The Spirit of Liu Xiaobo

July 15, 2017

NY Times Editorial Board

How Liu Xiaobo died says a lot about modern China and the fears of modern Chinese leaders. The government in Beijing controls a nuclear weapons arsenal and throws its weight around in international affairs. Yet it was afraid to hear the democratic ideas advocated at great cost by a courageous man of conscience.

In 2009, Mr. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and even after he learned he had liver cancer in May, Chinese authorities refused to let him leave the country for treatment. So one of China’s most famous dissidents died on Thursday under guard in a Chinese hospital at age 61. He was his country’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

As is common in an increasingly repressive China, Mr. Liu was punished not for a crime, but for giving voice to the most basic human yearnings. In 2008, he was a leader in drafting Charter 08, a constitutional reform manifesto that advocated respect for “universal values shared by all humankind,” including human rights, equality, freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The charter endorsed direct elections, judicial independence and an end to Communist Party dominance, and though it was on the internet only briefly before censors pulled it, it garnered 10,000 signatures.

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The government accused Mr. Liu of “inciting subversion of state power,” but in fact the life of this multitalented scholar, writer, poet and social commentator was devoted to peaceful political change. During the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, he staged a hunger strike, then negotiated a peaceful retreat of student demonstrators as thousands of soldiers stood by with rifles.

Mr. Liu was detained many times after that. Yet when Beijing pressed the Norwegian Nobel Committee not to honor him, the committee wisely awarded Mr. Liu the 2010 Peace Prize in recognition of “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

There are reasons to question whether the detention prevented him from being diagnosed early enough and from receiving medical treatment that could have extended his life. On Saturday as he weakened, two Western doctors who were allowed to examine him pronounced Mr. Liu fit to travel overseas for care, but still China refused, seeking to control the man and message until the end.

The authorities also ignored dozens of writers and Nobel laureates who signed petitions calling for Mr. Liu’s release. His final days were spent in a hospital under guard, unable to communicate with the outside world. Meanwhile, authorities filmed him lying still in his bed, then released the footage without his permission for propaganda purposes.

Western leaders, perhaps cowed by President Xi Jinping’s obvious distaste for hectoring on human rights, were unacceptably subdued before Mr. Liu’s death, mostly leaving comments about his case to lower-ranking officials. None were more callow than President Trump, who since taking office has shown little interest in human rights while enthusiastically embracing many authoritarian leaders, including Mr. Xi.

Mr. Trump did not raise Mr. Liu’s case when he met Mr. Xi in Germany last week. And within hours of Mr. Liu’s death, Mr. Trump, asked at a news conference in Paris to give his impression of Mr. Xi, heaped praise on him, calling him a “very good man” who “wants to do what’s right for China.” Some American officials, including Nikki Haley, the Ambassador to the United Nations, hailed Mr. Liu’s contribution, but Mr. Trump’s words in Paris signaled to Beijing that it need not listen. Regardless of Mr. Trump, other world leaders should join human rights groups in insisting that Beijing release Mr. Liu’s wife, the poet Liu Xia, who has been under police surveillance since 2010, and let her move to the country of her choice.

Mr. Liu’s death is soul-crushing for his supporters, and there are no signs China will open the door to political reform anytime soon. Even so, there is reason to work for a different future. More than 34,000 people, most in China, recently signed an open letter demanding Mr. Liu’s freedom. And many more Chinese today than in 1989 or 2008 are carrying out “small but significant peaceful acts of protest to further human rights protections,” Xiaorong Li, the founder of several human rights groups, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article.

It will now be up to Mr. Liu’s admirers to dedicate themselves to his dream of a modern China that embraces “universal values,” which will outlive the ruthless leaders who sought to crush him but never could.

A version of this editorial appears in print on July 14, 2017, on Page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: The Spirit of Liu Xiaobo.

