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An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’

China Change, October 31, 2018

This is part of China Change’s new interview series that seeks to understand the effort of civil society in bringing change to China over the past 30 years. The interview was conducted in June 2018 by Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, at Professor Xu Youyu’s home in Flushing, New York City. — The Editors

 

Xu Youyu, screenshot photo

Xu Youyu. Photo: China Change.

 

Yaxue Cao (YC): Professor Xu, would you mind first introducing yourself to our readers?

Xu Youyu (XY): My name is Xu Youyu (徐友渔); I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in 1947. I was in the graduating class at the Chengdu No. 1 Secondary School in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution erupted — right when I was enrolling for the national college entrance examination. Later, I got deeply wrapped up in the Cultural Revolution and became a leader of a mass organization, and as a result I gained a great deal of understanding of what it was all about. This has put me at an extraordinary advantage for studying the Cultural Revolution period in my scholarship now. I was one of the first new entrants to university in 1977 when matriculation resumed. But I’d only studied undergraduate for a little over a semester when, unprecedentedly, I was recommended to take the graduate exams. I transferred to the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in 1979 to become a grad student, and worked at CASS from then on until my retirement. During that period, in 1986, I studied at Oxford for a couple of years. I retired in 2008.

YC: You retired in 2008? You were still quite young at that point. What caused you to retire so early?

XY: It was CASS rules that stipulated 60 as the retirement age — and once you reached 60, out you go.

YC: But for a scholar, a thinker, 60s are quite possibly your golden years.

XY: As the definitions go in China, those under 60 are young and middle-aged scholars; the day after you turn 60, you’re a retiree. It’s absurd, but that’s just how it is in China.

YC: Where were you in 1989?

XY: I was in Beijing. During the Tiananmen protest I was on the Square nearly every day. I was near the center of the Square on June 3rd and 4th, close to the Monument, and I saw the entire sequence of events. I stayed there the whole time, until the early hours of the 4th when students were forced to retreat from the southeast corner. I waited at the edge of that corner until all the students had exited, and only then did I go home.

YC: Just like that?

XY: The route home passed through Liubukou (六部口), and the scene there left a peculiar impression on me. As I proceeded, I saw in the distance a tank facing off against a crowd. When the tank rushed toward the crowd, the latter retreated like the tide going out. Then the tank would stop, and the crowd would again roll back like a tide coming in, then the tank would retreat. That’s what greeted my eyes in the distance. Around me, riding on my bicycle, I had to stop, hoist it up, and step across a pile of people lying on the ground. And I thought, “Huh? How could they be sleeping so soundly, right there on the road when it’s so noisy?” This didn’t seem particularly strange at the time, because many people had been out for days and were completely exhausted. But only as I wended my way through them did it hit me: they were dead. This is one of the clearest and most lucid memories in my entire life: in the early morning on June 4, 1989, after the students had all evacuated Tiananmen and I was on my way home, I stepped across a pile of corpses.

YC: Had they been crushed by tanks or gunned down?

XY: They must have been shot. But I don’t think I saw bullet holes. The corpses were clearly in one piece, this I am absolutely sure of.

YC: What of the blood?

XY: I don’t remember seeing much blood either. I just stepped over; I was perturbed in my heart, and panicked. I didn’t stop to examine the bodies, but it was very clear that they were corpses there on the ground, not live people sleeping.

YC: Can you briefly introduce us to your scholarship?

XY: My field of study had been an extremely technical, specialized area, known as the philosophy of language. When I went to Oxford University my adviser, Michael Dummett, was one of the most well-known philosophers of language in England. After I returned from Oxford, the idea was for me to build an academic career in the system, and it would have been smooth sailing from there.

When the Tiananmen Movement occurred, the strongest feeling I had at that time was that Chinese intellectuals were woefully unequipped and unprepared. When the students put forward their demands, what they actually needed was to be mentored by the intellectuals. The authorities did claim that a few intellectuals were ‘black hands’ behind the scenes, but that wasn’t the case. The thing is, intellectuals should have actually been the ‘black hands,’ but no one was, not because none dared, but because none had the wherewithal. After this massive social movement erupted, just what should intellectuals have done? What theoretical guidance may they have proposed? At the time there were none. I know that Yan Jiaqi (严家祺) held a Democracy University on Tiananmen Square, so he lectured there, but it was far, far from enough for the rushing waves and roiling torrents of that movement.

I personally made a self-conscious turn at a time when I was ready to be the academic authority in my generation, I turned away from language philosophy and turned to political philosophy. I felt that the next time a social movement erupted forth in China, when it was time for us to put forward theories and answers, intellectuals couldn’t be like they were on June 4 — doing a few childish and simplistic things. We have to learn from the experience of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Taiwan. We need a huge number of people who understand the law, and understand politics. I knew our shortcomings. For instance, in 1988, a group of Chinese intellectuals submitted a petition to Party Central, calling for the release Wei Jingsheng (魏京生). I drafted the letter, yet I had no concept of China’s constitution or laws, and what I wrote was based completely on my personal feelings. When I thought about it later I felt really embarrassed. So I turned my focus to political philosophy.

I wasn’t the only one who made this change of orientation. The entire intellectual class in China went through a similar shift — because when the historical mission of 1989 was placed on our shoulders, we failed our role. One of China’s most well-known scholars in the 1980s Li Zehou (李泽厚) put particular emphasis on this — he wrote that the most remarkable change in the Chinese intellectual sphere after 1989 was a major orientation toward political philosophy. I knew that humanist philosophy was good, along with the Enlightenment, liberty, equality, etc. But when a social movement of true significance unfolded, what theories should be used to examine Chinese society? This requires specialized knowledge. It’s not something that a humanist scholar who relies on his personal passion and ideals can carry off. I’ve done a great deal of reading in the contemporary Western literature on political philosophy and political theory, and later I had many opportunities to travel outside of China.

Another part of my research agenda is the Cultural Revolution, since I was deeply involved in the movement myself, and I came to my senses and reflected on it early on. In the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, I formed a Cultural Revolution Studies group with friends, focusing on collecting documents. I think this part of my research is also very important. I’ve published quite a bit on this topic.

YC: Do you think that Chinese intellectuals of today can provide the kind of guidance you’ve been referring to?

XY: I think that if there’s another movement like June 4, intellectuals won’t be helpless in responding to it. I think that today China’s intellectuals can contribute a great deal of deep, quality thinking and analysis. But I still don’t think intellectuals are capable of successfully guiding a similar movement, because the reality of China today is just too complex. I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time, but I can’t focus on both theory and practice. If there’s a tectonic transformation in China sometime in the future, just what should be done? I don’t think one can demand the Chinese intellectuals to supply ideas. They can try, but my sense is that Chinese intellectuals cannot provide the kind of guidance and direction.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 1YC: When did you get to know Liu Xiaobo?

XY: I met Liu Xiaobo very late in the piece. Liu Xiaobo sought me out. I knew at the time that Chinese intellectuals were afraid of being in contact with democracy activists, just like people in the Middle Ages were terrified of leprosy. That was the overall attitude. But when Liu Xiaobo got in touch, I thought that if all intellectuals were afraid of having contact with democracy activists then, firstly, intellectuals would be just too pathetic. What are you afraid of? He’s a citizen; he’s not in jail, he’s free to contact anyone he wishes. Each one of us should be forthright and easy-mannered in our associations, and we should help normalize Liu Xiaobo’s social life. So, when Liu Xiaobo reached out to me I knew what was going on; I certainly knew there was some risk involved by associating with him, and the life I had of the quiet scholar in his study would be broken and it would go in a different direction. I also understood clearly that, because the police were monitoring Liu Xiaobo, they would then begin monitoring me too.

YC: What year was that? In one of the essays you wrote, you mentioned 2004, because you’d signed an open letter on the 15 anniversary of Tiananmen. Tell us more about the Liu Xiaobo you know.

XY: To me there are two parts of Liu Xiaobo. In the 1980s, I knew Liu Xiaobo’s thought and scholarship very well — as a scholar myself I have the habit of reading a great deal. Most people know that he’s the “Dark Horse,” but I went and carefully read through his doctoral dissertation. I thought it was truly execrable — a complete disaster. He loved philosophizing, but basically everything philosophical he had to say was mistaken [Laughs]. So I was really quite nonplussed about why he had gained such a grand reputation. And yet, I was completely different to those jealous of him for gaining notoriety so quickly. I saw his strengths early on: Liu Xiaobo’s thought, from beginning to end, I’ve felt, can be summed up simply: it is extraordinarily penetrating and thorough.

