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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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‘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。

 

 

 

 

Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements

Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017

 

These actions show that Liu Xiaobo is not only a hardworking dissident author, but also a leader and organizer of political opposition. His superb leadership ability and political acumen allowed him to establish, during the course of the first decade of the 21st century, in a strict authoritarian environment, a movement that inherited the spirit of the Tiananmen democracy movement, an organizational network, and a nationwide opposition platform. In each instance he changed the pessimistic attitude people had toward the political “circumstances,” and helped Chinese citizens stop waiting around and watching from the sidelines, instead inspiring them to actively work for change themselves. — Wu Qiang

 

LXB 空椅子

 

The news of Liu Xiaobo’s (刘晓波) terminal liver cancer emerged over the last few days on Chinese social media and in the international press and, remarkably, was met with official confirmation. Amidst the shock and grievance, an open letter by Chinese intellectuals, dissidents, and activists has been published demanding that Liu be released to receive medical treatment. Many are now wondering: How will the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate spend the final days of his life? Will he be able to actually receive the prize from the Norwegian Nobel Committee? Will his life and death alter China’s destiny? In particular, in the crucial period before the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Party Congress this fall, the deterioration of Liu Xiaobo’s health, as well as his status as a political symbol, have become sensitive questions that could play a role in political developments and have potentially explosive implications.

It must, of course, be acknowledged that accurately evaluating Liu Xiaobo’s political contribution and assessing the impact of his death is exceedingly difficult. The influence of Liu Xiaobo on the minds of the majority of the Chinese citizenry isn’t as great as his supporters sometimes imagine. The older generation is likely to have a vague impression of him being maligned by the government after the June 4 massacre as a “black hand behind the scenes,” while younger people are apt to have no idea at all who he is — just as they have no memories of the Tiananmen movement itself.

Even in the world of Chinese political activists, opinions on Liu Xiaobo are polarized, and this has to a large degree also impacted his exposure among the public. The most controversial item is no doubt the last sentence of Liu’s statement, delivered to the court on November 23, 2009 (and later adapted as his Nobel acceptance speech in absentia): “ I Have No Enemies.” A significant number of committed democracy activists in China have for years strongly maintained that this pledge was no less than Liu’s capitulation. They facetiously call him “No Enemy Liu,” and dismiss his path of nonviolent resistance. This, however, is precisely why the Norwegian Nobel Committee thought so highly of him, and it’s likely also the reason that so many Chinese activists are proud of him and see him as China’s own Mandela, Ghandi, Aung San Suu Kyi, or Xanana Gusmão. Though it also led to another view, which was that the civil society in China has no need to call for Liu’s amnesty, as this would simply be an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the sentence against him. This has been a view propagated precisely by the activists who purportedly support Liu.

The result of all this has been that, while Liu Xiaobo spent nearly a long decade in jail, not only was his wife Liu Xia (刘霞) put under house arrest and isolated by the authorities, but the so-called Liu Xiaobo supporters, who supposedly had “no enemies,” created a conceptual rift between Liu Xiaobo and the public. They not only failed to proactively expound on his theories of nonviolent resistance — the failure to do which goes against what Liu stood for in the first place — but in fact ended up playing the role of isolating him, and dampening the awareness of his political contribution among the Chinese citizenry. It must be observed, of course, that this circumstance to some degree reflects the fragmented and chaotic state of opposition politics, and the attenuation of civil society in post-2008 China, when Liu was detained and jailed. For all these reasons, evaluating afresh Liu Xiaobo’s remarkable contribution to Chinese opposition politics, including from the perspective of the Norwegian Nobel Committee when they gave him the prestigious award, will be a profitable exercise.

December 10, 2010, was the two year anniversary since Liu Xiaobo’s involvement in the “Charter 08” movement; it was also the United Nations’ Human Rights Day; and it was the day that the Norwegian Nobel Committee left an empty chair for Liu Xiaobo at the ceremony in which they awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. The award ceremony speech recollected the history of Liu Xiaobo’s activism, from the 1989 Tiananmen student protests to the “Charter 08” movement, and praised him for his commitment to nonviolent activism; on this topic the chairman of the committee quoted Liu’s own words: “The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason.”