14 thoughts on “The Spirit of Liu Xiaobo

  1. I humbly but sincerely salute the unfortunate passing of Liu Xiaobo who was so committed to his beliefs. I understand that China being a vast country with a wide expanse and a huge and diverse population where, in their justification, the heavy hand of power must be shown to put stability and social order above justice and freedom. Even their laws tend to frame in abstract terms. I really hope the day will come when China’s leaders will handle power with a lot more humaneness than it has hitherto shown.

    Liu Xiaobo was charged with “inciting subversion of state power”, whatever that mean. But he was convicted with strong evidence of his collusion and receiving of funds from foreign nations and “had acted under their instruction”. That he “had acted under the instruction” of foreign nations could be speculative and unfair. But he colluded and received funds from foreign nations are facts that Liu never denied. His organizations the Minzhu Zhongguo (Democratic China) and Independent Chinese PEN Centre had received a total of US$1,844,800 from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which is very much a CIA influenced and receives monies from the US government. To many Liu was a freedom fighter, yet to many he was a traitor.

    The detractors of Liu and apologists for the CCP are, in fact, “Crypto-Hypocrites” as my buddy CLF called them. But those who believe the West is so morally high and mighty, that everything Western is superior, are equally Cryto-Hypocrites. I wonder how many here know or care about the decades-old frame-ups, incarceration and persecution of Native American intellectuals like Leonard Peltier, the black leader Mumia Abu Jamal, etc., in the United States. The law and government in China are imperfect, so as the law and government in the United States are imperfect. The whole damn world is imperfect. That mean we have a lot of work to do.

    • @LaMoy: I have said I was in China. I have said what I have read about my own maternal great grandfather. I have said how humbled I am about how little I know about the minds of those who fought to do something different, but yet failed quite miserably.

      Part of me would agree the benefit of being shielded from those baggage. I was shocked to learn about Nanjing when the book “Rape of Nanjing” came out when I just got into college. I could not understand how my own mother did not share what her mom told her, as her mom barely escaped Nanjing. I thought “Joy Luck Club” was corny then. But, it is an irony when I realized later how my grandma gave birth to my aunt literally the month she arrived in chongqing. My own mom was born in Canton. Her brother was born in Taiwan. All of this only came to my realization when I got to ‘baidu’ my own great-grandfather, and how closely my mom’s family history is about a story of how KMT retreated, and her own grandfather was torn between an ideal and a pragmatic need to survive. Thus, that framed my ceaseless pointless rambling here about a generation of ‘pendatang’ needing to be appreciative of their host country, and build up their host country, so that their host would not become another nation that they got to run away from.

      My parents thought it is good for me to learn enough Chinese just to read and speak the language, but never the need to be fluent in it. In that sense, perhaps, it is even worse than being a ‘banana’?

      While I was in China, I came to meet, talk and work with many of the educated youth (i.e. those after 80s, after 90s, and after 00s) who graduated from top schools. Yet, I could not stop feeling that perhaps these model educated youth too are no different from being a banana like myself. In China, I came to learn about Mao’s separatist movement. But yet, they didn’t. Some expressed empathy to the experience of the youth in ‘Occupy Central’. But, many did not. Most merely suggested that the youth in HK were naive, often expressed in a tone of arrogance.
      //[Mao] even went on to suggest that places with more civilized and advanced culture like Hunan would be justified to go independent if other provinces had become a drag on its development.

      It is a pity today’s educated youth in China would never get to learn about that part of Mao. As such, it is understandable many of them would not understand ‘Liu XiaoBo’. To me, Liu is merely talking about a China (nothing foreign in his ideal) that many ‘banana’ Chinese refused to open their minds to contemplate. Humanity is thus cursed, because one fifth of these Chinese didn’t dare to open up their own cultural inheritance which speaks volume about a different kind of Chinese ideal that was never worked on.

  2. For Crypto-Hypocrites world over, no i’m no fan of CCP. Period. And yes, my ideology, ethics and morality was molded in the Judaeo-Christian and ‘Western’ reformed, free-will-individualistic, liberal world view.

    I make no apologies and do not intend to denigrate my ‘Western’ education nor beliefs. Yes, i am a Banana (cuz i can’t read glyphs nor speak Mandarin fluently) and i believe in Democracy, no matter how fruity it may seem. Would i be an apologist for PRC under CCP? No. ROC? Yup – especially when the parliament descend to fisticuffs!

