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Yaxue Cao, March 21, 2018
Rights Movement Spread All Over the Country
By 2004, Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang were under constant threat. Fuzhou police told the village deputies that Zhao and Li were criminals, and demanded that the deputies expose the two. The Fujian municipal government also dispatched a special investigation team to the hometowns of Li and Zhao to look into their family backgrounds. A public security official in Fu’an said: “Don’t you worry that Zhao and Li are still on the lam — that’s because it’s not time for their date with the devil just yet. Just wait till that day comes: we’ll grab them, put them in pig traps, and toss them into the ocean to feed the sharks!”
On September 17, 2004, Zhao Yan was arrested by over 20 state security agents while at a Pizza Hut in Shanghai. At that point he had already left the China Reform magazine and was working as a research assistant in the Beijing office of The New York Times. He was accused of leaking state secrets, denied a lawyer for several months, and eventually sentenced to three years on charges of fraud.
On December 14, 2004, Li Baiguang and three lawyers, while on their way to Fu’an to handle a rights defense case that was likely a trap, were hemmed in by police vehicles and arrested. Li was accused of illegally providing legal services, because he did not possess a law license. On the evening of December 21, a dozen police officers from Fu’an broke into Li’s apartment in Beijing, pried open his cabinets, and confiscated his hard drives and documents related to dismissing officials.
Thanks to the efforts of his friend Yu Meisun and a host of liberal intellectuals and journalists, Li Baiguang was released on bail after 37 days in custody. December to January are the coldest months of the year in Fujian, and there was no heating. In a cell with dozens of people, Li Baiguang recalled later, “I wore a suit, and it was cold. As a form of punishment, they told the cell boss to make me bathe in freezing seawater every day. I lost a lot of hair, and lost so much weight that my cheekbones protruded. When I came out my nephew hardly recognized me.”
The removal of officials between 2003 and 2004 was one of the key campaigns that initiated the rights defense movement, and one of the largest-scale rights defense activities in China. Around the same time, rights defense initiatives took place. During the Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) Incident in March 2003, three Peking University law PhDs, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Yu Jiang (俞江) and Teng Biao (腾彪) wrote a letter to the National People’s Congress, demanding that they conduct a constitutional review of the law “Administrative Measures for Assisting Vagrants and Beggars with No Means of Support in Cities” (《城市流浪乞讨人员收容遣送办法》). He Weifang (贺卫方), Xiao Han (萧瀚), He Haibo (何海波), and two other well-known legal scholars demanded that the NPC conduct an investigation into how the ‘administrative measures,’ commonly known as ‘custody and repatriation,’ were actually being implemented. Gao Zhisheng began defending Falun Gong practitioners in court, demanded that the government respect freedom of belief, and called for the torture against practitioners to cease. Numerous other lawyers and legal scholars also began taking up human rights defense cases, bringing them to public consciousness. Other notable cases of the period included the defence of Hebei private entrepreneur Sun Dawu (孙大午), who was accused of ‘illegal fundraising’; the case of injured investors in the Shanbei oil fields; the case of Christian Cai Zhuohua (蔡卓华) who was arrested for printing the Bible; the Southern Metropolis Daily editor and manager Cheng Yizhong (程益中) and Yu Huafeng (喻华峰) who were punished for reporting on the Sun Zhigang case and broke the news of SARS; the ‘Three Servants’ religious case that involved hundreds of believers; the libel case against the authors of the Survey of Chinese Peasants (《中国农民调查》), and other incidents.
In fall of 2003 Xu Zhiyong, Teng Biao, and Zhang Xingshui (张星水) founded the organization Sunshine Constitutionalism (阳光宪政) in Beijing, later changing its name to the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟). Gongmeng, as it’s often known per the Chinese title, became a hub — and incubator — for human rights lawyers and legal activists. They held a meeting nearly every week, and Li Baiguang was one of the regular participants.
In the winter of 2003 there was an upsurge in the participation of independent candidates in People’s Representative elections in Beijing, and a number of these candidates were successful.
Many independent NGOs focused on environmental protection, AIDS control and prevention, women’s rights, and disabled rights, had sprung up in Beijing and other cities. They used the law and advocacy to propagate rights awareness.
Entering 2005, the dismissal of officials in Taishi Village (太石村), Guangdong Province, as well as the Linyi Family Planning Case in Shandong (临沂计生案), became public events involving lawyers, public intellectuals, and citizen activists from around the country.
At the end of 2005, Hong Kong’s Asia Weekly magazine highlighted 14 human rights lawyers and legal scholars, including Li Baiguang, as 2005 People of the Year. It said that “these 14 rights defense lawyers aren’t afraid of power; they wield the constitution as a weapon, harness the power of the internet, and work to defend the rights of the 1.3 billion Chinese people granted in their own constitution, while pushing for the establishment of democracy and rule of law in China.” In the ensuing years, with the exception of one or two, these 14 lawyers and scholars would be arrested, tortured, disappeared, disbarred, or forced into exile. Still, the grassroots rights defense movement they helped to kick off would continue to expand, and gain new energy in the age of social media. We shall not elaborate on that here.