This is obviously an entirely appropriate summation and praise of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights — and yet, it still doesn’t fully make clear the special contribution Liu made to promoting resistance in China and political transition over the over 20 years since 1989. Liu is closer to an Aung San Suu Kyi than a Mandela, who at one point embraced armed resistance, or a Gusmao, the leader of East Timor’s resistance movement. Liu’s work far exceeds either the narrow praise or attacks afforded it by his typical supporters and critics. Liu Xiaobo’s contribution and influence has successors among today’s social and political activists. Every year during the June 4 memorial in Hong Kong, the seed that Liu planted can be seen, grown and blooming once again.

Simply put, when he was released from prison the second time in 1999, Liu picked up the pen instead of the sword, quickly becoming an active voice for political dissent. But more importantly, in the short period in which he was free, he was involved in the founding of three movements and organizations that were the embryonic form of China’s political opposition — this is what gives Liu his stature as China’s equivalent to a Mandela-type political figure.

Firstly, in 2000 Liu Xiaobo helped Ding Zilin (丁子霖), Zhang Xianling (张先玲), and others, to initiate the “Tiananmen Mothers” (天安门母亲) movement. By 2004, 15 years after the Tiananmen movement, Tiananmen Mothers had collated a name list of 126 mothers of those killed; on May 16 of that year, 40 Tiananmen Mothers mourned together in a joint ceremony. The significance of this was that it turned what was in 1990 a small-scale group of mothers who were petitioning and writing appeals, into a social movement that enjoyed widespread public support and international currency. Tiananmen Mothers persists to this day, having become something like the Chinese version of Argentina’s “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.” This is just an example of the precious value of the example set by Liu’s nonviolent ideals that encourages more and more mothers and wives of human rights victims to join the struggle — the latest manifestation of which is the group of wives of the “709” human rights lawyers.

Secondly, in 2001, Liu Xiaobo and the exile democrats Bei Ling (贝岭), Meng Lang (孟浪), and others, together established what would become the Independent Chinese PEN Center (独立中文笔会); he also served as its president for two terms. It was an attempt to appeal to the widest possible number of Chinese political dissidents and writers. He turned the Center into a meeting ground  for China’s rights defense activists and political dissidents, and planted the seed for China’s opposition movements and online presence.

Thirdly, in 2008, 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated, 30 years after the Xidan Democracy Wall movement, and 10 years after China signed (but did not ratify) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Liu Xiaobo, Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦) and others, in imitation of Czechoslovakia’s “Charter 77” movement, initiated a “Charter 08” for China. The goal was to mobilize, to the maximum extent, China’s forces of political opposition and to initiate a “gradual, peaceful, orderly, and manageable” transition to constitutional governance. Liu Xiaobo was arrested for this, charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

These actions show that Liu Xiaobo is not only a hardworking dissident author, but also a leader and organizer of political opposition. His superb leadership ability and political acumen allowed him to establish, during the course of the first decade of the 21st century, in a strict authoritarian environment, a movement that inherited the spirit of the Tiananmen democracy movement, an organizational network, and a nationwide opposition platform. In each instance he changed the pessimistic attitude people had toward the political “circumstances,” and helped Chinese citizens stop waiting around and watching from the sidelines, instead inspiring them to actively work for change themselves.

