Walking to Beijing
Shortly after his postgraduate graduation this year, Lei Chuang started off his walking journey from Shanghai to Beijing for the petition to include Hepatitis B drugs into the national list of essential drugs and reduce the economic burden of HBV sufferers. The journey took 80 days and covered 1552 kilometers. On 13th September 2013, Lei arrived at Beijing and submitted his petition letter to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
There are approximately 130 million Hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers in China, one third of the world’s HBV carrier population. HBV sufferers face severe discrimination especially in employment and education. Lei himself is a HBV carrier. Before this walking journey, he is already well known for his creative activities to fight for equal rights for HBV carriers, for example, a letter a day to invite the Chinese Premiere for dinner (he’s going to send the 1000th letter later in December), and sending 10 kilograms of pears (yali, sounds like ‘pressure’ in Chinese) to a local human resource department to protest HBV checks in employment.
Regarding his latest action of walking to Beijing, Lei explains in one of his recent talks that the act of walking can create pure and friendly connections and, thus, also becomes a positive attempt to change the prevalent fear and mistrust among people in the Chinese society. Before and during the journey, Lei kept close communication with the outside world through Weibo (a popular social media in China), and made it accessible for others to join the journey in a range of ways. Over the 80 days, there were more than 40 volunteers from all over the country, including Lei’s father and a disable friend, who came to walk with Lei for different sections of the journey. Numerous people donated food and money, offered lifts (however, all lifts were kindly rejected), signed on the petition, or just chatted with them. In return, Lei and his companions tried to wave and smile to each passerby, and even shared food with the homeless on their way. However, not every smile attracted equal reaction. For several times, Lei felt threatened by drunkards and suspected robbers. Such dangers can be very common in the complicated situations during the long journey. Lei seems more willing to prove the pure relationship among people by his safe arrival and all the help he got during the process.
Lei intends to extend this interpersonal relationship to the government. He chose to travel in the most strenuous way of walking during the hottest days of the year. In his words, he wanted to ‘touch the hearts’ of the government through arduousness. Lei might be one of the thousands of petitioners (no official statistics) travelling to Beijing. For thousands of years, when Chinese people wanted to express grievance and seek justice, they tended to go directly to higher authorities. In today’s society, there are petition bureaus in different levels of governments. Travelling to Beijing to express grievance to the highest authority, rather than resort to normal legal procedures, is still a strong belief for many Chinese people. However, the petition system itself is a big problem. As the petitioner population has been rapidly increasing since 1990s, governments at various levels attempt different methods to block petitioners on their way to Beijing, including illegal detainment and imprisonment in ‘black jails’. In the desperately worsening situations, some petitioners resort to radical and violent means for expression. Many petitioners might also want to ‘touch the hearts’ of the officials with their grievances, anger and helplessness. However, Lei intended to spread a more positive energy. Arduousness has nothing to do with weakness or vulnerability. Instead, it is a process of accumulating power. Moreover, Lei and his companions often made fun of each other and appreciated the scenic views along the way. They turned the arduousness into a funny and happy journey. In Lei’s words, what he wanted to transmit is the power of happiness.
Although the idea sounds idealized, Lei is firm and tactful. He believes that rational and non-violent actions, no matter how small it is, can change the society and even the government, which is considered to be the most impersonal organization. In fact, the intertwinement of creative performance and tactful strategies to the government runs through his activities. Lei demonstrates the position as an equal interlocutor and collaborator. He always attempts gain a proactive position by tactically utilizing the existing regulations and laws and artistically leaving room for the officials to respond decently. Long before he set off for the walk, Lei posted the petitioning letter online and made it widespread. During the journey, he kept updating the official department he was going visit with detailed information, so that related officials could have sufficient time to prepare for the reception. Therefore, it might not be difficult to understand the positive results he had achieved: he and his father were formally received by related officials at their arrival and even asked for a group photo after the meeting. Two weeks after their petition, Lei was officially confirmed that the related departments was studying his petitioning letter and would investigate the possibilities of improving the system of essential drugs. It might be a specific case, but in Lei’s cases, such ‘specific’ cases were not uncommon.
Lei does not stop at this point. He continues to campaign for the HBV sufferers through running. Earlier this month, Lei and other volunteers participated in the Guangzhou marathon competition. All of them wore straw hats, which Lei and his companions wore during their walk to Beijing, to demonstrate their attitudes against the discrimination of HBV carriers. Besides, he still keeps watch on the government’s further reaction to his petition. He asserts if the government does not take proper measures to improve the HBV drug system, he will keep walking to Beijing to petition next year.
Lei Chuang’s blog: http://blog.sina.com.cn/leichuang1987
Lei Chuang’s Weibo: http://weibo.com/leichuang
Video: Lei Chuang’s talk: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjIzNTI1NDY0.html