‘Turning into an Ant’
In late July 1999, after publishing Samuel Smiles’ “The Huguenots in France” (issued under the Chinese title “The Power of of Faith” 《信仰的力量》) , Li Baiguang went to a church in the Haidian district of Beijing, bought a copy of the Bible, and began to read it. In January 2005 after he was released from prison, he began attending the Ark Church in Beijing (北京方舟教会) to study the Bible and pray. The Ark Church was a meeting place for many dissidents, rights lawyers, Tiananmen massacre victims, and petitioners — and for this reason the house church suffered regular harassment by the police. On July 30, 2005, Li was baptized in a reservoir in Huairou (怀柔), Beijing. He loudly proclaimed his witness, telling of the several times in his life when he brushed shoulders with death. He spoke of the time that an inner voice told him to stop, as he was considering plunging to his death from a building at university. He told of the catastrophes he escaped in 1998, 2001, and then in 2004. He spoke of the cumulative impact that Samuel Smiles’ books had on him, and, finally, he expressed his gratitude to Jesus.
He began to tremble violently as he read, and only after the baptism was complete and he had sat down a while did it subside.
For Li Baiguang, the freedom of the mind and soul and political freedom are simply two sides of the same coin. In 2000, while translating Smiles, Li wrote an essay titled “The Fountainhead of Modern Freedom is the Freedom of Individual Conscience” (《现代自由的源头是个体的良心自由》). He came to believe that only faith can shape and form conscience, and further, that the emergence of individual conscience is the origin and basis of freedom. This also makes it the source of the courage and motivation to fight for freedom and against despotism. He doesn’t believe that the widespread failure of Chinese to distinguish right and wrong, and the country’s moral decay, can be laid entirely at the feet of the Communist Party’s dictatorship.
In April 2006, in a session of “The Middle Forum” (《中道论坛》) with Fan Yafeng, Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗), and Qiu Feng (秋风), Li said he was tired of liberal intellectuals’ decades-long discussions of grand themes like constitutional governance, reform, and future China. He described his own turning point of involvement in actual, real life rights defense work. Of the eight years between 1997 and 2005, he said, he too spent the first five focused on all sorts of macro abstractions. “Recently I’ve had a realization: I’m willing to become an ant. I want to take the rights and freedoms in the books and, through case after case, bring them into the real world bit by bit. This is my personal stance. The path to this is legal procedure. In summer, the ant gathers food. Today, I’m also transporting food under the framework of rights defense, and in doing so accumulating experience and results for the arrival of the day of constitutional government.”
“According to the principles of political mechanics, it’s impossible to change minds overnight in such a large system. All you can do is loosen the screws one by one and turn the soil over clump by clump,” he said. Li held high hopes in the future of the nascent rights defense movement, and the gradual dismantling of autocracy from the margins. He thought that the rights defense movement would be crucial to China’s future establishment of a constitutional democracy.
This was the first time he proposed the ‘ant’ idea. In the years afterward, this is how he characterized his work and it became very familiar to his friends.
In May 2005, the Midland, Texas-based NGO China Aid, as well as the Institute on Chinese Law & Religion, invited seven Chinese rights lawyers and legal scholars to join a “China Freedom Summit.” Among those invited, Gao Zhisheng, Fan Yafeng, and Zhang Xingshui were blocked from leaving China; Li Baiguang, Wang Yi, Yu Jie, and Guo Feixiong were able to make it to the United States. Li Baiguang delivered a speech at the Hudson Institute titled “The Legal Dimensions of Religious Freedom: Reality and Prospects in China.” It proposed a systematic approach for defending religious freedom according to the law in China, and included the following actions:
- Submit an application to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for constitutional review of laws, regulations and policies related to freedom of religious belief, and demand the annulment of unconstitutional laws that infringe upon religious freedom;
- Apply for religious services for prisoners in detention centres, prisons, and re-education camps in China who believe in God, or have come to believe while in detention, and send the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the above detention facilities;
- Provide relief to Christians whose religious freedom has been infringed upon by agents of the state;
- Provide restitution to Christians who have had their persons or their residences illegally searched by agents of the state;
- Provide restitution to Christians who are being subjected to re-education through forced labor;
- Provide restitution to Christians or Christian organizations who have been punished with large fines;
- Provide restitution for those who have been harmed by the dereliction of duty of state organs.
On May 8, while at the Midland office of China Aid for one week of Bible study, the group learned that they would be granted a meeting with President Bush in the White House. On the morning of May 11, President Bush met with Yu Jie, Wang Yi, Li Baiguang, China Aid director Bob Fu, and Institute on Chinese Law & Religion director Deborah Fikes, in the Yellow Oval Room.
Li Baiguang presented President Bush with a gift — a copy of a proposal to make a documentary titled “American Civilization.” It was exquisitely designed by the artist Meng Huang (孟煌). In 2003, Li and his intellectual friends in Beijing designed together two major documentary projects. One of them was a 30-episode series that would introduce the democratic experience in 30 countries. Another, “American Civilization,” would be a 100-episode documentary series that would provide Chinese people a comprehensive introduction to the establishment of America, including its political life, its judicial system, education system, and religious beliefs. “I want to make it a television special for the education of the public,” Li said. He established the Beijing Qimin Research Center (北京启民研究中心) to push the plans forward, but in the end the two ambitious projects were aborted.
