worrisome.

Professor Huang said that he was hoping China would, to some degree, evolve differently from the old imperial empire. He pointed to the traditional values of China, which of course we can interpret in various ways. Professor Chou Yang-sun (周陽山), who Seymour knew from Chou’s student days at Columbia University in New York is a case in point. Chou had once been a student of Professor Hu Fo (胡佛).

Professor Huang noted that in many of his newspaper pieces in the past few years, Professor Chou argued, to Huang’s great surprise, that the One Belt One Road is really in the tradition of the Confucian idea of how China should handle its relations with the neighboring countries, which is absolutely unselfish. Professor Chou argued that it's a commitment to help the weaker and small countries. Professor Chou, even to this day, as a steward of traditional Chinese values.

In that regard, Professor Seymour said that it's a very traditional Chinese way of looking at things: The emperor reigns over, in the first place: China, but then gradually all of TianXia(天下—allunderheaven) -- andTianXiakeepsexpandingandexpanding. And all the people in Tian Xia (天下) were supposed to be focused Beijing’s 中南海 and the Temple of Heaven 天坛. Professor Seymour explained that he can understand that point of view, but it's not a point of view that all these powerless countries have ever been really enamored with.

Professor Huang then indicated that another disciple of Professor Hu Fo, Professor Chu Yun-han ( 朱 雲 漢 ), has presented himself as a visionary seeing the future clearly. In Chu’s view, the United States certainly has been declining. Professor Huang said that he doesn’t think that many people would dispute or quarrel with Chu. And more than that, Chu argued, China is taking the lead, leading to an earth-shaking transformation of the world situation. The Chinese model of development will prevail, and China is going to lead the whole world into an absolutely new era.

Professor Huang said that Professor Seymour and Professor Hu Fo had been friends for almost half a century. But he must say and he doesn’t want to push this point that in his later years, he was moving closer to the position of Beijing. Professor Hu Fo argued in an interview he had with some journal, and that again, for Professor Huang was kind of difficult, arguing that while Chinese people have lost some of their individualfreedom, the Chinese state has gained a larger of freedom. So, in the end, Professor Hu Fo ended up with this approach to the subject of freedom: there a smaller freedom of the individual, and a larger freedom of the state. Professor Huang said that he cannot quite accept that, but, of course, he respected Professor Hu Fo’sposition.

Professor Huang said that's what he means about the difficult situation, what the rapid change in the political map had done to the intellectuals. Professor Seymour added that the Chinese nationalism is a very powerful force. It used to be somewhat limited -- China seemed to be just trying to undo the damage that had been done to the country by the imperialist powers. But now that sort of limited form of nationalism has been replaced by a much more expansive type of nationalism.

Furthermore, the Chinese are so proud, justifiably proud, of being an economic powerhouse in the world. Of course, countries have their ups and downs, economies have also their ups and downs. It's not always going to be a bed of roses for China. But in recent years, China has seemed to be doing very well, and rich, and able to lend money to, and therefore, dominate many other countries -- all the time saying "we never interfere in domestic affairs of other countries." Professor Seymour acknowledged that that's the line, but in the end they've seemed to end up doing quite a bit of interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries. Professor Seymour is quite concerned and worried about this extremist of kind nationalism out of China.

Professor Huang then added that he cannot convince himself that all this in the long term, would be good even for China; certainly for Asia generally it can be quite dangerous. Professor Huang is hoping for the best.

V.  Seymour’s Take onTaiwan

Professor Huang noted that Taiwan is in a very difficult situation. Taiwan, internally, is very divided. Certainly, this is a moment of political uncertainty. Everybody is very much preoccupied about the forthcoming election in January 2020. Professor Huang asked how Professor Seymour thought about the situation.

Professor Seymour said that he did not dabble very much in Taiwan politics. But, as an American, he comes from a country that is also extremely divided. There is no center anymore. There are the people that support Trump and the people that oppose Trump. And he still views Taiwan as a place where there is still a political center. In general, people accept the status quo. They realize that if you go too far in the direction of independence for Taiwan, then that will be provocative, and might really cause big problems for Taiwan. And, of course, the other extreme, there are those who want to cozy up to China, and make a deal, and work out some agreements that Beijing is satisfied with. But those groups on the extremes are rather small. It seems that there is some sort of consensus: We just have to muddle through. We can't declare independence. We don't want to be a province of China. So, we'll just have to abide by this very imperfect situation, which after all could be a lot worse. To be sure, the more extreme forces, though they are a minority, they are quite vocal. They speak very loudly. There is no guarantee that the middle position can hold indefinitely -- that people will not get frustrated and drift either to this camp or thatcamp.

