The Cost of Anger
Chinese activist Han Dongfang presents a positive model of labour relations
3 min. read
September 24, 2013

“If you want to change the world – and I do – then you need first to change yourself.” That was the inspiring message given by Chinese labour activist Han Dongfang during a Chapel address at Redeemer on Wednesday, September 23. Dongfang has witnessed, and been the catalyst for, recent positive developments in labor relations in China. He helped set up China’s first independent trade union, the Beijing Autonomous Workers’ Federation (BAWF) in 1989. Arrested in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Han was detained without trial for 22 months. He was expelled to Hong Kong in 1993 where he set up the China Labour Bulletin, an NGO that seeks to defend and promote the rights of workers in China. He was speaking at Redeemer as part of a national speaking tour sponsored by CLAC, the Christian Labour Association of Canada. Besides speaking at Chapel, Dongfang also gave a public lecture on Tuesday evening and spoke to students in classes on Globalization and Chinese History. In each case, Dongfang emphasized that social justice for Chinese workers required fostering in China a culture of mutually respectful bargaining based on the dignity of human beings. Dongfang spoke of being tortured by a government doctor while imprisoned. “Did I hate him (the doctor)?” he asked. “Yes. But I came to realize that my hate had no effect on the doctor. He didn’t care, and the anger was just making my life miserable.” He noted that those who are hated feel defensive, and are afraid to change. And those that hate, that harbor anger, are unable to see certain things. “When I hate, I don’t see hope or opportunity,” he explained. Learning to “Love thy Neighbour” has positively affected his work in labour rights in a very oppressive environment. For example, the China Labour Bulletin promotes “multiple win” scenarios, coaching labour leaders to re-package their cases and position themselves as wanting to benefit companies, government, and workers. “We want to support, represent and train Chinese workers to stand up for fair, legal working conditions in a way that is interest and membership based, rather than politically based.” Dongfang’s experience with what the CLB would term “milestone cases” is that there are steps towards positive change. He doesn’t claim that things are fixed, but he has noticed that the more awareness that there is, the more the government is allowing his organization to step in and participate. “Workers are standing up, government is not taking offence, and respectful practices highlight the fact that workers are not trying to destroy capitalism. They don’t want revolution; they want a multiple winning approach.” Visits such as these are an important part of campus life, both for students and the broader community. “Redeemer’s mission includes offering a curriculum that prepares students to understand and engage current relevant issues facing our world,” David Zietsma, Associate Provost, Curriculum said. “Dongfang’s presence on our campus these last two days provides students opportunities to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the experiences of others in the world affected by issues like globalization.”

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