The three Christians from China being received by President Bush was, at the time, a major news story. But for the ten years following, the meeting with the U.S. President was remembered more for a controversy that surrounded it: the so-called “rejecting Guo incident.” This is a reference to the fact that Guo Feixiong was excluded from the meeting, purportedly by Yu Jie and Wang Yi, who argued that the meeting was for Christians only and Guo should not attend because he was not a Christian. Later, Li Baiguang expressed his regret that this had taken place. He told rights defense lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) that if it didn’t occur, along with the enormous acrimony around it, the different groups in Chinese civil society might have been more unified and stronger.
Also during this trip to the U.S., Li was invited by Bob Fu to be China Aid’s legal consultant. When Li returned to China, he said in a 2010 interview, apart from his regular rights defense work, he “traveled across the country to provide legal support to persecuted house churches.” Li partnered with China Aid in this fashion until his death.
During that same period, Li sat the bar, passed, and became a lawyer. In December 2007 he hung his shingle with the Common Trust Law Firm (共信律师事务所) in Weigongcun, near Peking University.
In June 2008, Li and six other Chinese dissidents and rights lawyers were awarded the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award.
Li Baiguang was among the 303 initial signatories of Charter 08. But after that point he gradually retired from the media and public spotlight. “Although the substance of my rights defense work has not changed,” he said in the 2010 interview, “my methods are more low-key and moderate than before. I no longer write articles attacking and castigating the authorities; all I want to do now is actually see implemented the laws that they themselves wrote, and win for victims the rights and freedoms that they should enjoy.”
Over the following years Li, as a lawyer, left his footprints in every Chinese province except Tibet, acting as defense counsel in several hundred cases of persecuted Christians. The cases he was involved in include: the Shanghai Wanbang Church in 2009 (上海万邦教会), petitioning for Uighur church leader Alimjan Yimiti (阿里木江) in 2009, the 2010 Guangzhou Liangren Church case (广州良人教会), the 2010 Shuozhou Church case in Shanxi (山西朔州), the 2012 Pingdingshan Church case in Henan (河南平顶山) , the 2014 Nanle case (南乐), and the Cao Sanqiang (曹三强) case in 2017, among others.
As for the result of defending house churches, Li Baiguang summed it up in 2010 as follows: “If we look at the outcome of the administrative review of every rights case, the judgment has ruled against the church almost without exception. But later, I found a very strange phenomenon: after the conflict dies down, looking back a year later, we find that the local public security and religious bureaus no longer dare storm and raid these house churches, and congregants can meet freely. Using the law as a weapon to defend religious freedom works. Where we’ve fought cases, churches and religious activities in the area have since been little disrupted.”
During the same period, Li also defended numerous dissidents, rights lawyers, activists, petitioners, and peasants entangled in compensation disputes. These include Guo Feixiong’s appeal in 2009, the Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫) case in 2011, the lawsuit filed against the government in 2013 by Wang Xiuying (王秀英) for being sent to re-education through forced labor during the Olympic Games, the defense of lawyers Zhang Kai (张凯) and Liu Peng (刘鹏) in 2015, as well as the defense of 709 lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) in 2015, the mass arrest in Wuxi on April 16, 2016, the commemoration of the June 4 massacre by seven citizens in 2016, the mass arrests in Fuzhou as well as Suzhou during the G20 in 2016, and the defense of lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) in 2017.
While he was engaged in all this, Li also held rights defense training sessions for house churches around China. According to Bob Fu, director of China Aid, over the last roughly ten years, Li has trained several thousands people; the most recent was in January 2018 in Henan — conducted while he was lying on his back after he injured his leg, as church leaders from the local district gathered around to hear him discuss how they should defend their rights according to the law.
Between 2011 and 2013, Li taught in a number of training sessions for “barefoot lawyers” under the aegis of the “Chinese Urgent Action Working Group” (中国维权紧急援助组). In 2016 he also helped with a workshop for independent candidates for People’s Deputies elections. The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group is an NGO founded by the Swede Peter Dahlins, American Michael Caster, and rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang in 2009, offering legal training to rights defense lawyers and funding cases.
Li was extremely dedicated and hardworking, according to Dahlins. He focused on details, followed guidelines, and was always a long term thinker. Dahlins often joked with Michael Caster that Li Baiguang, who had met presidents and prime ministers, dressed and looked like a peasant.
Li also took part, with other human rights lawyers and activists, in trainings on the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms in Geneva under the aegis of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (维权网), an NGO that promotes human rights and rule of law in China.
In around 2009, the 40-year-old Li, who had been single his whole life, married his former college friend Xu Hanmei (徐寒梅). In around 2010 they moved to Jurong (句容), a small city near Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, and settled down in a village called Desadoufu (得撒豆腐村). The name Desa comes from the Hebrew “Tirzah,” a Canaanite town mentioned in the Old Testament; the village, originally known for its stone mills used to grind soybeans for tofu, got its name from a church established by Western missionaries. It’s since become a tourist attraction for its pseudo-classical building complexes meant to recall the past.
Most residents in the town are Christians, Li Baiguang told friends. The community built its own kindergarten and elementary school, vegetable gardens, and sports pitch. “I felt like they built their own little Shangri-La,” Yang Zili said.