Let me tell you why. Objectively speaking, the thinking of Liu Zaifu (刘再复) and Li Zehou was rather modern in China in the 1980s’, and it indeed it helped to educate and enlighten the young people. But my point is that precisely because the level of thought in the entire Chinese public was so poor at that time that Liu Zaifu and Li Zehou were able to be the tutors. And it was Liu Xiaobo who challenged the role of Li Zehou as a spiritual lodestar that really shows his penetrating insight. I think he really got it.

So, before I met Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him was mixed. I simply felt that on the political level I must receive him, and the more the authorities tried to repress him, the more important it was for me to have an open and unhindered association with him. This was a rational consideration, not because I naturally like Liu Xiabo or have some sort of emotional resonance with him. There was none of that. I felt that as a citizen, I simply had to do these things out of my political conviction.

But once I actually got to know Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him changed for the better a great deal, and over the course of a decade it got better and better. I saw for myself Liu Xiaobo’s step-by-step process of bettering himself. He became a modest and humble man, and a man who puts himself in others’ shoes. This was completely different to the impression I had of him in the 1980s, and it’s because he himself went through a profound transformation.

YC: This is interesting. In April I visited Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) in Berlin, and he said the same thing, describing how he went from loathing Liu Xiabo to becoming his best friend.

You just said that there weren’t any intellectuals who could come out and guide China’s political life and social movements. Did Liu Xiaobo strike you as an intellectual who could have done so? What role do you think he had in China’s democracy movement, and how do you evaluate it?

XY: I think that he took on a leading role, but I don’t think it can be said that he was a leader. Let me give an example: Apart from Liu Xiaobo, I am also very close to Chen Ziming (陈子明), and I understand his thinking and also know the many things he did. When it comes to planning and leading actual political movements, I think Chen Ziming was stronger than Liu Xiaobo — much, much stronger. But if we examine a more recent democracy movement such as in the now Czech Republic, then I think what Liu Xiaobo has done is totally comparable to to the role Vaclav Havel played. He doesn’t meet the traditional definition of a revolutionary leader, and I think the days for that are long gone. If he wasn’t deprived of his freedom and persecuted to death, then I think he would have become more and more a mature and skillful leader.

YC: What’s your involvement in Charter 08?

XY: I had nothing to do with the origins of the Charter 08. On November 15, 2008, Liu Xiaobo came to me with a draft and asked me to sign it. I was reluctant initially and he seemed a little shocked. I said that open letters and statements must have a specific focus, and it has to be for something that you must speak out on. I said that you had already done a number of signature campaigns this year, and there would be more next year, and I was afraid that, with such frequency, this sort of initiative would become a meaningless formality. He seemingly hadn’t considered it from that angle.

But he was insistent, and in the end talked me into it. I said I’d consider it. I agreed to sign it when we met again three days later. I thought that the text itself had many defects, and as a scholar of political philosophy and political theory, I proposed many ideas [for how it might be revised], and Liu said he’d go back and talk it over with Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦). He sent back revisions for me to look at, and said that they were adopting basically all my suggestions.

YC: Not all petitions are equal. All the others have passed into oblivion while Charter 08 has entered into history. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in December of 2008; my impression is that you became more active afterwards, speaking out and trying to get him freed.

XY: When Liu Xiaobo was arrested, my first reaction was emotional — I was really furious. It was purely an issue of expression. Also, Charter 08 was very moderate and entirely in conformance with the constitution and laws of the People’s Republic of China. So this really got me: I wanted to speak up for Liu Xiaobo and do things for him. At the same time, I also felt that there were indeed so many things that needed doing, for example, explicating the basic principles of Charter 08 and defending them. That I became more and more active is a direct result of his arrest.

YC: You were part of the campaign to nominate Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Can you please tell us more about that? 

XY: When people first discussed the idea that Liu Xiaobo should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I supported it. I thought that he entirely met the criteria of candidates and accorded with the aims of the Prize. But how to make it happen? Someone said to me half jokingly: you call for it! I gave it some thought, and thought that I was actually in a unique position to do so. From 2001 to 2002 or so I was a visiting scholar in Sweden, not just any visiting scholar but the Olof Palme Visiting Professorship, which is a rather privileged position established not by a university, but the state, and it was named after former prime minister Olof Palme after his assassination. People [in Sweden] look upon this post with high regard, and I started the Palme Professorship with an acceptance speech. I thought this distinction might lend some weight to my nomination of Liu Xiaobo. So I wrote a recommendation letter to the Nobel Committee and set out my reasons. I put a lot of thought in it. I sincerely believed that he should be awarded the Prize, not because he is a Chinese person, or because he’s my friend, or because he fought for democracy and freedom.

I don’t think the role of this letter should be exaggerated. The day he won the prize, journalists from around the world, abroad, and in Beijing, wanted to interview me. I was fully prepared for what I had to say, and I spoke from morning to night the whole day: why they had awarded him the prize, why they should, the significance of it and so on. I had thought all of this through beforehand and was ready for it.

YC: I read that a group of people, yourself included, went to Prague for the Homo Homini prize. What was that?

XY: After Charter 08 was published, a human rights award in Czech Republic called the Homo Homini Award was given to Liu Xiaobo and all the signatories of Charter 08, and it invited some of us for the ceremony. We accepted the Homo Homini award on behalf of Liu Xiaobo and all Charter 08 signatories, and while there we had a lot of direct interaction with Vaclav Havel.

YC: It’s sad: come 2018, Liu Xiaobo is no more, and none of what you did then is possible now — signing Charter 08 and going abroad to receive a human rights award. 

XY: Before Xi Jinping came to power, the persecution was severe, and imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo was one example. Yet on the other hand we had a little bit of room to breathe. The day Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, I was taking interviews all day and I remember part of the day I was walking through a busy shopping street like Wangfujing (王府井), a really bustling part of town, while talking on the phone to foreign journalists. Nobody interfered with me. But that’s inconceivable in China now.

YC: A few years ago you and Hua Ze (华泽) compiled a book titled 《遭遇警察》. It was also published in English as In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China, which includes your own chapter ‘Defiance’ (《抗拒》). It left a very deep impression on me, and from it I understood the life of an intellectual living under the constant surveillance of China’s political police. China Change published the English-language version on our website.

XY: Police in China are unrestrained and shameless. Chinese police permeate into your everyday life. They’re there with you all the time; ubiquitous. They ‘make friends’ with you, go out drinking on the town with you, make jokes, give you a nickname, and so in the end, you get so used to their presence that the figure who was sent to spy on you becomes some kind of ‘friend’ of yours.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 2But I could never get used to it. I hate it. When the police come to visit me I often don’t let them in — but I can’t do that every time. They would force their way in. They can be polite, calling me ‘Teacher Xu,’ but the only reason they dare enter my home is because they’re police. They just come in with or without your permission or invitation because they can. As seemingly respectful and polite as they are, it’s still a humiliation. Every time they came visit me, it was an encroachment and insult on my dignity and personal liberty.

I was forever tortured by such questions. I could never get over it. For me, the basepoint is that I’m a free citizen. The police come, I subject myself to them, but I can’t reconcile with such subjugation.

YC: In May 2014, a dozen or so intellectuals, dissidents and lawyers held a commemoration of June 4 at your home. They included Qin Hui (秦晖) of Tsinghua University, professor Guo Yuhua (郭于华) also of Tsinghua, Hu Shigen (胡石根), and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Five were detained and you were one of them. Was that the first time you were held in a detention center? What was it like for you?

XY: That time was really just risible. I always see myself as a rational and careful person; I guaranteed everyone that it would be safe to hold such a gathering. Five years prior, in 2009, we’d held a similar event, and that time I felt it was extremely dangerous and the fallout would also be severe. Things got quite dramatic; I won’t talk about it all, but in the end it didn’t turn out so bad. So in 2014, I told everyone that there wouldn’t be any problems. I cited Chen Wei (陈卫) and Yu Shiwen (于世文), who in February of that year held a big event marking the death of Zhao Ziyang in Henan, and nothing happened.

