|07SHANGHAI277||2007-05-10 02:46:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Consulate Shanghai|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SHANGHAI 000277
1. (C) Summary. During an April 24 visit to the Shanghai Peace
Museum, Poloff received a glimpse of some of the limitations
faced by private citizens interested in politics. The museum
houses a collection of letters and autographs from world leaders
supporting peace and has been treated with suspicion from
government officials, according to the museum's founder Chen
Ren. The museum was also marked for demolition since the
neighborhood in which it was located was scheduled for
redevelopment. Chen was aware that he could only play a limited
role in China and focused his energy on promoting dialogue and
greater appreciation among the Chinese people for peace. End
Letters For Peace
2. (C) On April 24, Poloff visited the Shanghai Peace Museum
and met with its founder Chen Ren. The museum is a private
museum located on the second floor of Chen's house in one of
Shanghai's oldest neighborhoods. The one-room museum contains
116 letters and/or signed autographs from leaders of 72
different countries and organizations including former United
Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Libyan leader Colonel
Moammar al-Ghadafi, and former President George H.W. Bush.
Poloff met Chen during this year's Barnett-Oksenberg Lecture on
March 21, which featured a speech by former Deputy Secretary
Robert Zoellick. Chen was very impressed by Zoellick's speech
and invited Poloff to visit the museum to see how regular people
in China were trying to be "responsible stakeholders."
3. (C) According to Chen, the purpose of the museum was to
show that leaders from around the world, no matter what their
background, all supported peace. He collected the letters and
autographs by writing to world leaders and asking them to
contribute a letter or signed autograph in support of peace.
Most of the letters in the collection were standard thank-you
letters to Chen or signed autographs. However, a few were
rather lengthy statements about the importance of peace. Chen
explained that he began collecting these letters 22 years ago
after he had he received a reply from the U.S. Postal Service to
one of his letters. He felt empowered by the incident and
decided to write to world leaders for their comments on peace.
Letters soon began to pile up and, in 2003, Chen decided to give
up his bedroom and display the collection at his house.
4. Chen added that since few people knew about the museum, he
also held a handful of exhibitions at universities and hotels in
Shanghai and Nanjing to display his collection. Chen also set
up a website (www.peacedialogue.org) dedicated to the museum
which included a history of the museum, scanned photos of some
of the letters, and pictures of prominent visitors such as a
Consul at the Egyptian Consulate, U.S. Consulate officers, and a
Fudan University professor. Chen said that his museum had
received a great deal of coverage in the western press, but was
largely ignored in the local press. (Note: Chen has been
profiled by the South China Morning Post and by the English
language Shanghai Daily. End Note.) Chen acknowledged that
there were few visitors to the museum.
No Place for Peace?
5. (C) According to Chen, the museum's future was very
uncertain. The neighborhood in which the museum was located had
been marked for demolition and Chen had not been able to find a
new location for the museum. Chen, a civil engineer with no
background in international relations or government, said he
pleaded to the local government for assistance but was told that
he should just give up. He said government officials were very
suspicious about the museum and did not understand why an
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ordinary citizen would be interested in such issues. He added
that one official told him to just give up the museum because
citizens should not be involved in promoting peace, this was
something best left to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the
central government. He added that he had also tried several
times to get a letter or picture from someone in the Chinese
government without any success. He was told that Chinese
leaders were too busy to respond. He said it was ironic that
the three major countries not represented at the museum were
Cuba, North Korea, and China.
6. (C) Chen said that although the museum was rather
innocuous, the government still monitored its website and
activities. When pressed, he acknowledged that his role in
promoting peace was rather limited because he could not openly
criticize the government or organize peace rallies like western
NGOs dedicated to promoting peace. In China, all he could do
was to try to educate ordinary citizens about the importance of
peace by displaying his collection and urging more dialogue
between different countries.
Student Views on Peace, Democracy, and NGOs
7. (C) While the peace museum was not very popular with the
local government, it appeared to have attracted some interest
among the local student population. During Poloff's visit to
the museum, she met with seven of the museum's student
volunteers. The students were all undergraduates and attended
local universities including Fudan and Shanghai universities.
It was unclear what the volunteers actually did at the museum.
The students said they were attracted to the museum because they
believed that peace was important and they wanted to get
involved in promoting peace. One of the law majors said that
the biggest obstacle to peace was that many people did not value
peace. She noted that peace meant different things to different
countries and said there should be more cultural exchanges and
dialogue to foster greater understanding between nations.
8. (C) The students also supported the concept of human rights
but noted that every country was different and there were
different definitions of human rights. A student majoring in
communications said that for China, economic rights were more
important. He said that China was not yet ready for democracy
because most people did not understand what democracy meant. He
did not think that it would be possible for there to be
democracy in China until his generation came to power. He said
his generation was more aware of the outside world and was more
open than older generations. All of the students had positive
views about NGOs and said that NGOs played a positive role in
society in alleviating social pressures. They all wanted to
become more involved in NGOs in the future.
9. (C) Chen disagreed with many of the students' views on
democracy and human rights. Interrupting the students, he told
them that there were universal human rights that every country
must respect. China should not ignore civil rights and
concentrate solely on economic development. This led to
corruption and an unequal society. He agreed that China was not
yet ready for democracy, but said that the students should not
just wait for it to happen. It was important that people in
China push the government and try to quicken the pace of
political reform. The students often nodded their heads in
response to Chen and took careful notes. Chen seemed to enjoy
his exchange and noted that he would teach a class on peace at
East China Normal University in the near future.
A Future For The Peace Museum?
10. (C) Chen said he was desperately trying to find a new venue
for the museum and was in contact with several universities.
Chen would like to house the museum in a university where
students would have easy access. He was reluctant to contact
think-tanks and other foundations in Shanghai because many of
these organizations had connections to the government and was
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worried that these organizations would force him to make
changes. He asked Poloff for assistance in contacting
international NGOs and other organizations who would be
interested in providing financial assistance to the museum. He
also requested that Poloff forward a letter to President Bush
asking for his signature and comments on peace. Poloff
forwarded the letter to EAP/CM.
11. (C) In different circumstances, one could imagine Chen
leading peace rallies or engaging in substantive public
discourse. However, this being China, Chen is limited to
collecting and displaying letters and trying to inspire a band
of student followers to promote peace and human rights, and to
work to promote political reform. Even that appears to be too
controversial for the Chinese government.