The Jianxi Church (涧西教会) that Li was associated with is the largest in the area, with around 200 stable congregants, most of whom were like Li: well-educated, having moved permanently to the village from elsewhere in China. For weekend church service, parishioners and catechumen (gradual converts) came from Zhejiang, Shanghai, Anhui and elsewhere, packing the church to the rafters. For these reasons, the church came to be watched closely by local religious affairs officials.
‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here’
Li Baiguang was not part of any of the public incidents that have been brought to national attention by activists and netizens since 2008. In the mass arrests during the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, Li was not among them. When the New Citizens Movement became active between 2012 and 2013 and activists held regular dinner events, Li did not get involved. He wasn’t even part of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group (人权律师团), founded in 2013. The 709 mass arrests of human rights lawyers didn’t implicate him, though for a while he signed up for being a defense counsel for 709 detainee lawyer Xie Yanyi. Numerous human rights lawyers have been barred from leaving the country; Li, on the other hand, traveled back and forth to America at will from 2006 to 2018.
Even when he was given trouble by police and state security, he did his best not to go public with it.
Per his own assessment in 2010, the authorities were “tolerating me to a much greater degree.” But his state of hypervigilance tells another story. A friend, Zheng Leguo (郑乐国), said that whenever he was with Li Baiguang in public places, Li would quickly scan his eyes over everyone in the vicinity to detect anything out of order. He was extremely careful about what he ate. When they ate at McDonalds, Li chose a table near the door, that way he could see people coming in and going out, and he could also escape at a moment’s notice if need be.
For Li Baiguang, 2017 was a disturbing year.
In January, he traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 15th anniversary of China Aid held at the Library of Congress. It was an invitation only event. During his remarks, Li said that apart from the suppression of civil society and human rights lawyers, attacks against house churches were also getting more severe. “From this point forward, human rights in China will enter its darkest period.” He added that rights defenders in China would use their God-given wisdom and intelligence to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; he also called on the international community and NGOs to do what they could to help. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here,” he said, citing Romans 13.
Li’s remarks were somehow leaked, according to Bob Fu, and reached the Chinese authorities — when Li returned home was treated “with severity.”
On October 17, 2017, a case Li was defending, involving seafood farmers in Wenling, Zhejiang, suing the government for malfeasance, went to trial. In the evening as Li was returning to his hotel, he was abducted by a dozen unidentified men. They took him to a forest and worked him over. They slammed their fists into his head and ordered him to leave the city by 10:00 a.m. the next morning, or else they would decapitate him and cut off his hands and feet. “When he mentioned that kidnapping,” Bob Fu said, “it was the most frightened I had seen him. The incident shook him badly.”
Another case Li took on in 2017 involved the apparent murder of a certain Pastor Han, of Korean ethnicity, in Jilin, northeastern China. Han was a pastor in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement who provided aid to North Korean refugees, and encouraged them to return to North Korea and spread the Gospel. It appeared that he was assassinated by North Korean operatives.
Towards the end of the year, Li met with the Beijing-based AFP journalist Joanna Chiu. After they met in a Starbucks, Li led her out into a small alley, across the street, and into another coffeeshop in order to avoid surveillance. He told Ms. Chiu how he’d been beaten, and also the suspicious death of the pastor.
In early February 2018, Li was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event dedicated to the discussion of religion in public life, attended by thousands, including the U.S. president, policymakers, and religious and business leaders. Bob Fu, in an interview with VOA after Li’s death, said that when Li was in the U.S. from February 5-11, the pastor of Jianxi Church was questioned about the whereabouts of Li and what he was doing in the United States. After he got back to China, he spoke with Fu twice, explaining that he was being investigated, and that danger felt imminent.
At 3:00 a.m. on February 26, 2018, Li Baiguang died in the Nanjing No. 81 PLA Hospital. In response to the widespread shock and suspicion, his family announced that he had died of late-stage liver cancer.
The death of Li Baiguang, like the death of Liu Xiaobo seven months ago, brings with it a momentous sense of ending. The PRC’s neo-totalitarian state grows more complete by the day; the discourse of political reform represented by Charter 08, and the rule-of-law trajectory sought by the rights defense movement, have hit a wall. Neither have room to expand. One by one, little by little, opportunities for further progress have been sealed and nixed. Truly, a ‘new era’ in China has begun.
The night is long; the worst is yet to come. Li Baiguang has died, like Liu Xiaobo, like Yang Tianshui, like Cao Shunli and all those who have fallen in the dark, but they live on; they are sparks of fire in the journey through night.
 They are Xu Zhiyong, Gao Zhisheng, Teng Biao, Pu Zhiqiang, Mo Shaoping, Li Baiguang, Zheng Enchong, Guo Feixiong, Li Heping, Fan Yafeng, Zhang Xingshui, Chen Guangcheng, and Zhu Jiuhu (许志永、高智晟、滕彪、浦志强、莫少平、李柏光、郑恩宠、郭飞雄、郭国汀、李和平、范亚峰、张星水、陈光诚以及朱久虎).