    No intention of morphing into a Crypto-Fascist, but admit at times, to be sorely tempted at times to be a Crypto-Racist. Then, I remind myself about the hazards of Eugenic or Evolutionary humanism.

    How can i be considered a hypocrite, when i make no apologies to being who i am? Or izzit just because i was born with a yellow skin, with epicanthic folds – yet remain non-reactionary to Universal Human ideals?

    So to whit, the preamble of Charter 08:

    “This year is the 100th year of China’s Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a “modernization” under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.”

    • Excuse me for being exceptionally blunt. A “banana” may have lost touch with the cultural identity of his/her parents but is not ashamed nor hate his/her own race. You sound more like an internalized racist to me.

    • Yup, perhaps i’m a racist – but only to inbred bogan and yahoo rednecks. I tend to flaunt my “Chinese-ness” whenever i’m discriminated against in the ‘West’ or back in Malusia. Shame ya?

      As for your assertion that PRC is the custodian to Chinese Culture, i beg to differ.

      I know for a fact that Mao with his disastrous Great Leap Forwards and Cultural Revolution destroyed the very ‘culture’ you so proudly proclaim. Having destroyed hundreds of thousand of temples, pagodas, churches and mosques, rendered the proletariat bereft of spiritual ‘opium’. Many of the cultural relics which were left behind by Kuomintang were similarly destroyed. Mao also proudly proclaimed that he had ‘buried 46,000 scholars alive – 100 times more than the First Emperor Qin Shi-Huang!’

      The personality cult of Mao is not a culture, except if you’d like to compare it with the Kim Dynasty in N. Korea. Which is why there is a revival of religion – with Buddhism (220-250 million) and Christianity (120-180 million) today – many of whom today, remain persecuted.

      Deng’s PRC utilized Mao’s Mass Mobilization and Autocratic-Totalitarian Communist Party control, while allowing for individualistic Capitalism succeeded for the interim. But can this Hybrid or Mongrel-Schizophrenic system survive the rise of Modernity? The massacre on June 3rd 1989 Tienanmen Square may give us the answer. Unless there is a gradual political change, rest assured Chaos will ensue – and China will implode again.

      The true custodians of Progressive Chinese Culture are the Overseas and the ROC Chinese. How can anyone square Marxism which morphed into Communism, then Maoism – with advancing Chinese culture boggles my mind.

      Pray tell, are you a Fascist with a ‘superior’ culture or just someone who suffers from Maostalgia?
      You are a true Malaysian, not a malusian and certainly not a racist. I am proud to have you as a friend and an intellectual sparring kaki. I think Semper Fi shares that sentiment with me. We have not head from Mr. Bean for a long time.He was upset with me. We have to ask Semper to check him out.–Din Merican

    • “As for your assertion that PRC is the custodian to Chinese Culture, i beg to differ.”

      When did I ever assert that? The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. It shares its etymology with a number of other words related to actively fostering growth. It’s continuing evolving and growing, not something that remain constant.

      I’m certainly not a defender of communism or Maoism. My great grandfather was one of the Kuomintang founders, my grandfather was a Kuomintang leader, my father was a Kuomintang member, and I’m still involved with the Kuomintang activities in San Francisco. And San Francisco is more so than Hong Kong where the Kuomintang Party was born. Being a third generation Chinese-American, though born in Malaya, I’m what you can really call in the American slang a “banana.”

      I may have a great affinity to the ancestral land and its peoples but I’ve never liked its form of government now. Like it or hate it, we cannot deny the fact of the growing power of China today. We in the Bay Area Chapter of the Kuomintang Party see a window of opportunity to change China from within through the almost one million of its foreign students in the US. The funny thing is that I heard from many of these students that the greatest discrimination they have faced comes from the Chinese-American communities here, not from other communities. We want them to go back to China with a good impression of America.