YC: Although in July that year the couple was arrested, and Yu Shiwen was locked up until August 2016 — held without trial or sentence for two years before being released.

XY: So in May, 2014 when they arrested us, it was a surprise. In hindsight, things seemed a little off that very morning. The property management people had come to my apartment in the morning to fix something without an appointment; they were there fixing it for half a day but didn’t end up fixing anything. Later on I realized that they were there to watch me. They had been planning it all since the morning; they’d arranged everything, but I had no clue. So later on when the police came to our meeting, I said: “you didn’t come earlier and didn’t come later; you’re here right when I’m busy — what do you want?” They said that I had to come with them. So it happened just like that.

Some people gave the opinion that the arrests were mainly about taking Pu Zhiqiang, and the rest of us were just caught in the net. Some people love such analyses; the more they analyze it, the more esoteric it gets, and they think they’re so full of foresight — like ‘Look, I even know how the state security apparatus works.’ I really take exception to this stuff. What I stick to is one thing: Have I broken the law? Which law have I broken? Do you have evidence? Later when I was in detention center being interrogated, this is what I focused on.

YC: How long were you detained?

XY: Precisely a month, in the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

YC: What was it like for a Chinese philosopher?

XY: I had read so much about Chinese prisons, so I had some idea. For example, when new inmates come in, typically the veterans will bully them. They’ll make a show of strength and domination. They make you do the filthiest and most tiring work, give you the worst place to sleep, or do other things to take advantage of you.

It was early morning when I was sent to the cell, and the prisoners were just waking up. Everyone had their head shaved. It was a terrifying sight to behold. They all looked like bandits, with no clothes waist up, all with an ominous glint in their eyes. As soon as I got in, someone ordered me to squat: Who are you? I thought I’d be beaten up right then. I said that I’m a political prisoner and that I was being detained for commemorating June 4, and that I was a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As soon as I said this the entire atmosphere in the place changed. Their attitude turned around entirely. They were good to me the entire time I was there. There are things that I don’t dare to tell you even now. You wouldn’t believe some of the things if I said them, about how the police told the prisoners to treat me well.

The place they gave me to sleep was the second best to that of the cell boss. I was afforded all the preferential treatment that one could expect in prison — but of course, there wasn’t much of that. Overall, conditions were horrendous, but at least their attitude to me was completely different — all because I said I was a political prisoner and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, because I’d held a memorial for June 4. This was for me a real psychological relief. Those men, locked up for murder or whatever else, are actually very clear on what’s right and what’s wrong in the politics of Chinese society. They truly had a sense of respect towards me.

There was a murderer there who was very nice to me — if he didn’t help me out, I’d be in a sorry state, because when a prisoner was taken in, you had nothing. You have no toothbrush to brush your teeth with, no chopsticks to eat with, you have to buy everything. He gave me all of that. I would have been extremely miserable without them. He was someone who had committed homicide. Who did he kill? He killed the village official who was a corrupt embezzler and bullied everyone in the village.

There were other prisoners who were also quite nice. A young police officer told me privately, while taking me out of cell for this and that purpose, ‘Teacher Xu, I’ve read your books.’ To convince me, he began citing A Variety of Rebellions (《形形色色的造反》) and explaining its place in the history of scholarship on the Cultural Revolution. He knew a lot about it. But the police officer in charge of interrogating me was really bad. He had a female assistant officer and I wasn’t exactly polite with her. We got into an argument during interrogations. She seemed like she wanted to justify herself and said, ‘Oh, Teacher Xu, let me tell you, I’m a PhD graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law.’ As soon as I heard this I really had a fire in my belly and I retorted: ‘Oh, CUPL, I thought it was better, so you are what they produce.’ But later she was very nice to me. There were others who were even nicer. I can’t say how good they were because that would be bad for them. You’d find it hard to believe. Actually they understand exactly what’s going on. I think that most people in the police forces are like that. Of course there are some, like the one who interrogated me, who are just vicious. But other police would criticize him; they said to me that they themselves had already been on the force for years, but he was still young and felt the need to prove himself. This is how they’d talk to me in private, that he wanted to make a name for himself on the force and that’s why he was so fierce.

YC: Hearing you describe things this way, it seems like many people are simply keeping to themselves, living a kind of dual life.

XY: This is a question that can be subject to deep examination; but I’ll put it simply. A regime that does not enjoy popular support, or rather one that completely goes against human nature, can exist in two ways: the first is ideological deception. For instance in the Maoist era, everyone truly felt that Mao Zedong was an angel, truth incarnate. The other means of rule is, an illegitimate regime can use naked violence and power to get its way when the ideological control no longer works. The situation in China today is of this sort. This is something shown in history and contemporary times, in China and around the world. In the ancient past, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang could spark a rebellion and overthrow the [Qin Dynasty] regime, because a soldier and a peasant were about on par in terms of arms. The soldier had a broadsword and a lance; the peasant had a hoe and a sickle — the difference is not huge. In modern society, violent rule is able to rely on a massive gap in coercive power. But ruling by coercion doesn’t give the regime any more stature in the eyes of its subjects.

YC: This year, Xi Jinping announced that he was abolishing the system of term limits for state chairman. He’s also begun implementing and exhibiting some ‘Maoist-revival’ behavior, so some people have said that China is returning to the Cultural Revolution. Thus, in such a modernized, interconnected society, we seem to be in a situation where among China’s 1.3 billion people, Xi Jinping is the only one allowed to have his own thoughts: whatever he likes is correct; whatever he doesn’t like is wrong. At the same time, the regime is doing everything it can to monopolize ideas and thought. There is on the one hand a high level of economic capacity, yet on the other an extreme level of control and suppression. How do you think this country will end up if this new absurdity goes on?

XY: The first thing I want to say is that there’s a huge difference between the society of today and Mao’s time. You can say that during the Maoist era the idea was that Mao was the only one who could think, even though I know through my studies that during that time there were many heresies and folk schools of thought, but overall it can be said that, during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong was one brain controlling 800 million Chinese people. Nowadays, that is absolutely not the case. We could say now that of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, at least half have their own minds. The regime allows only one voice [in the public sphere], but there is no way they can control what people think. This is a fundamental change. These days the regime uses naked violence to force people to conform — this differs from ignorant people truly believing something. So from this perspective, the times have changed, and there is no going back to the Maoist era.

But unfortunately we must face one cruel reality: the use of naked violence to rule, though it has no moral value, can be maintained for a long period of time. I don’t think this situation in China will change anytime soon. I’ve prepared for the absolute worst, based on what I’ve lived through. From what we’ve spoken today, we can see one thing, which is that China doesn’t have a ‘worst’ period, it only has ‘worse’ periods. I’m very pessimistic.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the Cultural Revolution — though I also reflected on it very deeply afterwards. I wondered why the Cultural Revolution happened, and from there wondered why the Chinese communist revolution took place in China and why it is that the CCP was able to seize power. I feel that I thought it through deeply and thoroughly, and began to understand just truly how sinister and cruel the Chinese Communist Party is. I think that I see these things a little more thoroughly than most. I especially appreciated the thoroughness of Liu Xiaobo’s thinking, and I also consider myself a thorough thinker. As for how evil the Communist Party can be, I’ve had the time to psychologically prepare — this is what sets me apart from others. Everyone now thinks that things are the worst they can possibly get, and they can’t bear it — but when you look back and understand the Party’s own operating principles and guiding ideology, and especially its own history, I think the most evil things it may do are already within my expectations.

I don’t think that the fascist forces and tendencies in China have reached their extreme yet. The worst is yet to come. Under such circumstances, hoping for any kind of rapid change is impractical. As someone who loves thought and theorizing, the mission I gave myself is to tell the world just how this tragedy came to pass. There are no obstacles to the rise of fascism in China. I want to explain how it happened and why it happened and is still happening. These are the questions I’m observing and thinking over at present.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 3YC: After Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 14, 2010, you and 109 Chinese liberal intellectuals, dissidents, rights lawyers, and rights defenders published a statement. Your name was first on the list. The first sentence of the statement reads: “In contemporary society, peace and human rights are inseparable.  The deprivation and trampling upon life takes place not only on the battlefield, but also in the workings of the tyranny and the Draconian laws inside a country.” Come 2018, Liu Xiaobo died in prison for more than a year, the repression in China is such that it would no longer be possible to find 109 firm voices to sign a letter like that. In the China of 2018, the violent deprivation and trampling upon life is even more vile, even more unrestrained. And yet China’s influence on the world stage has become ever greater. It’s truly distressing to behold. What would you say to our readers?