 The Institute on Chinese Law & Religion was registered in Washington, DC. It is now inactive.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
Read it in Chinese 《蚂蚁的力量：纪念李柏光律师》
Hermann Aubié, September 5, 2017
During the eight and a half years that Liu Xiaobo spent in Jinzhou prison, only intermittent attention to both his fate and Liu Xia’s detention kept him from becoming gradually invisible, despite being the world’s only imprisoned Peace Nobel laureate. Now that Liu Xiaobo has passed away of liver cancer on July 13, 2017, there is an even greater danger that what he expressed and stood for will be either poorly remembered or completely forgotten.
In the absence of a comprehensive bibliography of his writings, I compiled this list of Liu Xiaobo’s texts that were found on various Chinese websites, magazines, journals and books that had mostly been published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as part of my dissertation that provides the first comprehensive academic study in English of Liu Xiaobo’s human rights struggle from a socio-historical perspective. In addition to several interviews with foreign media, Liu published eleven books and about one thousand articles covering an impressive range of topics. After translating all the titles of his texts into English, I added brief annotations and footnotes about the general topic of each text when the titles did not provide any obvious indication on their own.
Because only a few translations of Liu Xiaobo’s writings are available in English (in total less than 1% of all his writings), the discussion of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights in Western media and academia has often been limited to a small set of quotes that are not representative of what he stood for as a whole. As a result, there is still a gap of understanding between Chinese and foreign writings on Liu Xiaobo. Hopefully, this bibliography will inspire future researchers to look deeper into his work to improve the public knowledge and understanding of what Liu Xiaobo gave his life for.
A note on the hyperlinks: All the text that is hyperlinked in blue was originally linking up to the text of his articles or translations, but many of them might have changed since then. If the URL is no longer functional, a simple Google search will turn up valid substitutes.
About the author:
Hermann Aubié is a lecturer in sociology and policy at Aston University in Birmingham, England; he completed his PhD at the Centre for East Asian Studies of the University of Turku (Finland) in 2016 with a dissertation titled “Liu Xiaobo’s Struggle for Human rights: A Contextual Analysis from a Historical Perspective” which is forthcoming as a book.
After doing his BA and MA at the University of Western Brittany in France and the University of Glasgow, he spent five years working in China as a teacher, researcher and consultant for the EU-China Civil Society Dialogue.
His research focuses on contemporary politics, human rights, and civil society transformations in China and East Asia, with particular attention on how citizens use the law and media to promote socio-political change, and to redress injustice for individuals/groups who are persecuted and discriminated against.
From Brittany, in Memory of Liu Xiaobo’s Spirit and Voice of Conscience, Hermann Aubié, August 9, 2017
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.
Wang Dan, July 20, 2017
“Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party.”
When I heard that Liu Xiaobo had died, I quickly posted the news on Facebook. So many online friends shared their condolences. One message among them struck me as particularly incisive and worthy of our consideration — this friend said that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei (康有为), and spilled his blood like Tan Sitong (谭嗣同).”
Of course, to say that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei” is not to say that Liu advocated for constitutional monarchy, but rather that his political position and basic viewpoint were actually quite moderate, just as were those of Kang Youwei in his day. Liu Xiaobo never called for revolution, to the point that he maintained “I have no enemies.” But like Tan Sitong, Liu came to a violent end: persecuted to death for the sake of advancing reform. Sometimes, history does repeat itself.
But Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party. No matter how moderate the view, no matter how much goodwill its proponents convey, to the CCP he is an “enemy of the state” and must be eliminated as soon as possible. Within and without the system, from former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) to the dissident Liu Xiaobo, it has always been thus.
What does this tell us? It tells us that all those who abide in the hope that the CCP will initiate political reform, all those who believe that the CCP will move toward democracy once a certain stage of economic development has been reached, all those who wait on the chance that Xi Jinping will turn out to be an enlightened autocrat—are all wrong, naive, even ignorant. Liu Xiaobo’s death has proven this once again.
This point has profound implications as to whether China’s future transition will bode well for its neighbors and for the world. If China’s ruling party is willing to permit moderate opposition, the transition may be smooth and peaceful; but if the CCP cannot even admit moderate opposition like Liu Xiaobo’s, then the only option is to break away from the moderates, and for hatred to accumulate in society.
If the path to reform is cut off, China will be left with opposition between state and society, and the only way out will be bloody revolution. We certainly don’t want this, but once it happens, China will inevitably plunge into chaos, and that internal chaos will impact neighboring countries and the whole world. This is the profound fear that Liu Xiaobo’s death has given us.
No doubt Liu Xiaobo’s horrific end is the result of the CCP’s total lack of humanity. But as New York University Law Professor Jerome Cohen has pointed out, Western countries are increasingly indifferent to human rights in China, so much so that they have nearly abandoned the issue. This conniving and appeasement is also to blame. Liu Xiaobo’s death will reverberate throughout the international community, emboldening the call to reckon with its policy towards the human rights of the Chinese people. The tragic death of a Nobel Peace laureate, we hope, will prompt those parties and politicians who have cozied back up to China to rethink their relationship.
In other words, Liu Xiaobo’s passing could become a turning point in China’s rise: the CCP, which continues to buy global support with the image of rapid economic growth, must bear the burden of Liu Xiaobo’s death for a long time to come. It will deal a blow to that image and an immense setback for the CCP’s arrogance. We will be glad to see this change, but the price we paid for it was Liu Xiaobo’s life. It is a tragedy of our time.