Some of these activities were publicized and learned about abroad, while others were kept quiet, and only those deeply involved knew what really happened. The organizers were as circumspect and low-key as Liu Xiaobo — silently and diligently working away in the post-1989 period of social transformation, advocating gradual transition like Liu Xiaobo. They gradually but steadfastly got past the muddled sense of opposition they felt during the 1989 movement, the vague “self-reflection” they went through in the early 1990s. They bid farewell to the often noisy and chaotic “overseas democracy movement” set off by the Xidan Democracy Wall and followed by large-scale exile after 1989. Instead, they worked to build the framework, in the era of China’s economic takeoff, social transformation and Internet, for a clear and purposeful opposition movement that would have a far-reaching impact on China’s development and the direction of its future political transition. Liu Xiaobo led this transition of China’s political opposition, exactly the way he abruptly left the U. S. as a visiting scholar in the later half of the 1989 student movement to exercise leadership. In both instances, his actions were rooted in mature thinking.

More valuable again was Liu Xiaobo’s continued insistence on non-violent resistance and political opposition, despite being sentenced to 11 years in prison. This is the dual meaning of Liu’s “I have no enemies” statement: persevering in non-violent resistance — rather than adopting a “fight to the death” style — is the only way to preserve space for political opposition in a highly authoritarian state, as well as to preserve the flexibility, possibility, and longevity of the opposition movement. Characteristic of this is Liu Xiaobo’s insistence in court of upholding Article 35 of the Chinese constitution, regarding the rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, organization, marches, and demonstrations. In so doing he turned the criminal accusations against him into a political defense of his own constitutional rights and an examination of the judicial system. This is another important way for political opposition movements in China to engage in lawful struggle.

Apart from being welcomed by the opposition movement itself, this mode of resistance also has a strong appeal to the wider Chinese citizenry, including the burgeoning middle class, whose pursuit of the “good life” and social order it fits in well with. As Walter Benjamin writes in Theological-Political Fragment, the secular order founded in and oriented around the good life is constituted by a value outlook based on love, lenience, humility, dignity, and rationality — it transcends the relationship between the public and the sovereign or its police agents, as well as the ruling structure. This spirit was continued in the “New Citizens Movement” (新公民运动) of Xu Zhiyong (许志永) and others. That movement emphasized “liberty, justice, love” and was an attempt to, through the concept of “transparent, constitutional government” and the demand for “equality in education,” and so on, mobilize a growing urban middle class, and transform them into a new political force.

Thus, precisely in an authoritarian, materialist state full of human rights abuses, Liu Xiaobo’s voice in the courtroom that “I have no enemies,” injected into China’s human rights struggle and political opposition the Buddhist-inspired spirit of compassion of Aung San Suu Kyi, a spiritual power that shows a specially Asian character in its vision of the struggle for human rights and the transition to democracy. This was not only enough to sustain Liu through his imprisonment; it will also become part of his precious moral heritage and political legacy; it will win him wider public support; and it will have a long-lasting influence on the future of political opposition in China.

 

Dr. Wu Qiang (吴强) holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He is a researcher of social movements and a freelance writer.

 

 


Also by Wu Qiang:

The Death and Life of Middle Class Politics in China

The Four Forces of China’s Politics of Smog

What Do Lu Yuyu’s Statistics of Protest Tell Us About the Chinese Society Today?

 

 

Translated from a revised version of this article: https://theinitium.com/article/20170628-opinion-wuqiang-liuxiaobo/

 

 

 

 

 

Defiance

By Xu Youyu, published: May 13, 2014

 

Xu youyu

 

Like the vast majority of Chinese people, I don’t like to deal with the police. When the police come to your door, it always means something unusual or inauspicious has occurred. That’s why the police always say, “Nothing’s wrong with you? If there’s nothing wrong with you, why are we here?” In truth, the Chinese have long cultivated the habits of obedient citizens, and when the police appear, they believe something unlawful must have taken place.

Whether in uniform or plainclothes, police officers symbolize a mysterious power. Omniscient and omnipotent, they can twiddle the common man in the palms of their hands. The police are a fearsome element in daily life; their arrival suggests impending disaster and casts a shadow of self-doubt and unease.