XY: Peace doesn’t depend merely on the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization distributing grain and cereals around the world — though of course this is very important; and it isn’t just about healing people who are ill and injured. The enterprise of promoting peace is not simply tender-hearted charity work — such an understanding of peace is far from sufficient. A country that is ruled by a tyrannical dictatorship that uses naked violence to mobilize the power of the state to ravage human life and destroy human freedom — this is a matter more worthy of attention than sickness and hunger. I hope that the international community pays more attention to the values that Liu Xiaobo fought and sacrificed for. An important component of peace is that we must stand up and fight against evil forces that take humankind as their enemy. It’s an extremely salient issue, and it’s something that people with ambivalent values find uncomfortable, and that they wish to avoid. But this cannot be avoided. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the enterprise of peace. I think that the use of the instruments of the state to, in an organized way, on a large scale, violate the principles of peace and violate human rights, is far more damaging than the natural and man-made disasters that happen, or the inter-ethnic conflict that breaks out. This is a task that we cannot avoid shouldering.

 

 


Related:

Defiance, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 13, 2014.

Intellectual Discourses in Post-Mao China and Today, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 24, 2014

The Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later: How It Echoes Today, Xu Youyu, Foreign Affairs, May 15, 2016.

 


Xu Youyu’s work in Chinese:

《“哥白尼式”的革命》,上海三聯出版社,1994年,获1995年金岳霖学术奖。
《羅素》,香港中華書局,1994年
《精神生成語言》,四川人民出版社,1997年
《形形色色的造反》,香港中文大學出版社,1999年
《告別20世紀》,山東教育出版社,1999年
《驀然回首》,河南人民出版社,1999年
《自由的言說》,長春出版社,1999年
《直面歷史》,中國文聯出版社,2000年
《人文立場》,中國青年出版社,2008年
《重读自由主义及其他》,河南大學出版社,2008年

 


Xu Youyu’s essays in Chinese:

http://www.aisixiang.com/thinktank/xuyouyu.html

 

 

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Acceptance Speech for the 2018 Annual Disturbing the Peace Literary Prize for a Courageous Writer at Risk

Liao Yiwu, September 27, 2018, New York City

 

IMG_3777

Photo: China Change.

 

I thank the award committee for conferring this honor upon me. The award is named for Vaclav Havel’s first work, his autobiography Disturbing the Peace. When translated into Chinese, however, the title of this work means about the same as “provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事). During the existence of the Czechoslovak communist regime, and under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), many dissidents have been sentenced for these “crimes”.

When the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 occurred, I wrote and recorded my poem “Massacre” (《大屠殺》). As the final line goes, “Faced with this unprecedented slaughter, the only survivors are the sons of bitches.” For this “disturbance of the peace” I got four years in prison, where I tried to kill myself twice. Instead of dying, I started writing as a witness, and I have not stopped since. Ten years ago, my work The Corpse Walker (《吆尸人》), which was translated by Huang Wen (黃文), again disturbed the peace.

In 2011, I bribed a triad organization to smuggle me to Vietnam. My sole aim in escaping China was to be able to publish the autobiography that I wrote in prison. I have spent the last seven years in Germany as a political asylee. I still don’t know much German, but Fischer has published eight of my books in the German language. My next book to be published in German next year will be Mr. Wang, the Man In Front of the Tanks (《王先生,挡在坦克前面的那个人》), and in it, there will be an essay titled Liu Xiaobo: The Final Days (《刘晓波的最后时刻》). It is about his persistence and our failure.

At the moment, Liu Xia (刘霞) and I are here, but her late husband Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) and Havel have gone to a faraway place. They have finally met each other in Heaven. Two Charters, drafted by two honest men. A few days ago, before we came to New York, Liu Xia and I travelled to Prague to visit Vaclav’s younger brother Ivan. I wonder, are we still “disturbing the peace”?

I have been disturbed as well. The day after Liu Xia arrived in Germany in July, China sentenced another dissident, Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) of Hubei Province, to 13 years in prison. He has been in jail twice and is  65 years old now. Not long ago, it was reported that in my hometown of Chengdu, Sichuan, Huang Qi (黃琦), a 55-year-old dissident who founded the “64tianwang.com” [a site dedicated to documenting social injustice], suffered from kidney failure in prison and is on the verge of death. His 80-year-old mother published his will, and pleaded that “Huang Qi is not guilty”.

Havel once had a round of debates with writer Milan Kundera about protests, politics, prison, and forgetting. What meaning is there to it all? Will Qin Yongmin and Huang Qi walk out of prison alive? And if they don’t, who will record their stories? It’s not something I can do, because unlike Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo, I don’t know enough about them or the things they have experienced.

Besides, I’ve recorded so much, but has it changed anything? New crimes are committed and simply bury the old ones.

Still, I have to keep writing.

Before I stepped onto the stage to accept my award, I found Ms. Albright and Mr. Kissinger, two former U.S. Secretaries of State, in the audience. You still have influence in China. I hope you will pay attention to the aforementioned Qin Yongmin and Huang Qi, and put pressure on the Chinese government for their release.

(Note: As a friend of Vaclav Havel, Ms. Albright accepted the Czechoslovakian Democratic Transition Commemorative Award from the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation. In her acceptance address, she expressed congratulations to Liao Yiwu for receiving the award and said, in acknowledging his request, that when she visits China, she will definitely place a request with top CCP leaders to release the two political prisoners.)

 

 


擾亂安定——無懼危難作家奬

答謝辭

廖亦武,2018年9月27日, 纽约

 

謝謝評委會授予我這個獎,它以哈維爾先生首部英文自傳“擾亂安定”命名,譯成中文就成了“尋釁滋事”,在捷克共產黨和中國共產黨統治時期,有不少異議分子都以“擾亂安定罪”或“尋釁滋事罪”被判刑入獄。

1989年天安門大屠殺發生,我寫作并朗讀《大屠殺》,結尾句是:“在這場史無前例的屠殺中只有狗崽子才能倖存!”——我“擾亂安定”,因此坐牢四年,自殺未遂兩次,卻在獄中開始一個見證人的寫作,并持續到現在——10年前那本由黃文英譯的《吆屍人》,再次擾亂安定。

2011年我買通黑社會,輾轉越南逃出中國,只為出版我的監獄自傳。我當德國政治難民已7年,還不太會德語,卻在菲舍爾出版了8本德文書,我明年的德文書是《王先生,擋在坦克前面的那個人》,其中有《劉曉波的最後時刻》,記錄了劉曉波的堅持和我們的失敗。

眼下劉霞和我在這兒,而劉曉波和哈維爾都遠走高飛,他們終於在天上見面,兩個老實人,起草了兩部憲章,而前幾天,我們去布拉格拜訪了瓦茨拉夫的弟弟伊萬……我們還在擾亂安定嗎……

我也被擾亂。我想起劉霞抵德次日,湖北另一異議分子秦永敏被重判13年,他已坐牢兩次,如今65嵗;而不久前,在我家鄉四川成都,創辦“六四天網”的55嵗的異議分子黃琦,在獄中腎衰竭,瀕臨死亡,黃琦80多歲的媽媽在網上公開了兒子的遺囑,并一再吶喊“黃琦無罪”。

哈維爾與昆德拉有過一場辯論,關於呼籲、政治、牢獄和遺忘——這一切有意義嗎?秦永敏和黃琦能活著走出監獄嗎?倘若不能,誰能記錄他們?我不能,因為我不能像瞭解劉曉波和劉霞這樣,瞭解他們的所經歷的種種。況且我記錄得夠多了,改變了什麽?新的罪行總是掩蓋舊的罪行……

可還得寫下去。

在登臺領獎之前,我發現奧爾佈賴特和基辛格,兩位前國務卿在場。你們對中國的影響力依舊存在。我希望您們關注我上面提到的秦永敏和黃琦,向中國政府提出釋放他們。

 

(註:作為哈維爾的朋友,奧爾佈賴特隨後也接受了哈維爾圖書基金會頒發的捷克斯洛伐克民主轉型紀念獎,她在答謝中對廖亦武獲獎表示由衷的祝賀,并說如果訪問中國,一定向中共高層提出釋放兩位政治犯。)

 

 


Related:

Links to vhlf:

https://www.vhlf.org/news/vaclav-havel-library-foundation-announces-liao-yiwu-as-the-2018-winner-disturbing-the-peace-award-for-a-courageous-writer-at-risk/

https://www.vhlf.org/

The Corpse Walker https://archive.org/stream/B-001-000-369/B-001-000-369_djvu.txt

 


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cropped-China-Change-Logo.jpg

At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

 

Global Announcement of the Memorial on the First Anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing

Gethsemane Church, Berlin, June 26, 2018

 

Liu Xiaobo_memorial_the spiritual fighter (The Geistkämpfer (spiritual fighter) by Ernst Barlach.)

