October 7, 2005An Open Letter to Jerry Yang, Chairman of Yahoo! Inc.
Regarding the Arrest of Shi Tao
My name is Liu Xiaobo. I was born in Changchun, China, in 1955, and am now a freelance writer in Beijing.
I cant address you as the respectful Mr. Yang, because I write this letter for the sake of my friend Shi Tao, who is now in a Chinese prison.
In preparation for writing this letter, I read your resume for the first time and learned that you co-created the Yahoo! Internet navigational guide in April 1994, along with David Filo, and co-founded Yahoo! Inc. in April 1995, which has now developed into a world famous Internet enterprise. In terms of social status you are the rising star of the cyber economy, and in terms of wealth you rank as one of the top magnates of the world.
In China, where wealth has become more important than anything else, you are better known even than in the United States. Though you are an American rather than a Chinese, you have been listed among the entries of highly esteemed Chinese figures (http://www.1619.com.cn/guiren/) and your biography can be found on every major Internet portal in China. The websites that post your photo, some with a sunshiny smile, some of deep meditation and others with a look of overwhelming power, have become top destinations for members of the young generation who are mesmerized by your success, your wealth and your legendary adventures. Recently, the combination of Yahoo! China with Chinas second-largest Internet auctioneer, Alibaba, has become one of the hottest headlines in the Chinese media, and the audience has been amazed to hear that you spent a billion dollars to purchase a 40 percent stake in that company.
But I am not writing this letter to discuss matters of the cyber economy, wealth, investment or the development of Chinas market. I write this letter for the sole purpose of protesting against the disreputable deeds of your company. As you know, Shi Tao, an outstanding Chinese journalist, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, and his arrest and sentence were essentially based on the evidence supplied by your company.
I. Yahoo! is an accomplice in the persecution of Shi Tao
If it were not for the case of Shi Tao, I may have extended my congratulations to you on your successful deal with Alibaba. But now I can only say that this deal is nothing more than a prize given to your company by the CCP for your complicity with their tyrannical deeds.
I believe you know that on September 7, the media rights group Reporters Without Borders reported that your companys Hong Kong branch complied with Chinas State Security police by tracing Shi Taos Internet activity and providing his email account, IP address, and other personal information to them. This information became one of the most important pieces of evidence in the conviction of Mr. Shi . We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now for the first time we found the evidence that Yahoo! reveals the customers personal information to the Chinese police, as is clearly written in Shi Taos verdict, the press freedom organization told the media.
Here, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the investigation of Reporters Without Borders, which offers insight to the whole world, especially the free countries of the West, into two types of ugliness: the ugliness of the CCP, which trades Chinas business profits for the cooperation of foreign enterprises in China in order to maintain its Internet control and to intimidate political dissidents, and the ugliness of Western enterprises, which bow before the communist dictatorship and trade human rights and business ethics for Chinas business opportunities. It is a fact that such famous companies as MSN and Google are complicit with the CCPs Internet suppression, but it is hard to say whether these companies have ever gone so far as to betray their customers, as your company has.
With the combination of these two types of ugliness, the extensive foreign investment in China has failed to advance Chinas freedom of speech, and has instead strengthened the CCPs hand in terms of control over the Internet and the media.
II. The unconvincing self-defense
I learned from the BBC that you attended an Internet conference in Hangzhou, China, on September 10. When you were asked about the issue of Shi Tao, you replied, We dont know what they want that information for, were not told what they look for. If they give us the proper documentation in a court order, we give them things that satisfy local laws.
It is a pity that when you heard the sad story of Shi Tao, your only response was I do not like the outcome of what happens with these things. Then you went on to say, But we have to follow the law.
Your attitude, I should say, is unacceptable. Whats more unbearable is that you only occupy yourself with the consideration of your business development and supposedly the safety of your own personnel. We came to China because there are many opportunities - opportunities of business and of society, you are reported to have said. We must study the interests of the customers, without whom we could never make our business grow. You also said, I shall not put my staff at risk. We have a clear set of rules in dealing with the data of our clients.
To me, what you said is sheer chicanery- chicanery that can convince no one. You are considering your companys business interests more than the safety of your staff.
It is Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) that revealed Shi Taos personal information to the police. But since that company is located in Hong Kong, it has no responsibility to abide by the law of China. Though Hong Kong has been handed over to China, under the principle of one country, two systems, Hong Kong has its own laws, which were handed down from Great Britain. The law of Hong Kong is different from that of China, the former being a measure to safeguard individuals freedom of speech and privacy, while the latter is an embodiment of the will of the Communist Party, a measure to legalize the governments abuse of human rights despite internationally recognized standards. Companies in Hong Kong can entirely ignore the requests of Chinese police by sticking to the laws of Hong Kong.