Professor Seymour added that's what may be happening in the United States. So many have drifted either to the left or the right. Will the center hold? It is a serious question.

He doesn't see that problem existing yet in Taiwan. Almost everybody sees the risks, and so there seemed to be a pretty solid center here. But we'll see what happens in the January election.

Professor Huang then asked that to be explicit, would Professor Seymour be saying that if Tsai Ing-wen is re-elected, that would mean that the center was holding? Is that more an idealist idea? Professor Seymour said that it is certainly a likely scenario. But he doesn't know if he can predict that. Anyway, he'll have a better sense of things in a couple of months.

Professor Huang then added that he doesn't say that he is talking about any particular candidate for president. But, in general. He is not saying that Professor Seymour is supporting either, or any, or candidate for presidency. This time, probably, it is difficult to be certain. For the Chinese Nationalist Party, Kuomintang, they have a fairly charismatic leader. That posed a new challenge for the Democratic Progressive Party, with the incumbent government having been criticized on many fronts. So, we just have to wait and see.

VI.  Prof. Seymour on the rule of law in the U.S. and theU.K.

Professor Seymour also indicated that we can be thankful that we don't have the problem of extreme populism here on Taiwan -- a leader gaining power on the basis of a few simple solutions. Was it Mark Twain who said: There is a simple solution for every difficult question, and it is always wrong? That's what these populist leaders in the United States and Britain do. And it does not give rise to the execution of carefully thought-out policies.

Professor Huang indicated that it could have resorted to in the judicial branch, that isthe rule of law, certainly, most in the United States and U.K., you have the long tradition of the rule of law. And many people hope that if Trump can be checked, or Boris Johnson, that probably would have quite a bit to do with this quite long tradition, the independence of a judiciary and rule of law. What would Professor Seymourthink?

Professor Seymour said that has more confidence in the rule of law in England, and Taiwan, than he has in the United States. We’ve just seen that the British Supreme Court said that the Prime Minister could not suspend the Parliament. Professor Seymour thinks that’s a very constructive move.

In the United States, unfortunately, beginning with Richard Nixon you began to see the politicization of the Supreme Court there. The Republicans appointed hard-right conservatives starting with William Rehnquist, and, now you have the Trump appointees. The minority Republican Party looks to the courts for support, so often they're no longer really legal decisions, but political decisions. Of course, the Democrats have tried to appoint liberals to offset that, but they've been rather unlucky. So, majorities are now quite conservative. And two people on the Supreme Court,

Professor Seymour thinks, committed perjury, that is, they lied during their confirmation hearing. And so there, you have, on the Supreme Court, two out of the nine judges have committed the crime perjury. And they are telling us that which laws we have to follow up and which laws we should not have to follow up. And their decisions are obviously political. So, it is a very upsetting situation in the UnitedStates.

Professor Seymour hopes there can be found some other way to appoint Supreme Court Justices, so the country can return to the rule of law, and not have a Supreme Court acting like an arm of one political party.

Professor Huang added that he agrees with Professor Seymour more on the United States situation. But, as far as Taiwan, certainly, Professor Huang thinks, that we don’t have that kind of tradition, that kind of rule of law. It’s a new thing for Taiwan and it would take time to learn. So, we’ll have to see what the judiciary does or does not do in the next few years, and how it addresses the new sensitive cases which will definitely come.

Professor Seymour then pointed out that Taiwan has this kind of odd situation, the five branches of government. When the United States was established, it was just at a moment in history where checks and balances and separation of powers were considered very important, or at least trendy. They got this idea from the French. Then very quickly people realized that there are a lot of problems with that. Therefore, no other country really picked up on the idea of checks and balances.

Professor Seymour said that most democracies have an independent judiciary. And that's all you need. You don't really have to have the legislature and the executive checking each other all the time. That's the road to stalemate. Thankfully, other countries did not follow the American example.

Professor Huang added that we still need to deal with the legacies of the constitutional five branches. The Democratic Progressive Party has been talking about abolishing the Examination Yuan and the Control Yuan, but they have not done that. And, at this time, in the Control Yuan, it's so openly divided into those commissioners appointed by the previously by the KMT, and even those eleven recommended and appointed by Tsai Ing-wen are openly divided. It's really an astonishing situation.

Professor Seymour added that Sun Yat-sen came up with this idea, the five branches, and the founding fathers of the United States came up with the three branches, and both seemed to be good on paper. But, actually, when working out, in practice, there proved to be more problems than solutions.