I remember back around 1970, when I was a sent-down youth in An County, Sichuan Province, two county PSB officers came to see me at my production brigade. My sent-down comrades scattered like sparrows after gunfire, nervously whispering among themselves. After the two officers left, a couple of them sidled up to me with darting eyes and asked what was wrong. I said, “The ‘Learn from Dazhai for Agriculture’ exhibition at the county seat went up in flames, and the PSB thinks some sent-down youth did it. Someone told them that I went to the county seat on market day last Sunday, so they came to make inquiries. They wanted me to tell them everything I did that day – where I’d gone and whom I’d seen.” Although I’d told the police everything they wanted to know, I couldn’t dispel my unease over what might happen next. Who knew how many eyes were watching me furtively and what kind of investigation was going on behind my back? I also detected glee in the eyes of some of my comrades. At that time news of sent-down youth would be called back to the cities was making rounds, and there was competition among us for that stroke of luck. The news of my visit from the PSB spread far and wide, and the shadow cast over my prospects no doubt was translated into hopes for others.

The police entered my life around 2006. In China, the police had become part of some citizens’ daily existence due to their ideas, beliefs, writings and associations, and as with others, my initial fury was eventually tempered by acceptance of this fact – the most disgusting and repellent fact of my life.

Still I find it difficult to maintain equanimity either in their face or after they leave. Every encounter and conversation was for me an act of resistance, whether a well-considered response or an outburst of anger. Compared with others, my treatment by the police is probably the least offensive, but the psychic injury inflicted is none the less for it. I’ve never abandoned my effort and resolve to defy them. In doing so, I was defending my dignity and the normalcy of my social life.

October 21, 2010

On October 21, 2010, I exited the elevator of the Academy of Social Sciences building at 5:15 pm to go to a cultural event at 6:00 at the Czech Embassy. The new ambassador had asked professor Cui Weiping (崔卫平) and me to arrive around 5:30 to have coffee together before joining the festivities. That gave me 15 minutes to reach the embassy. Earlier that afternoon, I received a called from Weiping who told me she had been held in a police station and not allowed to go to the embassy. I called the ambassador’s secretary and inform her of Professor Cui’s situation. Since Weiping had already been held for more than seven hours while I’d been left alone, I figured I probably would be able to make it.

As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I was surrounded by four men who took me to the Academy’s security office. Upon reaching the security office I was shocked to see a sign reading “Stability Maintenance Office” – I had never known we had such an office at the Academy.

There I was questioned by an officer from the “municipal bureau.” I explained that I was attending a cultural event consisting of an art exhibit followed by a musical performance. In fact, they knew the full agenda perfectly well, having monitored my email throughout the process. But they declared: “You can’t go.”

I’d always thought that in such a situation I’d lose my temper, but in fact I was able to control myself or even keep unusual composure. I scolded them when I felt like it, and talked or ignored them as I liked. I abandoned attempts to reason or win the argument on every point, recognizing it as a waste of time.

The lead police officer was surnamed Yang. A brawny, belligerent man, he made no effort to put a pleasant face on violating a citizen’s personal freedom, and seemed determined to have it out with me. He’d read my professions of “complete transparency,” and used that as the basis for prizing out the details of how the signature campaign for Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize had been organized. I said, “I have nothing to hide, but the facts show that you distort people’s words and then use those words to trap people, so of course I’m not talking.” He had no way to bring me around.

The Czech Ambassador’s secretary called my cell phone, and I explained the situation to her in English and asked her to tell the Ambassador. A young man from the Academy’s Stability Maintenance Office who was assisting the police understood some English, and he tried to score points by berating me for contact with foreigners, lack of patriotism and so on. I’d reached the boiling point by then and gave him a good tongue-lashing, concluding, “You obstruct a citizen’s normal activities for no reason whatsoever, and deprive a citizen of his freedom in broad daylight, and then, after indulging in this blatantly unlawful behavior, you have the nerve to talk to me about being ‘patriotic’ and ‘law-abiding’! It’s obvious you’ve no inkling of the concept of shame!” The fellow had nothing to say to that and minded his manners a bit better from then on.