      I remember having read Theodor Lessing’s book Der Judische Selbsthass (The Jewish Self-Hatred) during my college years. He argued that some Jews take over antisemitic points of view from their environment. The term is sometimes used rhetorically for Jews who criticize Israel or Zionism, or who have a lifestyle that differs from orthodox Judaism. Humans internalize rank and class in the form of values, economic and educational status regardless of race. Very simply, people who share the same race but perceive one another as being from different sides of the track, so to speak, will internalize superiority toward one another.

      This is how the term “internalized racism” has come about. Internalized racism is when a group of people subjected to institutionalized racism then internalize those stereotypes. The institutionalized racism that produced these attitudes might be gone, but the individuals themselves now enforces these stereotypes upon themselves.

  3. I have a training center to teach ‘soft-soft’ skills to PRC varsity students, postgrads and businessmen (among others), about the need for empathy and understanding other cultures besides their own. And to remind them of the unadulterated form of a Chinese gentleman (君子), not a 小人 – not that i pretend to be good at it, but i’ve friends who are. So I do, don’t just say.

    We are planning to work with Tsinghua and Xiamen Universities, the latter which has already set up a campus in the outskirts of K.L. The former may set up a business school here sometime later.

    It’s not about the money, but to build up different class of ‘soft but skillful’ entrepreneurs – who don’t see themselves as the Center of the Universe and who respect local sensitivities.

    PRC SOE’s and businesses may expect their foreign owned enterprises to be staffed by locals who are as industrious, diligent and workaholic as themselves. Unfortunately, that is suicidal.

    Perhaps the reason why many Overseas Chinese discriminate against the mainland Chinese may not be ‘internalized racism’ as you put it, but the fact that they are deemed parochial, rude and unpolished.

    We are arguing for the wrong reasons, but unless PRC can come to grips with herself, i am afraid it will go bust – again. The economic figures ain’t so good at the moment. PRC must exceed a 7% GDP growth, otherwise new job creation of 25 million a year will fall far short; and that added to the angst of the 250 million rural to urban migrant workers makes an unstable powder-keg situation.

    The effort to ramp up domestic demand cannot sustain it’s growth and that’s why we have OBOR and other expansionist policies initiatives. Yet there is a massive flow of capital out and cash retained overseas – therefore the recent capital controls which only seem to be working partially. In other words, PRC is at a tipping point – first or second superpower notwithstanding.

    The main worry is that the 9-dash line thingy and N.Korea crisis may prove to be the spark where the ultra-nationalistic youth will demand military intervention, which PRC can ill-afford. At the moment the cyber-war is already ongoing, full-scale and that’s why CCP is trying so hard to maintain cyber sovereignty.

    A collapse of an overstretched PRC ain’t good for anyone.

  4. Look friends, it’s important to see things in a macro perspective. Most times, we become defensive, parochial, inward looking and judgmental just because we are labeled this or that. Din and some of us here have been several times around the ‘block’ and have maintained a cordial relationship because we don’t label each other. We say what we mean, but realize that each has his own set of values.

    I respect but do not revere my ancestry – and shall say what i perceive as morally or ethically lacking. I’m not enamored with PRC One Generation Leap which caused such an environmental disaster, human displacement, lack of worker safety/health, sweatshop enslavement with individual hyper-capitalism, cronyism – in the name of development.

    Liu Xiaobo and many others of our generation understood that what CCP was doing is unsustainable and ultimately untenable – yet all we can do is yodel and beg for a change of the totalitarian mindset. Material wealth and nationalism while not mutually exclusive, needs to be tempered by the laws of natural justice (not retributive or re-distributive justice), conscience and care for the environment. Growth must not be at the expense of ‘Humanity’ and ‘Humility’ – unlike what the Westerners had done in the late 19th-20th century. Mimicry, does no one favors.

    Liberalism comes in three guises – Classical (Capitalist), Social (Socialism and it’s spawn, Communism) and Evolutionary (Fascism, Racism and Eugenics). The best combination would be Classical-Socialist, and never the Evolutionary. The tendency is for most folk to fall into fall into only one of these traps, and many Chinese world over consider themselves to be superior to ‘Barbarians’ and boast of their ‘continuous’ 5 millennia ‘cultural history’ which is absolutely not true.