With his life, with his final breath, Liu Xiaobo gave us this truth—the CPP is the new Nazi Party. I hope this will make the world think.
Wang Dan (王丹) is a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, and was one of the most visible student leaders during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and has been teaching in Taiwan until recently.
More articles on the passing of Liu Xiaobo:
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017
It was heartbreaking and depressing recently to watch the community of Chinese activists and dissidents, especially friends of Liu Xiaobo, congregating on WhatsApp and frantically thinking of ways to save him. The appeals and statements, and the calls for signatures from a dozen or so sources, sounded like echoes bouncing off the walls that Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia were trapped behind. For China’s opposition movement, the passing of Liu Xiaobo feels like the climax of a continuous and ruthless campaign of elimination. Now, people are left to pick up the pieces, and they will need time.
I have been pointing out that over the past few years, starting from the now benign-looking crackdown on the New Citizens Movement in 2013, the Party has been carrying out a what I call “targeted elimination” of key activists, dissidents, and intellectuals across the country. In Guangdong, they imprisoned Guo Feixiong, Tang Jingling, and those pesky grassroots street demonstrators. In Wuhan, they put a few key activists in jail; the same was done in Suzhou and Shenzhen. In Xinyu, Jiangxi, they jailed Liu Ping and her small cohort. In Zhengzhou, a nascent, bustling citizen network used to gather frequently — but no more. In Beijing, Xu Zhiyong and key activists in the New Citizens Movement were sentenced, and prominent lawyers such as Pu Zhiqiang, as well as influential intellectuals, have been taken out one way or the other. The Sakharov laureate Hu Jia spent much of the year under house arrest in his Beijing home. Then in 2015, there was the consummate 709 Crackdown that targeted no fewer than 300 human rights lawyers and activists across the country. I can go on with the list, but you get the picture.
Those considered less than “leaders” have been chased around, driven out of their rentals, and subjected to all manner of harassment. Liberal commentators, journalists, and intellectuals have mostly stopped writing, because it has become too dangerous to analyze and reflect on the current conditions and the behavior of the government. Well, even if they write, their writings won’t survive anywhere inside China’s system of omnipresent censorship.
Come to think about it, that this calculated elimination should have come to Liu Xiaobo, China’s Nobel Peace laureate, is only inevitable: how could the Party allow him to walk out of prison in 2020 and instantly become a Mandela or an Aung San Suu Kyi for China’s struggle toward democracy?
With Liu Xiaobo gone, the mood among activists is one of helplessness. I’m surprised how little argument over the statement “I have no enemies” there has been these days, and indeed, how it ceased to be relevant, while Liu Xiaobo lay dying, for it is unbearable, and preposterous, to bring back to mind its central proposal: “to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.” This statement used to be a lightening rod that sparked heated discussion. If Charter 08 represents a vision of China peacefully transitioning to a democracy, few today think it a viable option.
I was certain from the beginning that foreign governments — the United States and Germany in particular — were not going to do enough to make Liu Xiaobo’s last wish come true: “If I were to die, I’d rather die in the West” (as he said, via Liao Yiwu). They don’t care enough; they are absent-minded; they almost always underestimate the evil of the Chinese Communist Party; and they don’t know what it takes to get the upper hand with the CCP.
I find it particularly grievous that Liu Xiaobo’s close friends were denied a last chance to see him and say goodbye, despite their repeated and heartfelt pleas on humanitarian grounds. They’d have a much better chance entreating humanity from a pack of coyotes. Rubbing salt in the wound, plainclothes agents then played the role of “family and friends” at Liu Xiaobo’s memorial service.
Altogether, I feel that dying and being dead in the Party’s filthy hands is so ignominious that Liu Xiaobo would have been more dignified dying alone in a dungeon somewhere.
What is the path forward? What’s going to happen next in the struggle for democracy? The path forward is that there is no path forward. The Party has been working systematically to block that path: The elimination of key activists has been successful, and they are either in prison or have been rendered ineffective. To keep tabs on a few hundred or thousand activists is nothing for the Party. If you run down the list of the first batch of Charter 08 signatories — all 303 of them — and see where they are and what they have been doing now, you get a sense how this core group of Chinese citizens advocating change has been faring.
Meanwhile, the Party has been working overtime to cage in and lock down incipient civil society in China — an aspiration that has grown out of the economic and social transformations since the 1990s — by passing one draconian law after another from late 2014 to the present. This includes the law on the management of foreign NGOs, the National Security Law, the Internet Security Law, the revised Criminal Law, the Charity Law, the Counter-Terrorism Law, the counter-espionage law, and more recently, the draft Intelligence Law.
On July 15, Liu Xiaobo’s ashes were given a sea burial off the coast of Dalian and his widow and relatives had their arms twisted to obey the Party’s orders. Since then, a Chinese phrase, “crush the bones and toss the ashes” (挫骨扬灰), has sprung to the mind of many as the most apt description for the Party’s animus. It means that one is so hated that his bones must be ground up and his ashes cast away. Applying it to Liu Xiaobo, it is at the same time literal and true of the Party’s fear of both the man and what he symbolized.