Around 6:00 they asked me to accompany them to a restaurant for dinner. I refused to go, so they ordered take-out. Despite their insistence, I declared I would only eat at home, even if it meant going without food for three days. I was in fact prepared to do just that.

My detention ended at 8:30. We left the Stability Maintenance Office, and I was driven home in a police vehicle, although I’d insisted on making my own way. When I mentioned writing up what had happened, the Academy security officer looked frightened and kept saying, “There’s nothing worth writing about!”

Officer Yang, however, showed no anxiety, and I said, “I know you people have no scruples about anything.”

On the way home, Yang said he hoped that in future I wouldn’t……I finished for him: “that I won’t do things that displease or that aren’t allowed, even though they’re not against the law.” He tried to explain but I kept asking him why I couldn’t even go to an embassy cultural event that was not related in any way to Liu or the Nobel. He said “You understand perfectly well.” I shot back, “police trot out those words whenever they unlawfully deprive citizens of their freedom. Well, I don’t understand. For the police to detain citizens for no reason and then say they ‘understand perfectly well,’ that is the most shameless reason of all.” The word “shameless” infuriated Officer Yang into a strident rant. But rather than arguing the point and giving him further opportunity to vent his wrath, I decided to let him stew on it.

Upon arriving home, I telephoned Weiping and the next day I sent a letter to her. I wrote:

I believe that our detention yesterday was a deranged retaliation for Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize. First they took out on us. While detained I clearly sensed their profound resentment of our statement supporting Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize. Even more importantly, however, it was retaliation against the Czech Republic, and I’m sure they’ll impose even more frenzied retribution on Norway when they get the chance.

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel repeatedly called on the international community to protest Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and was one of the prominent individuals who advocated for Liu’s Nobel Prize.

We were guests not only of the Czech Embassy, but also of the newly-appointed Czech Ambassador. Detaining his guests is clearly meant to send a message to him and to the country he represents. They did so on purpose.….they used this blatant intimidation and insult to fire an opening salvo at the new ambassador, and to tell European countries: “Offend us at your peril!”

Yesterday’s incident has left me feeling indignant and disappointed. I would rather have a ruling clique preserve their autocratic interests through manipulative scheming than through such irrational and reckless lawlessness and gangsterish disregard for the consequences of their evil. I wonder how much more effort and suffering we must endure before they can evolve even that much.

The letter had the title Their Deranged Retaliation and it was meant to be published. I sent it not only to Weiping, but also to the embassies and the media. I am sure the Beijing police would receive it too.

November 8, 2010

On the afternoon of November 8, 2010, Officer Yang telephoned my home and said he wanted to see me. I said we could talk over the phone, but he insisted that wouldn’t do. Knowing I’d have to go in sooner or later, I finally agreed and was about to propose a time when he said he was already downstairs. Within two minutes he and a young officer appeared at my door.

This time the discussion centered on a single topic: the statement Cui Weiping and I had issued on Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize. Initially signed by more than 100 individuals from all walks of life, the statement supported and praised the Norway Nobel Committee’s decision, and called on the Chinese authorities to take a rational and realistic approach by honoring their commitments on political reform. Yang interrogated me on the statement’s production, who initiated it, who drafted it, who contacted others, who published it, and so on. I told him nothing, but as agreed in advance said that I was the sole initiator and took full responsibility.

Yang kept prodding away, while the young policeman took notes on the interrogation. I’d expected this, since they’d done the same with Cui Weiping two days earlier, suggesting that they were treating this as a serious case for which these notes would serve as evidence and testimony. I also knew it was just for show; we hadn’t attempted, nor were we capable of, any subterfuge in drafting and issuing the statement, and the police made no attempt to curtail our actions while monitoring them.

Yang looked satisfied with the interrogation, as if sensing that the net was tightening around me, and the young officer diligently took down every word. Inside me I sneered, “Go ahead and write it down, it won’t do a bit of good!”