    What the Chinese have is Thrift, Hard-work, Discipline and Pragmatism – born of their Feudal Peasant environment and roots – not because of Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Mozism etc and certainly not, Communism. PRC today is no different from the previous Dynasties and unless it changes tack. The Chinese cannot break out of it’s vicious cycle of catastrophic collapse and resurgence, except with the help of folk like LaMoy, katasayang, aitze and others who can inculcate respect for the ‘Other’, no matter how ‘alien’. The spirit is willing but the body is not? We can start small.

  5. I’m not an ideologue, never have been. I don’t really care of any isms. There’s an abundant of literature on the ideal state, the dreamland where people live healthy, happy, and wise under a government that’s perfect in its laws and in their application. All writers of utopias, from Plato in The Republic to the psychologist B.F. Skinner in his Walden II, built this world of fantasy according to their individual preferences. All, however, made it clear that the world they describe is nowhere to be found; it was their way of criticizing the world in which they lived and of expounding their own theories. I’ve absolutely no intention to add one more version of all human dream for a perfect world. Nobody knows what the world is going to be in the next generation, we’re on the road to a condition that we do not know in advance, and all we can do is increase our chances of making it a bit better than the one we now have. We’re on the road to a land we never saw; let’s translate into practical rules of behavior the desire we all have for better things.

    My concern is first and foremost the United States, for this is my country and I’ve fought a war for it. This is the country my great grandfather and my grandfather had adopted and where my grandchildren and their children’s children will stay, I presume. Yet, everywhere I go I still hear strangers asking me stuff like: “Oh, your English is so good, I don’t hear any accent… Where are you from?… Are you Chinese?… Tell me something about your people….” I realize I can never escape from my ancestral land and its peoples.

    I truly deplore the present form of government in China. But it’s up to the Chinese peoples to decide what form of government they want or what changes they want to make. The situations are complicated by geopolitics with outside interference. What China will become (or what the US will become) I’ve to be honest to say I’ve absolutely no clue. As I’ve said earlier, all we can do is to do things at the present moment we believe that can increase the chances of making it a bit better than the one we now have. Let’s stop pretending that my assumptions and theories are higher and mightier than yours and they’re all right, and yours are all wrong. Assumptions and theories are all just assumptions and theories. In fact, they are all complementary postulating into the unknown future. And we all live in the present, from moment to moment, reacting to our environment.

    Often things are not what they appear to be. Take the Tienanmen Square Riots. I know most of the credit in helping the students escape go to Hong Kong activists like Szeto Wah (司徒華) and actor and film producer John Shum Kin Fun (岑建勳). I like to believe I’ve played some very important small role. I couldn’t provide much of the financial support at that time but I was contacted by my friends from Hong Kong and contributed in finding accommodations for the students upon their arrival in the US. The regime in China is not made up with all evil communists. Without the secret support of many high and mid-level government officials, it’s pure stupidity and mere idiosyncrasy to believe that the students could escape from China so easily. I now believe the order to crash that students movement came from the top of the Chinese government but the decision to help the students escape also came from some top government officials.

    Getting to know those student leaders kind of disappointed me. I found they are mostly opportunists, especially the ilks of Chai Ling (柴玲) and Orkesh Dolet, commonly known as Wu’erkaixi (吾尔开希). I find most of the Chinese political exiles in the US are great opportunists. With the exception of Donald Trump, I’ve never despised a person more than Wei Jingsheng ( 魏京生), the so-called Father of Democracy in China. I’ve great respect for Liu Xiaobo. At least he stood his ground and died in China. But then why is the western media treating Liu Xiaobo and Zhang Haitao (张海涛) so differently? Is it because Liu was a highly known intellectual activist who could echo western values and Zhang is simply a common folk who sold SIM cards and broadband Internet and a less known activist? Is it because Zhang is not CIA sponsored? Zhang is sentenced more severely of 19 years under the same whatchamacallit than the 11 years of Liu.

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