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May 2, 2018
The following is an essay by Liu Xia’s longtime friend Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) explaining the circumstances of the phone call and providing an excerpt of the call for the first time. — The Editors
‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom to Liu Xia
Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer in exile
On April 30, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. in Germany, I spoke to Liu Xia at her home in Beijing. She said: “Now, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of. If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live. Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me.”
I felt like I’d just been shocked with a jolt of electricity. I told her to wait. I know that the Chinese Ministry of State Security agents that have been holding her under house arrest, since Xiaobo passed away last July and Liu Xia was forcibly taken to Dali in Yunnan for a while, have been promising her, again and again, guaranteeing that she’d be able to leave the country and seek treatment for her deep clinical depression. First they told her to wait until the 19th Party Congress was over; next they told her to wait until the conclusion of the ‘Two Sessions’ in Beijing in March of this year. On April 1, before Liu Xia’s 57th birthday, the German Ambassador called her to convey Chancellor Merkel’s special respects, and invited her to play badminton in Berlin before long.
According to my information, in early April the German Foreign Minister had already made specific arrangements, including as to how they’d not alert the news media, how they’d covertly collect Liu Xia at the airport, and how they’d arrange her treatment and recovery and more. In my own calls with Liu Xia, I sought Liu Xia’s opinions many times, and discussed the matter in meetings and correspondence with good friends Herta Muller, Harry Merkle, Carolin, Silvia, and the international representative of Liu Xia’s photographic art Peter Sillem. We went over every possible detail. Due to Herta Muller’s support, the Literature House in Berlin was willing to provide her an apartment for an interim period. Carolin said she would host a poetry reading for her, while Silvia were going to help her enter a residency program. Peter Sillem had already reached out to hospitals and experts on her behalf.
We’ve all been patiently and quietly waiting.
We’ve all quietly awaited this special patient.
Liu Xia has no criminal record, and according to the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, she has the freedom to travel wherever she wishes.
We’ve been low key about it because after Xiaobo’s death, Liu Xia has been devastated, and the clinical depression she had suffered for years came back worse than ever, driving her to the brink of mental collapse. As long as she is in China, we have no way of looking after her. When Liu Xia told Xiaobo that a special rescue squad in Germany (including the 82-year-old Wolf Biermann and wife) were working to help them, Xiaobo, dying, was moved to tears.
In my April 30 conversation with Liu Xia, I said I’d no long keep it quiet. I will take action, and I will selectively reveal some truth that I have been holding back. I said to her that I would publicize her cries, which was uncontrollable even with her taking large doses of antidepressants, in the evening of April 8, 2018. She said yes.
The following statements were transcribed from audio recordings of our conversation that evening. In the first instance, I called and poured out my concern: I feared that Liu Xia would once again be ‘disappeared.’ I worried that the Chinese government would do the same as they did last year when they announced that Xiaobo and Liu Xia didn’t want to leave the country. Luckily I had her handwriting attesting to the opposite, and remarkably this became the strongest evidence that punctured the lies.
I insisted on Liu Xia writing another application to leave the country, and at first Liu Xia demurred again and again. She then panicked, after that threw the phone down. I waited a little while and called her back, and she cried out in tears:
“The German Embassy knows all about my situation. The whole world knows. So what’s the point of me writing those things again and again?”
“But what you’re facing is very special… the German government has been in discussions about this all along…”
“I don’t have anywhere to send it from. Nor do I have a cell phone nor a computer.”
“OK. That’s OK.”
“You know we don’t have all that stuff, but you still want me to do this and do that…”
“Over here, we…”
“So I’ll write it tomorrow and hand it in tomorrow. You can record it now: I’m so fucking angry that I’m ready to die here…. If I’m dead, it’ll all be done with…. It’s obvious that I don’t have all the ways and means in hand….”
“That foreign ministry spokesperson said that you fully enjoy all the provisions of Chinese law…”
“I know all that. You don’t have to repeat it. I’m not an idiot.”
“OK. Let me tell you about the arrangements: after we get you over here, we’ve got a place called the Literature House where you stay for a while and then apply to join an arts program. At the moment, the responses everywhere are very positive, and everyone agrees that this should be done very quietly….”