However, your Hong Kong company betrayed its client and helped throw him into prison. This evil deed cannot be explained in any way but to say it was pandering to the communist dictatorship.
Of course, as a foreign enterprise in China, Yahoo! may consider the restrictions of Chinas specific situation for the sake of its own business. But even so, it cannot give up business ethics and universal moral standards for business profit. The principles of the freedom of speech and personal privacy are written in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and via the UNs International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, these principles have obtained the status of international law. Your country, the United States, was the impetus that led the UN to draw up a series of documents concerning universal human rights.
It is known that the stability of the CCPs political power depends on economic increase, which in turn depends a great deal on foreign investment. So it is impossible for a well-known company like Yahoo! to be punished by China if it refuses to comply with the police. Would Yahoo! lose all of its business profits in China if it were to decline the request of the police? I think the fact is that Yahoo! has the ability and influence to have its share in Chinas market even if it refuses to cooperate with the police, so it is totally untenable that it should actively comply with the police and even betray its own customers.
In my view, what Yahoo! has done is exchange power for money, i.e. to win business profit by engaging in political cooperation with Chinas police. Regardless of the reason for this action, and regardless of what kinds of institutions are involved, once Yahoo! complies with the CCP to deprive human rights, what it does is no longer of a business nature, but of a political nature. It cannot be denied that Chinas Internet control itself is part of its politics, and a despotic politics as well. Therefore, the power for money exchange that takes place between western companies like Yahoo! and the CCP not only damages the interests of customers like Shi Tao, but also damages the principles of equality and transparency, the rules that all enterprises should abide by when engaging in free trade. And it follows that if Yahoo! gains a bigger stake in the Chinese market by betraying the interests of its customers, the money it makes is immoral money, money made from the abuse of human rights. This is patently unfair to other foreign companies that do abide by business ethics.
III. Paradise and hell for two men of the same age
I saw in your resume that you are the same age as Shi Tao, thirty-seven. But there are no other similarities between you.
Born in Taipei in 1968, you moved to the United States at the age of 10 and then entered Stanford University to study electrical engineering. Your business intuition and talents are admirable. While preparing your doctoral thesis, you designed software for Internet searching, and then, in 1995, you co-created the Yahoo! Internet navigational guide with David Filo and co-founded Yahoo! Inc. Your company brings convenience to billions of netizens around the world, including about 100 million Chinese netizens.
Shi Tao, aged 37, is a native of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. He was a famous campus poet and took an active part in the pro-democracy movement in 1989 when he was a student at East China Normal University. The Tiananmen Massacre changed many people, including Shi Tao, and rendered him into a journalist who writes under the guidance of his conscience, a poet who pays attention to the tortured and oppressed and a fighter against the dictatorship.
You are luckier than Shi Tao. You were born into an authoritarian society in Taiwan, but you left for a country of freedom, where you received a first-class education and became the tycoon of the cyber economy. You can live with dignity without worrying about the terror of politics; you can cultivate your talents without being controlled by officials, and you can obtain information and learn facts without worrying about your personal safety.
But Shi Tao has been tortured by the memory of blood. He must face the terror of politics, must fight against the abuse of personal freedom and dignity and must hold to his conscience as a man. In China, where everything is settled behind closed doors, Mr. Shi has no way of identifying what is a state secret and what is not, and moreover, he lacked knowledge about your companys latent business principles.
In this sense, you are living in a paradise of freedom, while Mr. Shi is living in the hell of a dictatorship. But you played an infamous role in helping the CCP throw him in that hell. What you have said to defend yourself indicated that your success and wealth cannot hide your poverty in terms of the integrity of your personality. In comparison with Mr. Shi, your glorious social status is a poor cover for your barren morality, and your swelling wallet is an indicator of your diminished status as a man.
IV. The serious consequences of conspiring with an evil force
Your companys conspiracy with the CCP has led to serious results:
First, you are helping an evil regime to control the free spread of information and the freedom of speech. Ever since the era of Mao, the CCP has tried various means to build a prison of the soul for the Chinese people. After the Tiananmen Massacre, this prison came to the brink of collapse. With the advent of the Internet, the days of this prisons doom are numbered. Aware of this, the CCP spends a great deal of money on building its Golden Shield to enforce its prison of soul. A profitable market has draw many Western companies to China, many of whom, I am sorry to say, have forgotten their business ethics and now bow before the dictator in order to obtain their own share. There are several American companies that have joined the CCPs team to mend the shabby prison of soul. But because of the case of Shi Tao, I have no choice but to consider Yahoo! as the vanguard among the prison menders.