Professor Huang concluded that we are all searching. Professor Seymour and he, certainly, would not look to the new model that Beijing has been proudly advocating for so long.

VII.  Professor Seymour’sFuture

Professor Huang indicated that Professor Seymour has done a great many things. His study on research on the Western area in China, including Tibet and Xinjiang, has been superb. Professor Huang talked about how his lecture the previous day had been very well-received. Professor Huang wondered what is Professor Seymour going to do next?

Professor Seymour joked that Professor Huang has been pestering him, for many months from now, to write something for his publication, Taiwan Human Rights Journal (台灣人權學刊). Professor Seymour promised that he’d write an article that wonderful journal.

Professor Huang added that we have Seymour’s great article about the dispute over the terms “people” (人民) and “nation” (民族). Professor Huang said that is a great article.

And he assumed that Professor Seymour would be talking about all this that afternoon in his class.

Professor Seymour also wanted to say something for the record. He got onto that subject in the first place, because someone called his attention to the fact that the version of the international human rights covenants as passed by the U.N. General Assembly, and the version that you find, if you go to the Beijing or U.N. websites, are very different. And Professor Huang was the person who had told him about that. And he looked it up and dug around, and he found that it indeed was true. The handwritten version in five equally authentic languages (Chinese being one) had been signed by all the relevant authorities. The real covenants are quite different from what you find, if you go to those websites. If you go through and read the PRC/UN version (the fake version), you find that it is quite different from the actual international human rightscovenants.

So Professor Huang originally put the bee in his bonnet, and Seymour joked that any mistakes he attributed to Professor Huang. In response, Professor Huang laughed and said it's very exciting inquiry to get into that so he is very pleased that Professor Seymour took it up.

VIII.  Professor Seymour’s Achievements andSetbacks

Professor Huang then asked which achievements in Professor Seymour’s long work in academic and in the public service he is most proud of? And which event or which activity that he thinks was the most serious setback for him, or regretted that something hadn't happened?

Professor Seymour said that he has been involved with various human rights and civil society organizations. Right now, he is chairman of the board of the U.S. section of a London-based low-profile organization called The Rights Practice (TRP). They try to help authentic civil society organizations that have sprung up spontaneously in China. Also, there are Chinese human rights organizations, women's organizations, and labor organizations, and the lawyers that are defending people accused of crimes. TRP tries to give them intellectual and know-how assistance, as well as financial support.

The setback, one might say, is that Xi Jing-ping is not very enthusiastic about the whole concept of civil society. In fact, of are the "Seven Unmentionables" ( 七 不 講 ), subjects that you're not supposed to talk about in universities, number two of them is civil society. So, in the last couple of years, it's become increasingly difficult for the international civil society organizations, such as The Rights Practice, China Labour Bulletin (CLB), Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, to function in China. The local partners that they help are becoming increasingly nervous about receiving international support. And some of the organizations’ own people who need to go to China get denied Visas. Anyway, the whole ideal of getting foreign financial support is problematic, because that could get their local partners in trouble. So, for Professor Seymour, all this has been a big setback, but he hopes that it's only temporary.

Professor Seymour continued that there are a lot of little groups that are often associated with universities or associated with the lawyers’ groups. The lawyers have a way of getting themselves in trouble and even sometimes being arrested -- just for trying to enable people who are in trouble to exert their legal rights. There are various groups, like AIDS/HIV support groups. Also, Some people have a hard time because they do not have resident status; it can be very difficult for a family to send theirchildren to a local school, because they don't have a local hukou (戶口). There are all of these little issues that get neglected by the government, but there are organizations in China trying to make progress in these areas, and The Rights Practice works with many of these organizations. TRP lets them take the lead and it just gets them help where they need it.

Professor Huang then wondered: Is Professor Seymour still working with the China Labour Bulletin? Professor Seymour noted that he used to be treasurer of the US section of CLB, but now TRP takes all his time. So he is no longer active in China Labour Bulletin, but they're growing strong. They're doing wonderful work to help workers in China organized and engaged in collective bargaining. There is a kind of division of labor among NGOs. So, for example, TRP is not too involved in labor issues. They leave that to China Labour Bulletin. Professor Huang also asked whether CLB’s

Han Dong-fang (韓東方) is still living and working in Hong Kong? If he is, that must be a very difficult situation. What would Professor Seymour say? Professor Seymour said that now Hong Kong is in a lot of trouble. But the Hong Kong-based organizations do help Chinese. The problem is in China, not yet so much in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a lot of problems, but, so far Han’s CLB is doing okay.