I couldn’t go on, because Liu Xia was crying non-stop. The audio recording went for 16 minutes and 30 seconds. I excerpted the first seven minutes, and at about the four minute mark played over it the piano solo “Dona, Dona.” I felt waves of emotion well up inside me. When I turned the music off, I yelled out “Liu Xia!” Her crying abated and she said: “After the German Ambassador called, I started packing. I wasted no time — what more do you want me to do?”
The general meaning of the lyrics is: a calf is being brought to the butchers, a swallow is flitting around above its head. The calf thinks to itself: If only I could turn into a swallow with wings and fly away, how grand it would be. Unfortunately, the calf is not a swallow.
Like her husband Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia had a passion for works related to Holocaust. Liu Xia even said that she felt she’d been a Jewish person in her previous life.
Dona, Dona became a byword for genocide: the millions of Jewish people were the calf after calf, resigned to their fate, being led to the slaughter. Please, people, with Liu Xia, it’s Dona, Dona now, and please allow me to use Liu Xia’s sobbing as its new lyrics……
Dona, Dona, give her freedom.
Dona, Dona, please cry out loudly for her.
Composed in the late Berlin night on April 30, 2018.
我如遭電擊，我說再等等。我知道，長期監管她的國保警察們，自去年7月曉波剛走，劉霞被強制挾持到雲南大理期間，就開始許願，一而再，再而三地許願——保證讓她出國治療深度抑鬱症。先是吩咐等到中共十九大召開之後，接下來是吩咐等到今年3月的人大、政協兩會閉幕之後。在4月1日她57嵗生日前，德國大使還致電給她，轉達了默克爾總理的特別問候，并相約不久後在柏林打羽毛球。據我所知，4月上旬，德國外交部已經作了具體安排，包括如何不驚動新聞界，如何將她從機場接到某一隱蔽地點，安排治病和調養等等。而我自己在通話中，也多次徵求劉霞意見，又多次與好友赫塔▪米勒（Herta.Müller）、哈瑞▪麥克（Harry Merkle）、卡羅琳（Carolin）、西爾維亞（Silvia），以及劉霞藝術攝影的全球代理人彼得▪西冷（Peter Sillem）聚會和通信，事無鉅細地溝通。由於赫塔的張羅，柏林文學之家願意為她提供過渡期公寓，之後，卡羅琳答應為她舉辦一場詩歌朗誦讀會，西爾維亞答應替她聯繫一個在歐洲的入住計劃，而彼得已替她聯絡好相關醫院和專家。
我們低調是因為曉波走了，她深受刺激，多年的抑鬱症再度加重，使之瀕臨崩潰，而她在國內，我們沒法照顧她。劉霞曾告訴垂危的曉波，他倆在德國有我們這個特別救援小組 (其中還包括82嵗的沃爾夫▪比爾曼 Wolf Biermann 夫婦)，曉波的淚水奪眶而出。
By Yang Jianli, July 22, 2017
“The U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them—banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country—and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as ‘Liu Xiaobo Plaza.’”
The world lost a hero when China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, died of liver cancer in Chinese custody on July 13, 2017.
In life as well as in death Liu Xiaobo represents the best of what China can ever be. He possessed a moral authority unimaginable to his persecutors, and his legacy of love, justice, and sacrifice will surely far outlive the deeds of those who persecuted him. His spirit will be an uplifting and unifying force that will inspire more Chinese people to fight to realize his dream—indeed, the common dream of the Chinese people. To the world, he represents the universal values that all democracies embrace, and he stands for the unwavering struggle of unfree people. Liu Xiaobo is a representative of universal ideas that resonate with millions of people all over the world.
Chinese human rights and democracy advocates had all hoped that Liu Xiaobo would one day complete his unjust prison sentence, and then reengage in his passionate quest for human rights and democracy in China, and also perhaps one day be able to savor the fruits of his life’s work. But instead, he is gone. Now, more than ever, it is critical to demand justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death, to lend a helping hand to assist his widow, Liu Xia, and other members of his family, and to fight in every way possible to honor the legacy of his courage and sacrifice.
Many suspect that the Chinese officials intentionally concealed Liu Xiaobo’s illness from him and his family, and intentionally hastened his death by denying him proper care. Liu Xiaobo’s cancer was reportedly diagnosed on May 23 during an emergency hospital visit because of internal bleeding. However, the news of his late-stage cancer did not become known until late June. During this time, his tumor enlarged from 5-6 cm to 11-12 cm. As early as 2010, Liu Xiaobo was suspected of suffering from hepatitis B, but the Chinese authorities never allowed him to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, Liu Xiaobo reportedly had two CT tests in 2016, which likely would have revealed large liver tumors. Medical parole in China is a political, rather than a medical, decision. In Liu Xiaobo’s case it was up to China’s top leaders to decide. What they chose was a thinly disguised death sentence.