The Geistkämpfer (spiritual fighter) by Ernst Barlach. Source: online photo.

 

 

Upon the first anniversary of the death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, a public memorial will be held in the Gethsemane Church (at Stargarder Str. 77, 10437) in Berlin, on July 13, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. On this day last year, China’s most famous political prisoner perished in custody, under tight surveillance and official control, in a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. Two days later the world saw his ashes scattered in the Yellow Sea.

The Gethsemane Church in Berlin is as renowned as the Nikolai Church in Leipzig — both of which were important refuges for East German dissidents. A few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gethsemane sternly rejected the entry of a police-military manhunt, and provided asylum to over a thousand underground rebels. The church is also well-known for hosting Rolf Reuter’s (music director of Komische Oper company) conducting of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, followed by his speech with the lines that “The Wall Must Go!”, which shocked the East. On the evening of October 9, 1989, when the church’s late service finished, protesters walked outside still holding their candles and stood in the streets by their tens of thousands — a prelude to the collapse of the Communist Party of Germany.

We thus feel that the Gethsemane Church — sacred ground for human rights and democracy — is the ideal location for a memorial and prayer service for a man who fought till his death for those very values. The church sounds an alarm for a world upon the cusp of transformation: the Berlin Wall has been rubble for 29 years, but the economically powerful Chinese dictatorship continues to imprison over a billion members of the human race behind its own ‘Berlin Wall,’ which it keeps expanding. The 10,000 or more victims of the Tiananmen slaughter have received no restitution, and China’s Gulag Archipelago is distributed and hidden in untold corners of the country, in which new dissidents are arrested and imprisoned every day. In another time and another place, Liu Xiaobo would have been an East German — one full of bravery who scaled and pushed over the Berlin Wall, and died riddled with bullets for it.

The organizer of the memorial is the German pastor Roland Kühne, long associated with human rights causes. Rallied to action by the plight of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kühne has from 2010 to this day led hundreds of vocational college students to hold protests outside the Chinese embassy in Germany. Last year they carried aloft a coffin as part of the demonstration. Another organizer, Tienchi Martin-Liao (廖天琪), is the chief editor of Liu’s works in Chinese, German, and English; she also serves as president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, and is a longtime ‘comrade-in-arms’ with Kühne.

Kühne and Martin-Liao will preside over the memorial service. Opening the event will be the 82-year-old Berlin Wall-era poet, singer, and Georg Büchner Prize Laureate, Wolf Biermann, a household name in Germany. Biermann ‘defected’ from East Berlin in 1976, then held a famous concert, attended by over 10,000, in the Cologne Sporthalle. His 1974 ‘In China hinter der Mauer’ (In China Behind the Wall) infuriated the Communist Party of Germany, and he was eventually expatriated by the Party.

Biermann has since last year also been tireless in his efforts to help get Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia out of China. To this end, he’ll be singing ‘A Dirge to Jürgen Fuchs.’ Memories of Fuchs, a dear friend of Biermann who was secretly arrested in 1976, were the first thing to flood to Biermann’s mind on the day that Liu died. Fuchs was locked up in the Volkseigener Betrieb (VEB) People’s Prison, where he was irradiated with gamma rays on a daily basis by intelligence operatives posing as doctors. He silently fell ill and died of leukemia, becoming a famous case of radiation poisoning. Biermann sees Liu Xiaobo as a similar warrior belonging to all mankind, one who fell into the hands of the enemy in the battle for freedom, yet kept resisting until the end.

Herta Müller, one of Germany’s most famous poets and herself a Nobel Laureate in literature, will read in German poems composed by Liu Xia, which Müller translated from English. Müller was one of the key nominators of Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her literary works — including The Hunger Angel (Atemschaukel), Nadirs (Niederungen), and My Homeland Was an Appleseed (Mein Vaterland war ein Apfelkern) — all depict the daily experiences and struggles of life under communist dictatorship. Müller has long taken a close interest in China’s political prisoners and exiles, and has been a key figure involved in the attempts to rescue Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, from last year to this day.

Exile Chinese author and musician Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), an old friend to Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia and winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, will be joining with the young German violinist Fabian Lukas Voigtschild to perform the new work ‘Liu Xiaobo’s Last Moments’ (《劉曉波的最後時刻》). The inspiration for the work came from a phrase spoken by Liu Xia in an August 31, 2017 telephone conversation with Liao: “He [Liu Xiaobo] told me I had to get out of the country.… In the end he stopped speaking — he just kicked his leg to show what he meant. His legs kept moving, almost like he was walking, non-stop, for over an hour, both legs walking non-stop… without cease, without cease…”

American author and Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson will give a speech on the day. Johnson is a long-time resident of Beijing and has interviewed numerous dissidents as a correspondent for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Review of Books. He is a well-known author of long-form journalism, as shown by the influential works “Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China,” and “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.”

Pastor Kühne will lead all attendees in a section-by-section reading of Proverbs 31:8 (“Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. / Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”) A film review of Liu Xiaobo’s life will also be screened, as well as the April 30, 2018, phone call recording with Liu Xia, in which she cried, for three minutes, in despair. The female singer Isabell, who bears a striking resemblance to a 1960s-era Joan Baez, will perform ‘Donna, Donna,’ closely accompanied by a choir of several hundred students from the Rhein-Maas-College (Rhein-Maas Berufskolleg). The performance will slowly lead into a joint chorus by the entire body of memorial participants, who will sing together to call for Liu Xia’s freedom.

We invite every recipient of this invitation to come and participate in this memorial — no matter where you are in the world, whatever your political views, or the color of your skin or content of your beliefs. Please, all keep in mind this pacifist and author of the statement ‘I Have No Enemies’ (《我沒有敵人》). Following the massacre of 1989, Liu Xiaobo was jailed four times and in the end died a caged prisoner. His wife, Liu Xia, has been held under long-term house arrest simply because of her love for him, and has been unable to leave the country and seek treatment for her severe clinical depression.

If you cannot join us, please spread this invitation and the song ‘Donna, Donna’, make your own appeals to governments, or pray.

 

Gethsemane Church, Berlin, Germany

Organizing Committee for the Memorial on the First Anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing

June 26, 2018

 

 

 


 

德國柏林 Gethsemane 教堂

2010年諾貝爾和平獎獲得者劉曉波遠行一周年追憶會

全球文告

 

2018年7月13日傍晚18點,在德國柏林 Gethsemane 教堂 (Stargarder Str. 77, 10437 Berlin) 將舉行2010年諾貝爾和平獎獲得者劉曉波遠行一周年追憶會。去年這一日,作為中國最著名的政治犯,他殆於嚴密監控中的遼寧瀋陽一家醫院,兩天之後,通過官方直播,全世界目睹了他的骨灰被沉入中國內海。

柏林Gethsemane 教堂與萊比錫 Nikolai 教堂齊名,是前東德兩大異議人士聚會場所,就在柏林牆倒塌前幾天,還嚴詞拒絕軍警搜捕,為上千名地下反抗者提供庇護,享有盛譽的 Rolf Reuter曾在這兒指揮演出貝多芬第九交响樂,并發表“拆除柏林墙”的演講,赢得陣陣歡呼,震撼全東德。1989年10月9日傍晚,Gethsemane 教堂的祈禱禮拜结束,反抗者們手持蠟燭走出來,在街頭聚集數萬民眾,成為共產黨政權垮臺的前奏。