When the interrogation ended, Yang told the young policeman to give me the notes to read, correct and sign. But I’d readied my reply: “I’m not reading them, and I’m not signing them.”

Taken by surprise, Yang was furious. He asked why and accused me of not daring to acknowledge my own words. Unruffled, I replied, “I take responsibility for all I’ve said and done, because I’ve taken pains not to violate the law. I have nothing to fear, but I know it’s altogether possible that you’ll take something I’ve said out of context and use it to incriminate me or others. That’s what you did in the judgment against Liu Xiaobo.”

In spite of Yang’s persuasion and bullying, I held my ground: “I’m not reading it and I’m not signing it!” Finally they stalked off in a huff. That was the last I saw of that police officer.

The policemen who subsequently dealt with me were a pair surnamed Hao and Jia, who introduced themselves as from the “Cultural Security Division of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.” Of the two, officer Jia was the one who met with me most of the time.

None of the innumerable police officers I’ve dealt with over the years has ever showed me his police ID, even though this is required under Article 4 of the Provisions on the Administration of the Use of Identification Cards by the People’s Police in Public Security Organs. This shows how little regard the police pay to the laws and regulations of our country.

The Annual “Two Sessions”

Before the police became part of my daily life around 2006, all interference with and suppression of my expression of personal political views was carried out through the leadership of the Academy or its Institute of Philosophy. The most serious confrontation occurred in May 2004, just before the 15th anniversary of the June 4th Incident, when I signed an open letter organized and issued by Liu Xiaobo calling on the government to allow renewed discussion of the incident. Perhaps the concern of the authorities was heightened by what they saw as the first time that “scholars within the system” such as myself had joined with a “democracy activist” such as Liu Xiaobo. The Institute’s Party secretary called me in for a talk, and soon after that the Party secretary and the Institute’s director and vice-director rushed to my home and demanded that I retract my name, which I refused to do. Finally I was brought in to see the CASS vice-president, the head of the Academy’s Department of Supervision and others. I expected to be dismissed, but instead I was given a stern warning “not to do this again,” a commitment I refused to make.

Beginning around the end of February 2006, whenever the Two Sessions of the NPC and CPPCC took place, the police would drop by for a “friendly word.” The police would come in and chitchat about what I’d been doing lately, and then casually mention that the Two Sessions were approaching, so I should keep this in mind and so on.

Anyone who experienced the period from the 1950s to the 1970s in China knows that back then, whenever a major festival or national event approached, the police (in the rural areas it was usually the Party secretary or head of the People’s Militia or other person personifying “dictatorial power”) would gather up all local “Five-Category Elements” (landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements and Rightists) for a lecture in which they were warned to “behave themselves and not speak or act rashly,” because “the iron fist of the proletarian dictatorship was devastating,” and they should “harbor no vain hopes of indulging in mischief during the celebratory period!” This tradition continued until the early 1980s, by which time “class struggle” and “dictatorship theory” were no longer the loci of China’s political life.

It was infuriating that the police had resurrected this discarded method – on certain days warning or “having a friendly word” with “bad eggs” and “undesirable elements” – and were applying it to liberal intellectuals.

The absurdity of it all was that if the “Two Sessions” were taken seriously, they should make people more aware of being the masters of their own country, and of exercising the freedoms safeguarded in the Constitution. If people have any sense of the sacredness and dignity of their country and of their identity as citizens, the appearance of the police at just this time profanes these feelings. When expressing independent political views is all it takes for people to find themselves cast under the shadow of police surveillance, or to be regarded as undesirables and potential threats to society, the police not only denigrate and insult these individuals, but also make a mockery of the Constitution and poison the social atmosphere.