Liu Xiaobo had been held incommunicado since December 2008 until he became terminally ill and was eventually allowed a visit by a German and an American doctor following an international outcry. During his entire imprisonment, he was not allowed to discuss current events, nor the persecutions that his wife Liu Xia and her family suffered. When Liu Xiaobo’s worsening condition became public, 154 Nobel laureates, human rights activists around the globe, and a handful of world leaders called for his immediate release and medical treatment overseas. Liu Xiaobo himself also expressed his wish to seek medical treatment abroad and to die in free country. Tragically, the Chinese regime callously disregarded these requests. After persecuting him for so many years, the regime didn’t give a second thought to denying him his final wish.
Without a doubt, the Chinese communist regime is responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. However, the policy of appeasement carried out by democracies towards China’s human rights abuses has made them accomplices to Liu Xiaobo’s slow and stealthy murder. It is a sad and disturbing fact that many leaders of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, have been less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others. If the world continues to acquiesce to China’s aggression against its own people, Liu Xiaobo’s tragedy will be repeated, and the democratic ideal and the security of all free peoples will be in jeopardy.
The tragic death of Liu Xiaobo should give all of us a stronger sense of urgency in helping prisoners of conscience of China. It is a legitimate concern that now we can expect more human rights activists will languish and disappear in Chinese prisons: Wang Bingzhang, Hu Shigen, Zhu Yufu, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jingling, Wu Gan, Guo Feixiong, Liu Xianbin, Chen Wei, Zhang Haitao… the list goes on. If American advocacy for human rights and justice is to mean anything at all, the U.S. government must do more to support these political prisoners and to hold accountable the Chinese government and individuals who so brazenly abuse the fundamental rights of its people.
The U.S. can also do more to help Liu Xiaobo’s family. The Trump administration should make it an urgent priority to help Liu Xia leave China for a country of her choosing. The U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them—banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country—and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”
To fight for the ideals of human rights and democracy, Liu Xiaobo sacrificed his career, his freedom, and now, his life. But we cannot give up on him. We have to seek justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death at the hands of the Chinese regime, and we have to prevent the tragedy that awaits his widow, Liu Xia, if we do not act immediately to help her get out of China, and we have to preserve the legacy of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for a democratic and free China.
Yang Jianli (杨建利) is the President of Initiatives for China, a Washington, D. C.-based NGO devoted to promoting human rights and political change in China.
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.
Liu Xiaobo: Walking the Path of Kang Youwei, Spilling His Blood Like Tan Sitong, Wang Dan, July 20, 2017.
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/
By YANG Jianli, published: March 18, 2014
Michelle Obama will be a terrific goodwill ambassador when she visits China later this month. She will put America’s best foot forward. The Chinese people will watch her appreciate China’s rich culture. They will see her interest in and concern for all segments of its diverse society — especially the youth — just as she has shown here in America.
She and her daughters will experience the stimulating sights and sounds of my homeland, as they walk the Great Wall, gaze out over the Terra Cotta soldiers and visit the Forbidden City. Perhaps, as they view the vastness of Tiananman Square, they will also ponder its tragic history and the looming 25th anniversary of the Massacre there.
I wish them a wonderful trip. At the same time, I find myself considering its potential impact in the context of foreign travels by previous First Ladies. As the Post noted in its recent review of those such trips, each First Lady has focused on her particular priorities, sometimes including human rights. On her China trip, Mrs. Obama reportedly will emphasize education and cultural exchange, rather than potentially more controversial topics
I respect her predilection. Nonetheless, she should remember that even “soft” subjects, such as education, are inextricably linked to politics in China. For example, Dr. Xu Zhiyong and his colleagues in the New Citizen Movement, are already jailed or facing trial simply because they sought education for the millions of children from rural areas now not allowed to enter schools in cities to which their parents have migrated. Ms. Obama could inquire not only about the plight of these children, but also about the persecution of their advocates.
In addition, if it is not too audacious, I would ask her to consider seeking to relieve a desperate situation, whose near hopelessness might also justify an exception to her plan.