我們認為在 Gethsemane 教堂這樣一個人權和民主的紀念聖地,舉行一個為人權和民主奮鬥至死的偉大人物的追憶祈禱,意蘊深遠。這是轉折關口的全球警鐘:柏林牆已倒塌29年,可在經濟騰飛的獨裁中國,禁錮十幾億人類的“柏林牆”依舊挺立,并蜿蜒擴張,上萬名天安門大屠殺死難者得不到撫卹,古拉格群島分布在数不清的角落,每天都有異議人士被捕。作為歷史和現實寫照,劉曉波倒下了,超越時間和時代,他也是一個東德人,一個為翻越和推倒“柏林牆”而中彈倒下的東德人。

這次追憶會組織者 Roland Kühne,是德國著名人權牧師,受“獄中諾貝爾和平獎得主”的事跡感召,2010至今,年年帶領數百名職業高校學生,到中國駐德國使館門前集會抗議,去年還進行了擡棺遊行示威。而另一名組織者廖天琪,是劉曉波著作中、德、英文的主要編輯和獨立中文筆會會長,也是Roland Kühne 的“長期戰友”。

追憶會由Roland Kühne 和廖天琪主持。開場 Wolf Biermann (沃爾夫 比爾曼), 82歲,柏林牆時代家喻戶曉的詩人和歌手,畢希納文學獎獲得者。1976年從東柏林“叛逃”,在科隆體育館舉辦萬人演唱會,一曲《長城內的中國》令東德共產黨震怒,登報開除了他的“國籍”。比爾曼也是從去年至今的營救劉曉波、劉霞行動的不懈參與者。此次他將演唱《给Jürgen Fuchs 的輓歌》。在劉曉波遠行當天,比爾曼想起1976年被秘密逮捕的Jürgen Fuchs, 他的好兄弟,被投進東德VEB人民监狱,整日被冒充醫生的特務們用伽瑪綫籠罩輻射,悄無聲息地種下病根, 最後死於血癌,成為此類放射受害者的典型案例。比爾曼認為劉曉波也是這樣一位屬於全人類的“在爭取自由之戰中孤陷重敵卻堅持抵抗”的勇士。

Herta Müller將朗讀自己從英文轉譯的劉霞詩作, 她是諾貝爾文學獎獲得者,也是諾貝爾和平獎獲得者劉曉波的主要推薦人之一。其文學作品《呼吸鞦韆》《低地》《我的祖國是一粒蘋果籽》都與共產黨獨裁下的個人經歷密切相關。Müller 女士長期關注中國政治犯和流亡者,也是從去年至今的營救劉曉波、劉霞行動的主要參與者。

流亡作家和樂手廖亦武,劉曉波和劉霞的多年故交,德國書業和平獎獲得者,此次將和德國年輕的小提琴演奏家Fabian Lukas Voigtschild (法比安)合作,演奏新創曲目《劉曉波的最後時刻》。这个曲目的靈感來自劉霞在2017年8月31日下午的一段講述:“他讓我一定要出去……最後他不說了,就用腿演示。腿不停的,好像在走路,不停的,一個多小時,兩條腿不停地走……不停的,不停的……”

美國普利策奬獲得者 Ian Johnson (張彥) 將受邀發表演講,Ian Johnson 長期駐北京,採訪過眾多異議人士,是《紐約時報》《華爾街日報》《紐約書評》的特約記者,也是這個時代出色的報道文學作家,代表作《野草-底層中國的緩慢革命》、《中國的靈魂-毛澤東時代後宗教的歸來》,影響極其深遠。

Roland Kühne 牧師將帶領大家,分段進行 Wachet nud Betet–Tu deinen Mund auf für die Stummen und für die Sache aller die verlassen sind (守望與祈禱—為那些被禁言者和被遺棄者發聲吧)。追憶會還將播出劉曉波生平影片,以及劉霞在2018年4月30日的電話錄音,當她對友人的絕望哭訴延續至三分多鐘時,一位酷似1960年代人權歌手 Joan Baez 的女孩 Isabell 將懷抱吉他領唱Donna Donna,由 Rhein-Maas Berufskolleg(萊茵-馬斯職業高校)幾百名學生組成的合唱團緊緊跟隨,逐漸擴散為追憶會全體參與者的合唱,以此為劉霞的自由呼籲。

我們邀請讀到這個《全球文告》的所有人參加這個追憶會,不管您身在何處,不管持有何種政治理念,不管是何種膚色和信仰,請記住這個公開宣稱“我沒有敵人”的和平主義者。1989年的天安門大屠殺之後,他四次入獄,最後死於囚籠。他的妻子劉霞僅僅因為愛情,也被長期軟禁,無法出國治療深度抑鬱症。

如果您因故不能參與,請傳播這個文告,請傳唱《Donna Donna》,請在任何時候,任何地方,呼籲或祈禱。

 

德國柏林Gethsemane教堂                       

劉曉波遠行一周年追憶會籌備小組 

2018626

 

 

 

 

‘Love Is a Serious Crime, a Life Sentence’ – Liu Xia Audio on May 25, 2018

A continued call on behalf of Liu Xia (China Change Exclusive)

Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer in exile, June 1, 2018

 

 

 

 

Dear friends, I am hereby once again publicizing a portion of a conversation with Liu Xia (劉霞), this time on May 25, 2018. The recording runs 21 minutes; I have excerpted the final 8 minutes. Liu Xia said: “Loving Liu Xiaobo is a crime, for which I’ve received a life sentence.”

This is enough to make one burn with rage. Since when did love become a crime? When Xi Jinping’s father was labeled an anti-CCP element and jailed by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution, his mother didn’t abandon him, and nor did she get locked up for years like Liu Xia has.

In January 2014, by which point Liu Xia had been cut off from the world for more than three years, I was finally able to reach her from Germany by telephone at her home in Beijing. As soon as I spoke her name, she began to sob, and she went on sobbing for 20 minutes. I didn’t know what to say. She hung up. I called back, it was the same — she’d almost become speechless.

In the blink of an eye more years have elapsed — the torment of it impossible to put in a few words. In the end, it came to this: Xiaobo was murdered under the cover of ‘bail on medical grounds.’ The couple were able to see each other in the prison-like hospital ward for less than a month. Every day, there were people in and out the ward, over 100 times in all, ‘rescuing’ Xiaobo while sealing him off from the outside world.

Xiaobo desperately wanted Liu Xia to leave China, and even dreamt of accompanying her and Liu Hui, Liu Xia’s brother, to Germany in the little time left in his life. After he died, the Chinese police said to Liu Xia many times that as long as she cooperated with them, they’d let her leave the country to seek treatment.

Liu Xia handwritten note

Liu Xia’s handwritten note dated April 9, 2017, which Liao Yiwu published when Liu Xiaobo was hospitalized in late June, 2017, as a proof that Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo had wished to leave China for treatment. Click to enlarge.

In April 2917, I went through a contact — one of the most famous poets and singers of the Berlin Wall era, Wolf Biermann, as well as his wife — to reach out to Chancellor Angela Merkel with a letter asking for help. I attached a handwritten note by Liu Xia, titled ‘Application for Exiting China Submitted to Relevant Departments’ (dated April 9, 2017).  My letter was met with a quick response, and a communication channel with the Chancellor was established. By now, the German and Chinese governments have been engaged in private negotiations for well over a year already. In early April this year, in response to numerous apparently optimistic signals, Liu Xia packed, and packed again, getting ready to travel — but her dreams dimmed and went dark. The Chinese official who had made promises to her had disappeared, and in despair Liu Xia declared that she would “use death to defy.

I told her not to do anything rash, and sensing that things were reaching a crisis point, I published for the first time an audio recording of part of our conversation, with the headline “‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom to Liu Xia.” The purpose was to turn a low-key negotiation into a loud call for the attention of the international community.

On the eve of May 24, before Merkel went to China for visit, I received a call from German’s public broadcaster ZDF, where I made the earnest request that Chancellor Merkel bring Liu Xia out of China with her. I said that if this is impossible, she could at the very least express the wish to pay a visit to an ill Liu Xia, or have a medical expert attend to her. For Liu Xia, trapped in her home-prison, this may have been her best opportunity to be freed.