March 25, 2011

On March 25, 2011, Officer Jia had come to talk about the “Jasmine Revolution” rallies. In the course of conversation he said that when I’d recently gone to the Czech Embassy, they’d let it pass, and when I’d gone to Japan, they’d let it pass, which showed that they supported normal scholarly and cultural exchange. They hoped that this demonstrated their good intentions and that I’d grant them full cooperation and communication in return. This was a truly highhanded and shameless logic: if there were one or two exceptions to the countless times that they unlawfully deprived citizens of their legitimate rights, that was a demonstration of their lenience and required expression of gratitude in the form of answering whatever the police asked, and giving them whatever they wanted.

I would never accept a setup like this. In no way I would allow them to believe that monitoring my words and actions and deciding whether or not to allow them should become standard practice. They could strip me of my rights, but they couldn’t make me approve of it.

While I don’t regard the police as noble or conversant with dignity, I would think them capable of at least a basic sense of shame. So when the police came to see me the day after overseas media asked me to write articles, and when they came up again the moment I put down the phone after a Beijing-based Western journalist called me for an interview, I was genuinely shocked at their effrontery. They didn’t even try to beat around the bush or to cover up the fact that they’d been listening to my telephone calls.

I said indignantly, “My freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution. This has nothing to do with the police, and the police have no right to interfere. Since when is a citizen’s expression within the scope of police work, that you think you can come up here and discuss what I should or shouldn’t write, or for which publication?”

They had no reply to my barrage of questions.

On the subject of requests from overseas media, the police made a remark that caused me considerable alarm: “We’re concerned about contact certain overseas organizations have had with you.” I couldn’t tell if this was a slip or a carefully constructed trap. According to my legal knowledge, a citizen has the legal and legitimate right to “contact with certain overseas organizations,” and there is no need for subterfuge. However, among the Chinese authorities and police, this phrase has a specific connotation that they construe to accuse someone of a crime.

Seeing a need to clarify and rebut this, I pointed at them and said sternly, “You need to tell me exactly what overseas organizations I’ve been in contact with. It’s completely above-board and proper for a legally registered publication to request an article from me, and it’s my due right as a citizen to discuss with them whether and what I will write. I know that your reference to ‘contact with certain overseas organizations’ is a serious matter related to crime. What do you mean by saying this, and what is the basis for it?”

Jia kept waffling and stalling with vague excuses, but I wasn’t about to let him off on such a serious matter, and I pursued him relentlessly until he unequivocally acknowledged that he had misspoken.

Engaging in a dogfight with the police is disgusting and wearying; even if you silence them with your arguments and rebukes, what use is it? In the end, it’s just a verbal argument and an oral victory. If they want to see you, you can’t evade them, and if they want to enter your home, you can’t stop them. Even though I won every bout, I knew it was just a storm in a teacup and of no consolation.

In another regard, however, the battle was still worth fighting, because “a drop of water can reflect the world.” Arguing law with the police is a refraction of social life in today’s China, and is a microcosm of the battle for civil rights under extreme political pressure. However small the victory, it is crucial to haggle with the police over every detail for the sake of human dignity and rights.

Many years ago, listening over dinner to Liu Xiaobo and Jiang Qisheng (江棋生, participant in the 1989 student movement and twice political prisoner) describing their dealings with the police, I was amazed at their equanimity. As they related it, it was routine for the police to come to their door, to prevent them from going out, to take them away or call them in to “drink tea” or have a meal, and they acted as if it were no different from anything else in their lives. I later came to understand that this calmness came with practice; if the police come day after day, month after month, year after year to see you, question you and detain you, you become inseparable from the police, and the best way of protecting yourself is to dilute the intensity of your rage. If you spend every day fuming with anger and resistance, if every illegal act by the police makes you cry out for Heaven’s justice, your life will begin to crumble, and it will be difficult for you to maintain a living for yourself and your family. I’m surprised that this transformation came so quickly to me. I haven’t attained Xiaobo and Qisheng’s level of transcendence, but the police have forced me to follow in their footsteps.