Liu Xiaobo may not have enemies, but the despots in China know very well who their enemies are.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017
Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017
These actions show that Liu Xiaobo is not only a hardworking dissident author, but also a leader and organizer of political opposition. His superb leadership ability and political acumen allowed him to establish, during the course of the first decade of the 21st century, in a strict authoritarian environment, a movement that inherited the spirit of the Tiananmen democracy movement, an organizational network, and a nationwide opposition platform. In each instance he changed the pessimistic attitude people had toward the political “circumstances,” and helped Chinese citizens stop waiting around and watching from the sidelines, instead inspiring them to actively work for change themselves. — Wu Qiang
The news of Liu Xiaobo’s (刘晓波) terminal liver cancer emerged over the last few days on Chinese social media and in the international press and, remarkably, was met with official confirmation. Amidst the shock and grievance, an open letter by Chinese intellectuals, dissidents, and activists has been published demanding that Liu be released to receive medical treatment. Many are now wondering: How will the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate spend the final days of his life? Will he be able to actually receive the prize from the Norwegian Nobel Committee? Will his life and death alter China’s destiny? In particular, in the crucial period before the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Party Congress this fall, the deterioration of Liu Xiaobo’s health, as well as his status as a political symbol, have become sensitive questions that could play a role in political developments and have potentially explosive implications.
It must, of course, be acknowledged that accurately evaluating Liu Xiaobo’s political contribution and assessing the impact of his death is exceedingly difficult. The influence of Liu Xiaobo on the minds of the majority of the Chinese citizenry isn’t as great as his supporters sometimes imagine. The older generation is likely to have a vague impression of him being maligned by the government after the June 4 massacre as a “black hand behind the scenes,” while younger people are apt to have no idea at all who he is — just as they have no memories of the Tiananmen movement itself.
Even in the world of Chinese political activists, opinions on Liu Xiaobo are polarized, and this has to a large degree also impacted his exposure among the public. The most controversial item is no doubt the last sentence of Liu’s statement, delivered to the court on November 23, 2009 (and later adapted as his Nobel acceptance speech in absentia): “ I Have No Enemies.” A significant number of committed democracy activists in China have for years strongly maintained that this pledge was no less than Liu’s capitulation. They facetiously call him “No Enemy Liu,” and dismiss his path of nonviolent resistance. This, however, is precisely why the Norwegian Nobel Committee thought so highly of him, and it’s likely also the reason that so many Chinese activists are proud of him and see him as China’s own Mandela, Ghandi, Aung San Suu Kyi, or Xanana Gusmão. Though it also led to another view, which was that the civil society in China has no need to call for Liu’s amnesty, as this would simply be an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the sentence against him. This has been a view propagated precisely by the activists who purportedly support Liu.
The result of all this has been that, while Liu Xiaobo spent nearly a long decade in jail, not only was his wife Liu Xia (刘霞) put under house arrest and isolated by the authorities, but the so-called Liu Xiaobo supporters, who supposedly had “no enemies,” created a conceptual rift between Liu Xiaobo and the public. They not only failed to proactively expound on his theories of nonviolent resistance — the failure to do which goes against what Liu stood for in the first place — but in fact ended up playing the role of isolating him, and dampening the awareness of his political contribution among the Chinese citizenry. It must be observed, of course, that this circumstance to some degree reflects the fragmented and chaotic state of opposition politics, and the attenuation of civil society in post-2008 China, when Liu was detained and jailed. For all these reasons, evaluating afresh Liu Xiaobo’s remarkable contribution to Chinese opposition politics, including from the perspective of the Norwegian Nobel Committee when they gave him the prestigious award, will be a profitable exercise.
December 10, 2010, was the two year anniversary since Liu Xiaobo’s involvement in the “Charter 08” movement; it was also the United Nations’ Human Rights Day; and it was the day that the Norwegian Nobel Committee left an empty chair for Liu Xiaobo at the ceremony in which they awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. The award ceremony speech recollected the history of Liu Xiaobo’s activism, from the 1989 Tiananmen student protests to the “Charter 08” movement, and praised him for his commitment to nonviolent activism; on this topic the chairman of the committee quoted Liu’s own words: “The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason.”
This is obviously an entirely appropriate summation and praise of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights — and yet, it still doesn’t fully make clear the special contribution Liu made to promoting resistance in China and political transition over the over 20 years since 1989. Liu is closer to an Aung San Suu Kyi than a Mandela, who at one point embraced armed resistance, or a Gusmao, the leader of East Timor’s resistance movement. Liu’s work far exceeds either the narrow praise or attacks afforded it by his typical supporters and critics. Liu Xiaobo’s contribution and influence has successors among today’s social and political activists. Every year during the June 4 memorial in Hong Kong, the seed that Liu planted can be seen, grown and blooming once again.
Simply put, when he was released from prison the second time in 1999, Liu picked up the pen instead of the sword, quickly becoming an active voice for political dissent. But more importantly, in the short period in which he was free, he was involved in the founding of three movements and organizations that were the embryonic form of China’s political opposition — this is what gives Liu his stature as China’s equivalent to a Mandela-type political figure.