Liu Xia, a 53 year old poet and photographer, is seriously ill with a bad heart condition and other chronic ailments. She has been recently hospitalized — not for the first time — because her condition continues to deteriorate, intensified by anxiety and depression over cruel punishment she does not deserve. As a Washington Post editorial observed she:”[H]as been kept under house arrest for five years, although she has not been charged with a crime, and the lawless confinement appears to be taking its toll.”
On top of that, largely cut off from friends and contacts in the community, Mrs. Liu has also witnessed her brother being sentenced to 11 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges, in order to tighten the screws on her.
What has Mrs. Liu done to merit such cruel treatment? She is the devoted wife of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who is now serving an 11 year prison term for co-authoring a call for democratic freedoms in China. When he won the Nobel Peace Price four years ago, the Chinese Government would not allow him to accept the award. (He remains the world’s only imprisoned Peace Prize winner.) Still, the images of his Empty Chair when the award was made in absentia went viral and focused attention on his wife, as well as him. She has remained loyal to her husband and continued to visit him on the few occasions permitted, thereby earning the enmity of an embarrassed regime. For these “offenses” the authorities have put her physical and mental health increasingly at risk. Even the circumspect State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights for 2013 explicitly referred to her torment and its adverse effects on her health.
For Mrs. Liu Xia, unlike Mrs. Obama, being the wife of a Nobel Peace Prize winner has brought pain as well as pride.
Under these compelling circumstances, Mrs. Obama could ask to bring Mrs. Liu Xia back to America for thorough and truly conscientious medical care. But, if that would seem too ‘intrusive” on China’s domestic affairs,” she could, at least, privately urge President Xi Jinping to allow this innocent victim to come here under less-public other arrangements.
Such a humanitarian request by Mrs. Obama would be a teachable moment for her children, and would indeed make their China trip complete.
By YANG Jianli, President, Initiatives for China, former political prisoner of China (2002-2006).
Our Naked Declaration
December 10, 2013
We have come to Sweden to run in the nude, because it was here where Mo Yan, a defender of censorship and a senior Communist cadre, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last year.
With our act, we want to remind this forgetful world that there is a staunch denouncer of censorship, a witness of the Tian’anmen Massacre in 1989, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was sentenced to eleven years in prison for his writings and views, and he is now behind bars in China. His name is Liu Xiaobo.
With our act, we want to remind this forgetful world an outstanding artist named Liu Xia. She has no particular interest in politics, but just because she is the wife of Liu Xiaobo, she has been placed under house arrest since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, 2010.
With our act, we want to remind this forgetful world that, in Beijing, the capital of China, there is an ordinary resident named Liu Hui, a man who is not politically inclined. But because he is the brother of Liu Xiaobo’s wife and he revealed bits of family information to the rest of the world, the Chinese authorities trumped up “financial charges” against him and sentenced him also to eleven years in prison.
With our act, we want to remind this forgetful world that the persecution against Liu Xiaobo and his family is still ongoing and has never relented, and Liu Xia is on the verge of a mental collapse. According to Chinese law, she should not be a prisoner just because her husband is a prisoner. She has to breathe free air to heal her trauma.
We have come here to run in the nude, because while such horrible persecution-by-association has been carried out, the Chinese Communist Party has mobilized its propaganda apparatus, now draped in the award from the Swedish Academy, to challenge the universal values of the human race as never before. Since the winter of 2012, well over a hundred Chinese citizens have become the newest prisoners of conscience and been locked up in jails across China, and 122 Tibetans have self-immolated in one last protest against the Chinese suppression.
In a world all too surreal, Liu Xia cried out, “Both Mo Yan and Liu Xiaobo are Nobel Laureates, why are they treated so differently?”
Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), author, former political prisoner;
Bei Ling (贝岭), poet, former editor of an underground magazine, deported from China in 2000;
Wang Yiliang (王一梁), author, former literary criminal;
Meng Huang (孟煌), artist, who mailed an empty chair to Liu Xiaobo in prison, and doesn’t know the whereabouts of the chair. In 2012 he again mailed an empty chair, this time to the Swedish Academy, hoping that Mo Yan would take the chair back to Liu Xiaobo. He didn’t get his wish;
Wang Juntao (王军涛), scholar, former political prisoner.
(Translation by ChinaChange.org)