And yet none of this came to pass! Though, Merkel did meet with Li Wenzu, the wife of detained rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, and other family members of 709 victims in the German embassy in Beijing, and emphasized that she wished to personally meet with Liu Xia. When Merkel and Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang held a joint press conference, Li announced that China respects humanitarian requests and was willing to engage in dialogue with Germany on ‘individual human rights cases’ — this was the highest official statement on the matter.

As for Liu Xia, several days before Merkel’s visit, police entered her apartment and commanded her to leave the city on ‘travel.’ Liu Xia staunchly refused, and the police didn’t force it. Instead, they tried to persuade her, again and again, and said that soon there would be someone coming to speak with her about leaving the country.

I’ve lost count of how many times this promise has been made. The police said that in July, after the first anniversary of Xiaobo’s death, she’d absolutely be allowed to leave China. I made clear my doubts, and advised Liu Xia to consider countermeasures beforehand in case they don’t let her go in July. Upon these words of mine, Liu Xia was terrified and sunk into a bout of despair.

The following is an excerpt of our telephone conversation on May 25, the last day of Merkel’s visit to China:

Liao Yiwu: When you kept saying ‘death death death’ last time, I felt like I’d been hit with a jolt of electricity.

Liu Xia: When I’m dead, I won’t be a bother to anyone.

LYW: How can you say that? How can you die like that? This is not an option.

LX: So just keep me company, staying with me quietly. When you all tell me to do this and do that, I won’t take anyone’s calls anymore… You imagine these things are easy to do – if I can live like a free person, why do I even want to leave China? Xiaobo wanted me to go abroad to be free….because he had seen that police followed me everywhere and the room was fitted out with all sorts of surveillance equipment and nothing is easy for me to do. I’ve got a lot of friends here too….sometimes I’m so squeezed that I’m left with no choice…

LYW: Yes, you told me to record it last time — I felt you were falling apart. At that time, I…

LX: It’s no problem. But don’t ask me, as you did later, to do this or to do that…

LYW: OK, OK, OK. Just wait for July and see what they say.

LX: Right.

LYW: I feel that you’ll be able to get out eventually… but, it’s such a fucking torment…

More sobbing. Endless sobbing. I could neither stop her nor comfort her. So I started playing the song ‘Too Much Love’ by Israeli singer Motty Steinmetz. I had played it for her many times; she liked it a lot. Steinmetz had learned traditional Jewish hymns from his grandfather since childhood, and his lyrics are drawn from the Hebrew Bible.

As the song played, Liu Xia wailed: “They’re going to keep me here to serve out Xiaobo’s sentence.”

I was flabbergasted. Last year when she finally returned home after Xiaobo’s death, she cast her gaze around a room full of books. The old ones he’d read; the new he’d never get to. She felt suffocated and reached out for her medication when she collapsed onto the floor. When she came to a few hours later, she found herself bruised all over.

As I considered all this, words from Jeremiah sprung from the depths of my mind:

“Thus saith the LORD;
I remember thee,
the kindness of thy youth,
the love of thine espousals,
when thou wentest after me in the wilderness,
in a land that was not sown.”

This seemed like the voice of Xiaobo from Heaven. Liu Xia continued: “I want to see just how much more cruel they can get and how much more shameless they’ll become; I want to see how much more depraved this world is.”

I responded: “All you have ever done is love, for all you’ve gone through.…”

She said: “They should add a line to the constitution: ‘Loving Liu Xiaobo is a serious crime, a life sentence.’”

I was too struck by these words of hers to continue. Liu Xia said: “I’m going to go take my medication.”

I bid her goodbye: “Be patient. Let’s wait until July.”

She ‘hmmmed’ and hung up. I sat still at my desk for a long while. The 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre is approaching, and I decided to send out this message to the world, continuing to call for her to be freed.

Dear friends, whether you’re a foreigner or Chinese; whether you’re a political leader, a parliamentarian, a diplomat, or a regular citizen — friends of Xiaobo who are dissidents, poets, authors, academics, artists, sinologists, journalists, actors, lawyers, and public intellectuals — if you’re in Beijing, please take a moment of your time to go and visit Liu Xia. If you’re concerned to go by yourself, bring a few like-minded friends along. If they don’t let you see her, please read a poem outside her apartment building, or call out to her. If her minders stop you, give them a flier with her poem on it.

If you’re not in Beijing, or not willing to do the above, at least forward around the recording. Have more people — including U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and the Nobel Committee in Norway — understand what the wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo has been going through for all these years.

 

June 1, 2018

 

Related:

China Change Exclusive: Liu Xia Cries Out for Help in a Phone Call With Liao Yiwu on April 8, 2018, Liao Yiwu, May 2, 2018.

 

 


愛就是重罪

— 繼續爲劉霞呼籲

流亡作家 廖亦武

 

 

 

 

親愛的朋友,這裡我再次公開與劉霞在2018年5月25日上午的一段談話錄音,長度爲21分鐘,我截取了最後的8分多鐘。劉霞說:“愛劉曉波就是重罪,就是無期徒刑。”令人五內俱焚。愛就是重罪嗎?當習近平的父親文革中被毛澤東以“反黨罪”投入監獄,他的母親并沒離開,他的母親也沒像劉霞這樣被囚禁多年。

2014年1月,劉霞與世隔絕三年餘,終於在北京家中接到我從德國打過去的電話。我叫了聲劉霞,她就哽咽起來,持續了20多分鐘,我不知該說什麽,最後她挂掉電話。我再撥過去,還是這樣,她幾乎失語了。

一晃又多年,其中的煎熬一言難盡。總之,最後,曉波被謀殺——以保外就醫的名義,他倆在類似囚籠的病房朝夕相處了不足一月。每天有100多人次進進出出,對曉波實施密不透風的所謂“搶救”。

曉波讓劉霞一定要出去,甚至夢想在人生最後時刻送她和劉輝到德國。他走後,警察也若乾次許願,只要配合他們,就會放她出國治病。

Liu Xia handwritten note

Liu Xia’s handwritten note dated April 9, 2017, which Liao Yiwu published when Liu Xiaobo was hospitalized in late June, 2017, as a proof that Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo had wished to leave China for treatment. Click to enlarge.

去年4月,我通過柏林牆時代最著名的詩人兼歌手沃爾夫.比爾曼夫婦,轉交給默克爾總理第一封求援信,附錄了劉霞手寫的“給有關部門的出國申請”,得到及時回應,并借此建立了信息渠道。如此算來,德中政府間不公開的交涉,已長達一年餘。直至今年4月初,根據種種貌似樂觀的跡象,劉霞一次次整理行裝,卻不料夢想破滅,曾對她許願的人也躲著不見,絕境中的她突發“以死抗爭”的衝動。

我勸她再等等,高危關頭,我不得不以《DonaDona,把自由給劉霞》為題,首次公開與她的談話錄音,從低調運作轉為高調呼籲,在國際社會引起廣泛關注。默克爾總理5月24日訪華前夕,我接受了德國電視二台的訪問,懇請默克爾總理將劉霞帶出來,如果不成,至少可提出探病,或者讓醫療專家去會診——對於困獸似的劉霞,這或許是迄今為止最大的獲救良機。

然而什麽都沒發生!儘管默克爾在德國駐京使館接見了李文足等多名709系獄律師家屬,並強調她想親自與劉霞接觸;儘管在兩國政府總理共同舉行的新聞發佈會上,李克強宣稱中方尊重人道主義,願意就“人權個案”與德方對話——這算最高級別的官方表態。而在劉霞那邊,警察提前數日登門,吩咐她去外地旅遊以迴避默克爾,劉霞堅決不走,警察也沒勉強,只是頻頻規勸,并告知不久有人會與她談出國。

記不清這是第幾次許願。警察說7月份,曉波周年忌日過後,肯定放她走。我表示懷疑。我說萬一7月份還是不放呢,不如先尋思應對之策。劉霞聞之驚恐,繼而抑鬱爆發。下面的對話根據5月25日,也就是默克爾訪華最後一天,我們的電話錄音整理:

廖:你上次說死死死,我像觸電一樣。

劉霞:我死了就不麻煩任何人嘛。

廖:哪能這樣?哪能輕易就去死啊,這個,使不得啊。

劉霞:所以陪著我,就安靜地陪著我;讓我幹這幹那的,我就誰的電話也不接了……你想一切都那麽容易[的話],我能像個自由人一樣活著,我會一定要出去嗎?對不對?曉波要不是看著每天都是警察跟著,一屋子監控器什麽的,所有東西都不那麼…他能讓我出去找自由嗎?我在這邊也有好些朋友,有時候,把人逼得沒得選了……