Firstly, in 2000 Liu Xiaobo helped Ding Zilin (丁子霖), Zhang Xianling (张先玲), and others, to initiate the “Tiananmen Mothers” (天安门母亲) movement. By 2004, 15 years after the Tiananmen movement, Tiananmen Mothers had collated a name list of 126 mothers of those killed; on May 16 of that year, 40 Tiananmen Mothers mourned together in a joint ceremony. The significance of this was that it turned what was in 1990 a small-scale group of mothers who were petitioning and writing appeals, into a social movement that enjoyed widespread public support and international currency. Tiananmen Mothers persists to this day, having become something like the Chinese version of Argentina’s “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.” This is just an example of the precious value of the example set by Liu’s nonviolent ideals that encourages more and more mothers and wives of human rights victims to join the struggle — the latest manifestation of which is the group of wives of the “709” human rights lawyers.
Secondly, in 2001, Liu Xiaobo and the exile democrats Bei Ling (贝岭), Meng Lang (孟浪), and others, together established what would become the Independent Chinese PEN Center (独立中文笔会); he also served as its president for two terms. It was an attempt to appeal to the widest possible number of Chinese political dissidents and writers. He turned the Center into a meeting ground for China’s rights defense activists and political dissidents, and planted the seed for China’s opposition movements and online presence.
Thirdly, in 2008, 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated, 30 years after the Xidan Democracy Wall movement, and 10 years after China signed (but did not ratify) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Liu Xiaobo, Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦) and others, in imitation of Czechoslovakia’s “Charter 77” movement, initiated a “Charter 08” for China. The goal was to mobilize, to the maximum extent, China’s forces of political opposition and to initiate a “gradual, peaceful, orderly, and manageable” transition to constitutional governance. Liu Xiaobo was arrested for this, charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.
These actions show that Liu Xiaobo is not only a hardworking dissident author, but also a leader and organizer of political opposition. His superb leadership ability and political acumen allowed him to establish, during the course of the first decade of the 21st century, in a strict authoritarian environment, a movement that inherited the spirit of the Tiananmen democracy movement, an organizational network, and a nationwide opposition platform. In each instance he changed the pessimistic attitude people had toward the political “circumstances,” and helped Chinese citizens stop waiting around and watching from the sidelines, instead inspiring them to actively work for change themselves.
Some of these activities were publicized and learned about abroad, while others were kept quiet, and only those deeply involved knew what really happened. The organizers were as circumspect and low-key as Liu Xiaobo — silently and diligently working away in the post-1989 period of social transformation, advocating gradual transition like Liu Xiaobo. They gradually but steadfastly got past the muddled sense of opposition they felt during the 1989 movement, the vague “self-reflection” they went through in the early 1990s. They bid farewell to the often noisy and chaotic “overseas democracy movement” set off by the Xidan Democracy Wall and followed by large-scale exile after 1989. Instead, they worked to build the framework, in the era of China’s economic takeoff, social transformation and Internet, for a clear and purposeful opposition movement that would have a far-reaching impact on China’s development and the direction of its future political transition. Liu Xiaobo led this transition of China’s political opposition, exactly the way he abruptly left the U. S. as a visiting scholar in the later half of the 1989 student movement to exercise leadership. In both instances, his actions were rooted in mature thinking.
More valuable again was Liu Xiaobo’s continued insistence on non-violent resistance and political opposition, despite being sentenced to 11 years in prison. This is the dual meaning of Liu’s “I have no enemies” statement: persevering in non-violent resistance — rather than adopting a “fight to the death” style — is the only way to preserve space for political opposition in a highly authoritarian state, as well as to preserve the flexibility, possibility, and longevity of the opposition movement. Characteristic of this is Liu Xiaobo’s insistence in court of upholding Article 35 of the Chinese constitution, regarding the rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, organization, marches, and demonstrations. In so doing he turned the criminal accusations against him into a political defense of his own constitutional rights and an examination of the judicial system. This is another important way for political opposition movements in China to engage in lawful struggle.
Apart from being welcomed by the opposition movement itself, this mode of resistance also has a strong appeal to the wider Chinese citizenry, including the burgeoning middle class, whose pursuit of the “good life” and social order it fits in well with. As Walter Benjamin writes in Theological-Political Fragment, the secular order founded in and oriented around the good life is constituted by a value outlook based on love, lenience, humility, dignity, and rationality — it transcends the relationship between the public and the sovereign or its police agents, as well as the ruling structure. This spirit was continued in the “New Citizens Movement” (新公民运动) of Xu Zhiyong (许志永) and others. That movement emphasized “liberty, justice, love” and was an attempt to, through the concept of “transparent, constitutional government” and the demand for “equality in education,” and so on, mobilize a growing urban middle class, and transform them into a new political force.
Thus, precisely in an authoritarian, materialist state full of human rights abuses, Liu Xiaobo’s voice in the courtroom that “I have no enemies,” injected into China’s human rights struggle and political opposition the Buddhist-inspired spirit of compassion of Aung San Suu Kyi, a spiritual power that shows a specially Asian character in its vision of the struggle for human rights and the transition to democracy. This was not only enough to sustain Liu through his imprisonment; it will also become part of his precious moral heritage and political legacy; it will win him wider public support; and it will have a long-lasting influence on the future of political opposition in China.
Dr. Wu Qiang (吴强) holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He is a researcher of social movements and a freelance writer.
Also by Wu Qiang:
Translated from a revised version of this article: https://theinitium.com/article/20170628-opinion-wuqiang-liuxiaobo/