Written by Bwog Staff
At 17 Lingxi Kong was named one of the Top 10 inventors in Wu Han province. By 20 he was in jail as a Chinese political prisoner. This week Lingxi talked with B&W staffer Brendan Ballou about classical history, the world’s fastest bicycle, and how President Bollinger won his freedom.
You run a website, Pax Sinica. What is it?
Pax Sinica is a newsgroup distributing newsletters about China and articles about humanity subjects for promoting academic performance and intellectual experience in an extended community. I started it because my goal is to promote academic experience and interactive performance in the extended Chinese community. By extended Chinese community I mean my friends, who are interested in the topic of China and the humanities.
What are the general messages about?
They are about China. Current news, insightful news. Almost every article I write my own opinions. You know, we are choked by news but starved by opinion. If you see CNN and read the New York Times you see a lot of facts and many unimportant facts. Most of the facts are irrelevant to creative man. So I send selective insightful articles and I also add my own opinions because, as I said before, I read both Chinese and English articles, so I have the ability to write about them.
I know you have a great interest in Western history. Can you explain why?
My reason to study history is plain: History tells how men have behaved in the past several thousand years. Anyone who has access to that record is in large measure protected against the illusions and disillusionment of his own time. If history is well-written and properly learned, we can know more about nature of man and the trajectory of human civilizations than any other disciplines. Also, history is an art and a philosophy – an art by establishing a meaningful order in the chaos of materials, a philosophy by seeking perspective and enlightenment, in which we try to see the part in the light of the whole. I also gradually equipped two qualities that no historian and philosopher is complete without: understanding and forgiveness.
You’ve also been an inventor for many years, correct?
I developed a great interest in invention since I was fourteen. I have around 40 inventions and twenty of which I applied to patents in China. Some great ideas I chose to keep in mind without applying to patent rights until I have the resources and capacity to develop by myself.
I invented the world’s fastest bike [see picture above]. When you ride this bike, you do both pushing with your legs and lifting with your hands. When you push just with your feet your bike makes an ‘S’. but with this bike there’s symmetry, and you go in a straight line. I invented this when I was 20.
Besides the world’s fastest bike other interesting inventions include (of course not exclusively) a Multi-function Knife, which has more than thirty functions and one hundred usages absolutely surpassing the famous Swiss Knife. (By the way, I use a unique structure fundamentally different from the Swiss Knife; don’t get me wrong by imagining some more pieces attaching to a traditional Swiss Knife.) I also invented the world’s most advanced mechanical lock (invented in the jail after studying lock-picking technique under a famous thief in China), which allows a user to both reprogram the key and the lock body. The lock itself is unable to be picked by any thief, and the key is also made universal, drastically enhances the stability and security, and reduces the cost of each lock.
You were in jail?
I wrote articles about political reform. I was 17. The government considered a harmful person so they quarantined me. They government blocked every opportunity. No job, no college. No anything. I was sent to jail for about 4 months, then house arrest for about 6 months.
The government wanted to jail me for several years but my father managed to contact Voice of America. It’s a radio program broadcasting to suppressed countries. The Voice of America broadcasted my case and the government was afraid so they decided to release me.
After I was released I applied to colleges into colleges in the US. After I was admitted in April 2004, I applied for a passport. It’s your identification card as a Chinese citizen. The government didn’t want to give it to me. Actually they wanted to arrest me again, because in Chinese law if they arrest me then immediately release me, nothing happens to me in China. I can go wherever I want in China, but as I am suspected I cannot get a passport.
So if they arrest me and release me immediately, my freedom is not infringed, but my citizen’s right to have a passport is denied. So when they didn’t give me a passport, my friend, her [father] is a high official in my city. So she heard that they were going to arrest me, so when I heard about that, I just ran away. Then I went hiding in Shang Hai and then some other provinces. So I tried to change my residence from Wu Han to a remote province, Xang Xi province. So if I did that I could apply for a passport in Xang Xi.
They wouldn’t be able to track you?
No they can, so I bribed the officials so they could create a fake person with a real ID. Actually I managed to do that successfully. In the meantime I wrote a letter to Andrew Nathan, a professor at Columbia, and an expert on China. I told him about my situation. He told Bollinger about that, and Bollinger wrote several letters to the highest authorities in China. And when my local government discovered that I had already done that they recoiled. They told me that if I came back they would give me a passport and nothing would happen to me.
So I think maybe because of my own endeavor and Bollinger’s letters co-produced the thing. So when I came back they gave me the passport. So with the passport I applied for a visa, very smoothly.
When I came back to my hometown Wu Han with the visa, the government arrested me again. This time they were not going to put me in jail but they wanted to make a deal with me. They wanted me to be an agent or something, I don’t know. I was very stubborn, I didn’t betray my beliefs at all. The first interrogation lasted 19 hours without stop. Three groups of people kept interrogating me.
Was there a threat of violence?
No, no violence. They just talked to me.
What happened at the end of the 19 hours?
I didn’t compromise at all. Maybe they knew that I wasn’t going to compromise, so they let me go home. They said I should come back to talk to them again the next morning. Otherwise I could not get a plane. So after five days interrogation no compromise was made and eventually I came here.
Do you go home?
When I came to Columbia, I didn’t do anything considered offensive to Chinese officials. I can write editorials, but I’m not doing anything open, because I’m concentrating on my academics.
Most Chinese people are like me. We’re influenced my Taoism and are moderate. I don’t really want to get famous. My inventions were widely reported in China before I went to jail. I had a lot of inventions, and the media loved to cover it.
After I went to jail my name was blacklisted, so no single report about me came from China. The government didn’t allow me to attend invention fairs. After that every single opportunity is blocked. Nowadays, it’s not necessary to put you in jail, the government can just block all your opportunities.
Are you ever going to go back?
After law school I’ll go back to China. China is changing rapidly, I believe the government will either change of fall in several years. So after my law school graduation that’s the time for me to do real things.