廖:是啊,上次你讓我把它錄下來,我覺得你已經崩潰了,我當時……

劉霞:那是沒問題。但是你後面就不要說:你要這樣,你要那樣……

廖:好好好…就等到7月份,看他們怎麼說。

劉霞:對。

廖:我感覺你還是能夠出來…不過,他媽的夠磨人……

又是沒完沒了的哀泣,無法打斷,更無法安慰。於是我放以色列歌手Motty Steinmetz領唱的《太多愛》。我曾經放過多次,劉霞非常喜歡。Motty Steinmetz從小跟祖父學習猶太傳統聖歌,她的歌詞均出自希伯來語聖經。劉霞在歌聲中哭訴:“他們要讓我在這兒,把曉波的刑期繼續服完。”

我張口結舌。想起去年曉波走,她回到家,望著滿屋子的書,舊的曉波都看過,新的卻來不及看了。她感覺窒息,剛要抓藥片,就栽倒在地。幾個鐘頭之後醒轉,渾身是傷。

我腦海深處湧現出一段同樣出自希伯來語的《雅歌》:

神這樣說:
你年輕時的恩愛,
新婚時的愛情,
你怎樣在曠野,
在未曾耕種之地跟隨我,
我都記得

這也是已在天上的曉波的心聲吧。劉霞接著說:“我要看看他們還能殘忍到什麼程度,無恥到什麼程度,看看這個世界,還能夠墮落到什麼程度……”

我說:“你這僅僅,也不為其它,僅僅是因為愛情,就經歷了這些……”

她說:“那憲法上應該再寫一條:愛劉曉波就是重罪,就是無期徒刑。”

我聞之膽寒。就不敢再接茬了。劉霞說:“我先去吃個藥。”

我只好告別:“再耐心一點,等到7月份。”

她嗯嗯著掛了電話,我卻在桌邊久久枯坐,并決定在天安門大屠殺29周年前夕,繼續爲她的自由呼籲。

親愛的朋友,無論你是西方人還是中國人,無論你是政要、議員、外交官還是普通公民——我也知道在曉波故交中,除了大批異見者,還有不少中外詩人、作家、學者、藝術家、漢學家、記者、演員、律師和公知——如果你在北京,請抽空去探望她;如果一個人害怕,請邀約一些志同道合者;如果他們不讓見,請在她樓下讀詩或喊話;如果他們阻止,請將詩傳單送給他們。

當然,如果你不在北京,或不太願意,至少可以傳播她的錄音,讓更多人——包括美國總統特朗普、法國總統馬克龍、英國首相梅姨及挪威的評委們——瞭解2010年諾貝爾和平獎得主劉曉波妻子這些年的遭遇。

 

2018年6月1日

 

 

相關閱讀:

《DonaDona,把自由給劉霞》, 廖亦武, 2018年5月2日。

 

 

 

 

China Change Exclusive: Liu Xia Cries Out for Help in a Phone Call With Liao Yiwu on April 8, 2018

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?”

“Dona, Dona” is a Jewish melody from the WWII period popularized by the Jewish-American writer Aaron Zeitlin in the Yiddish play Esterke.

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.

 

 


DonaDona》,把自由給劉霞

流亡作家  廖亦武

 

今天是2018年4月30日,德國時間下午4點,我致電在中國北京家中的劉霞,她說:“現在沒什麽可怕的了,走不掉就死在家裡。曉波已走了,這個世界再沒什麽可留戀,死比活容易,以死抗爭對於我,最簡單不過。”

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。

我們都在低調等待。

低調等待一個特殊的病人。按照中國法律,她沒有任何犯罪記錄,中共外交部新聞發言人也宣稱,她依法享有去任何地方的自由。

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。

在今天的通話中,我說我不會再低調。我要採取行動,選擇性說出一些隱忍的真相。我會將2018年4月8日晚間,她在大劑量藥物也無法控制的抑鬱的哭喊,和《DonaDona》一塊,公諸於世。她說好的。

下面的文字根據錄音整理。開始,我打通電話後,向劉霞吐露我的擔憂,我怕她再次“失蹤”,像去年那樣,而中國官方還乘機宣稱,是曉波和她不願出國。幸好當時我手裡保存有她的手跡,後來居然成了揭穿謊言的唯一憑證。我堅持讓劉霞再寫一份出國申請,劉霞先說不會的不會的,繼而恐慌,繼而摔了電話。過一會兒我再次打過去,她就哭喊道:

我的情況德國使館都知道,全世界都知道,還要我一遍一遍弄那些東西幹什麼?

但是你面對的也特別啊……德國政府是一直在談……

我沒地方傳遞,又沒手機,又沒電腦。

那好吧,好吧。

知道我沒這些,他媽的還老是要來要去……

我們這邊……

那我明天就寫,明天就交上去——你現在就錄音下來——我他媽惹急了就死在這兒……死了拉倒……明明知道我不具備所有的途徑和條件……

那個外交部發言人是這麽說的:你完全享有中國法律所賦予的……

這些我都知道,你不用重複,我又不是腦殘。

嗯,我給你說一下:我們把你接過來後,會找一個地方,叫“文學之家”,讓你有個過渡,然後申請進入一個藝術家計劃。目前看來,各方面反應積極,大家達成了共識,這是一個非常低調的事……

我說不下去了,因為她無休無止地哭。這次錄音約16分30秒,我截取了前面7分鐘。在約4分鐘時,我開始放《DonaDona》的鋼琴獨奏。內心陣陣波濤洶湧。在關掉音樂時,我叫:“劉霞!”她的哭聲降下來,她說:“德國大使打電話後,我就開始收拾東西,我一點也沒耽誤,還要我怎麽樣……”

《DonaDona》是二次世界大戰時的猶太歌曲,相傳為美籍猶太作家澤德霖(Aaron Zeitlin)為意第緒語劇曲《Esterke》而作。歌詞大意是:有頭牛犢被帶往屠宰場,有隻燕子在它頭上飛翔,牛犢心想,如果變成燕子插翅飛逃該多好啊。可惜牛犢不是燕子。

劉霞和劉曉波一樣,都酷愛與奧斯威辛大屠殺相關的作品。劉霞甚至說,她的前世或許是猶太人。

《DonaDona》,種族滅絕的代名詞:幾百萬猶太人曾像一批批牛犢,聽天由命,被帶往屠宰場。人們啊,請聽聽這首歌的現在進行版,請允許我以劉霞的哭泣為它重新填詞……

《DonaDona》,把自由給她。

《DonaDona》,請為她高聲呼籲。

 

 

2018年4月30日深夜於柏林

 

 

 

 

The Might of an Ant: the Story of Lawyer Li Baiguang (2 of 2)

Yaxue Cao, March 21, 2018

Continued from The Might of an Ant: the Story of Lawyer Li Baiguang (1 of 2)

 

Li Baiguang 2005, 与刘晓波等自由知识分子、维权律师一起

Front row from left: Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗), Li Baiguang (李柏光), Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟); back fron from left: Teng Biao (滕彪), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), Wang Yi (王怡), Mo Shaoping (莫少平), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Yu Meisun (俞梅荪), and Wang Guangze (王光泽). 2005.

 

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.

 

Li Baiguang, Taishi village

In Taishi village in Guangdong, Guo Feixiong assisted the villagers’ effort to village head for embezzlement of public fund.

 

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.[1] 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.

 

Li Baiguang, 2005, 受洗前宣读《爱的见证》

Li Baiguang read aloud his testimony before being baptised in July 2005.

 

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[2], 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, Bush meetingLi 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.

Law Career

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.”

Li Baiguang, 阅卷

Reading case files with colleagues in Fuzhou, 2017.

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.”

Li Baiguang_Photo_手拿材料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.

 

Li Baiguang, Urgent Action training session

Training barefoot lawyers.

 

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.

Li Baiguang, 得撒豆腐村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 Baiguang_China Aid 15th Anniversary

Li spoke at the 15th anniversary of China Aid in January, 2017.

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.

Coda

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.

 

[1] 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).

[2]  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》