On the other hand, my sense of the illegality of police actions and of their violation of human rights and stripping of citizen’s freedoms remains as fresh and acute as ever. The police have come to regard their behavior as normal, and so have others, as if that’s simply the way life is. Not me. Every time I came face to face with the words or actions of the police, I set myself at the start point, the start point of the Constitution and laws. They are the sole criteria for judging right from wrong.

Behind the police stands the mighty violence of a modernized state. Facing the police, any compromise, concession or even surrender is understandable. Submission under these circumstances is no cause for shame, but the disregard for law and reason on the part of the police is a disgrace to our country and our people. Every Chinese who is violated by the police is engaged in a struggle for his own rights, for the dignity of his country and for the honor of his people.

 

Xu Youyu (徐友渔), a signatory of Charter 08, was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences until his retirement. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford, Harvard, Taiwan’s Academia Sinica and other academic institutions around the world. He also taught at Stockholm University and France’s École des hautes études en sciences socials. A prolific author, he is an expert on political philosophy and theory and is a noted historian of the Cultural Revolution. On May 3 he and other four scholars and dissidents were criminally detained for holding a seminar to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the June 4th Movement. “I will give the rest of my life to speaking the truth for the sake of China’s real progress. I am not afraid to pay a price, even the price of life, for it,” he once told a friend.

The article was written in mid-2011 for the Chinese anthology Encounters with the Police (《遭遇警察》). China Change edited down the original translation with permission from the co-editor of the book.

 

Related:

Scholars and Lawyer Disappeared after June 4th Seminar in Beijing

 

(Translated by Stacy Mosher)

 

Chinese original

Top China Stories of the Week 10/2-10/8

This week China was on holiday, and millions of people spent it traveling. On Oct. 1st alone, the start of the break for National Day, nearly 9 million people climbed aboard China’s busy trains. Thousands of mainland tourists visited Taiwan, with a few taking advantage of the newly relaxed restrictions that allow for travelling as an individual instead of in a group. Both governments hope that it will help to ease tensions between the two sides, but Taiwanese locals aren’t always so impressed by their mainland visitors.

Despite the holiday, Xinhua (a state media company) did not miss the chance to point out the flaws in American democracy as Occupy Wall Street protests grew. In a single week Xinhua published more than 25 stories about the movement and offered a number of narratives. In Zhengzhou a group of Chinese gathered to “resolutely support the American people’s mighty ‘Wall Street Revolution.'”The most frequently repeated one being that the US is a deeply unequal society, which is a strange choice given that China’s wealth distribution is even further off.

Meanwhile in the US politicians stepped up their rhetoric on all issues relating to China. Their main focus was a bill aimed at currency manipulators, which would allow new tariffs on Chinese goods (China intentionally keeps its currency weak to promote exports). While it would be popular with conservatives and liberals alike, it would likely do little to actually affect Chinese policy (we’ll look at why it is a bad idea in the next few days). Michelle Bachman also claimed that China had used lasers to blind US satellites, which the Washington Post quickly debunked. While US-China relations are hugely important to the US, hopefully politicians will realize that these plays will do little to help the underlying problems.

Also the latest announcement of Nobel Peace prize winners has again brought up the continued detention of last year’s winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife. The Chinese media have maintained a kind of rationale about Liu’s case that was lampooned in the story of Ah-Q: if Liu is an innocent man, then why is he in jail? I’ve actually heard this line from a co-worker. It will also be interesting to see how China spins the actions of Tawakul Karman, one of this year’s winners, who is active in the current protests against the Yemeni government. So far they’ve made no mention of it.

The real story of Ah-Q was written by Lu Xun around the turn of the century. He is one of China’s most famous authors, and has been used by the party in a variety of ways. For more on him read China Geeks “interview” with Lu Xun.

Finally I would just like to recommend a quick read from Foreign Policy’s website titled “The top 10 unicorns of China policy,” which brings a very interesting perspective to some of the debates going on about China. As well as a post from China Real Time Report looking at Chinese reactions to the death of Steve Jobs, which sparked discussion about the lack of creativity in China.