Professor Huang said that Professor Seymour is still doing a great deal of work. One can hardly say that he is retired in any real sense. Professor Huang then asked what great achievement Professor Seymour thinks he has done?

Professor Seymour said that he thinks his major academic book was one that concerned Chinese prisons. That book nobody reads, because nobody is particularly interested in that subject. But he got interested in the China's prison system in the 1990s, after he happened to meet somebody in Hong Kong, a Shanghainese who had spent ten years in a prison run by the Bingtuan in Xinjiang 新疆生產建設兵團. There was a whole prison system out there no one knew about.

Whereas sometimes, you deal with people who have a hard time in Mainland -- they escape, and they're just terribly excited, unhappy, and angry -- these people don't make good interview subjects. This Shanghainese man, however, made an outstanding interview subject. He was very balanced, and had a lot of information; he did not exaggerate. So Professor Seymour just started noting down everything he said. Then, Professor Seymour undertook to write an article about it all. Well, it was supposed to be an article, but it got longer and longer, and soon was too long to be an article, though not quite long enough for a book. And then he found another colleague who, whereas most of Seymour’s research had to do with Xinjiang, his colleague was studying prisons in Gansu and Qinghai. In other words, between the two of them, they had northwest China pretty wellcovered.

So then, Professor Seymour wrote a few more chapters about the prison system in China generally. This subject had been poorly understood, because there were just horror stories and, on the other hand, communist propaganda about how wonderful their prison system is--they just take these people, and rehabilitate them, and then return them to society. That's kind of nonsense. At the other extreme, there were people who greatly exaggerated the horrors of the system. The two scholars learned, for one thing, that the system was much smaller then claimed by a number anti-communist zealots.

So, Professor Seymour just went in there and did the really hard research work, and found some enlightening materials. There were some internal publications on the subject at Chinese University of Hong Kong’s thinktank the Universities Service Centre for China Studies. And Professor Seymour interviewed other people, and finally was confident that he understood the size and nature of the system. So in 1998 he published the book New Ghosts, Old Ghosts. The name was taken from a Du Fu (杜甫) poem about Qinghai, which refers to「新鬼,舊鬼」(new ghosts, old ghosts), originating from the sentence,「新鬼煩冤舊鬼哭。」(The complaining lament of new ghosts is accompanied with the weeping of old ghosts.) So, anyway, Professor Seymour just took four characters for the name of the book, "New Ghosts, Old Ghosts."

Professor Seymour thinks that's the academic achievement of which he is most proud.

IX.  Conclusion

Professor Huang added that, anyhow, he would go after that book and, see if he can find someone to review it book in our journal. And he was really appreciative for this interview and the fact that Professor Seymour took time to come to Soochow University and have such a wide-ranging discussion with us.

 

Notes:

[1]  Dr. Seymour’s field is Chinese politics, and his particular interests are human rights, ethnic minorities, labor issues, and the environment. He is the primary author of the book New Ghosts, Old Ghosts: Prisons and Labor Reform Camps, in China (M. E. Sharpe, 1998). Before coming to Columbia University, he had taught at New York University, where he served as chair of the Politics Department in Washington Square College. Publications include the chapter “The Exodus: North Korea’s Out-migration,” in The Future of U.S.- Korean Relations: The Imbalance of Power, edited by John Feffer (Routledge, 2006); an essay in China’s Environment and the Challenge of Sustainable Development, ed. Kristen A. Day (M. E. Sharpe, 2005); and the chapter “Sizing Up China’s Prisons” in Crime, Punishment, and Policing in China by Børge Bakken (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005). CV availableat

from https://reurl.cc/Ezmn9v

[2]  There are eight legally recognized political parties in the People's Republic of China. The largest, the Democratic League, is mainly comprised of middle-level and senior intellectuals in the fields of culture, education, science and technology. As of the end of 2012, the party had a membership of more than 282,000. Of this total, 22.8% were from the field of advanced education, 30.2% were from the field of compulsory education, 17.4% were in science and technology, 5.8% were in art and the press.Retrieved

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Democratic_League.

[3]  Until 2018, Dr. Seymour was an adjunct associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he taught the graduate course “The Development of West China and the New SilkRoad.”

West China is officially defined as Guangxi, Chongqing, Inner Mongolia, and the areas west thereof. This region, most of which only in modern times became part of China, was the subject of his teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. from https://sites.google.com/site/silkroadreadings/home

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