Second, life and human rights are invaluable, beyond the measure of power, money and fame. Over the course of 10 years, from 1995 to 2005, you and your company worked wonders. But Mr. Shi will stay in prison for the same length of time.
You may not know or may never care to know that since 1949, the CCP has ruined millions of lives of excellent talents and innocent ordinary people. Even today, ten years in prison is a serious punishment¨C it wastes the most fruitful time of ones prime years, and may even ruin ones whole life!
V. My indignation at and contempt for Yahoo!
Maybe you never thought that to betray Mr. Shi would lead to such serious consequences, but I must tell you that my indignation at and contempt for you and your company are not a bit less than my indignation at and contempt for the communist regime and authorities in Hunan Province.
Generally speaking, dictatorship makes man dark in mind and freedom gives man a broad and bright mind. Therefore, you should have known more than I do about the principles that a citizens right of speech and right of privacy cannot be violated, that the principles of a state secret and personal privacy cannot be confused, and that in business, the profit of customers and that of the company should be well measured and balanced. However, a man brought up in a country of freedom and a successful man in business like you is so meek before the dark forces and terror, so inclined to choose a darker way of life and so willing to give up morality for money that your company actively abandoned the universal standards of human rights and gratified all requests from the dictators. In this sense, the words you used to defend yourself Their request is lawful and it is equally lawful for us to give them information they asked for¨comprise a double negation of your conscience and intellect.
Profit makes you dull in morality. Did it ever occur to you that it is a shame for you to be considered a traitor to your customer Shi Tao? Profit makes you foolish. Do you really think that to give away information about your customers to the Chinese police is legal according to the law of Hong Kong? Can you specify which article or which item in the current law of Hong Kong has such requirements?
When your conscience is eroded by profit-seeking, your intellect will correspondingly deteriorate. Your company not only brought harm [to] Shi Tao, but also to your own business. Now that this incident has been made a global concern, the whole world will know the infamous deeds of your company, and unfortunately such deeds will also bring harm to the reputation of your country.
On September 18, the New York Times published an article written by the great American writer Tina Rosenberg entitled Building the Great Firewall of China, With Foreign Help, which strongly criticized the Western enterprises which have helped Chinas communist regime deprive the people of their human rights. According to the verdict, said the article, the Yahoo subsidiary that turned in Mr. Shi is in Hong Kong. It has no more obligation to obey Chinas security laws than does Yahoo in Sunnyvale, California.
On the same day, the Washington Post carried an editorial entitled Obeying Orders, which stated Yahoos behavior in China could have real consequences for U.S. foreign policy if, in fact, American companies are helping China become more authoritarian, more hostile and more of an obstacle to U.S. goals of democracy promotion around the world -- then it is time to rethink the rules under which they operate.
On September 20, the International Herald Tribune carried an article by commentator Philip Bowring, entitled Yahoos Mess of Pottage, in which the author stated Yahoos message is that it cares only about money instead of the respect of America as a leading world power. Just following orders is no excuse for unethical behavior, the article goes on to say. It might be a mitigating circumstance, but no more. This is unethical by the standards of Western journalism. Bowring further states that the spreading of this virus of unprincipled greed into the heart of the Internet is deeply disturbing.
These are the type of reports that have flooded the worlds major media publications. Arent you afraid, Mr. Yang, that your company will be sued by your victims and ultimately deserted by your customers? Once Yahoo! is sued in Hong Kong or the United States, its reputation will be increasingly endangered.
I used to be a customer of your company. But after learning about the case of Shi Tao, I no longer use the two e-mail accounts I have with Yahoo!. I also will never use other Internet products provided by your company, and I will call on all netizens with a good conscience to reject your services until you break off your cooperation with the CCPs net police.
The case of Shi Tao is a warning: those who put profit before all else may not have the luck of gaining a profit. Most likely they will lose both profit and credibility.
The case of Shi Tao is also an opportunity: an opportunity for the Western enterprises in China to make a choice whether to help the CCP mend its collapsing prison of soul or to help the Chinese people dig a grave for the totalitarian regime.
(translated by Andrew Yang)