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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.
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.
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
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。”
《DonaDona，把自由給劉霞》， 廖亦武， 2018年5月2日。
Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017
These actions show that Liu Xiaobo is not only a hardworking dissident author, but also a leader and organizer of political opposition. His superb leadership ability and political acumen allowed him to establish, during the course of the first decade of the 21st century, in a strict authoritarian environment, a movement that inherited the spirit of the Tiananmen democracy movement, an organizational network, and a nationwide opposition platform. In each instance he changed the pessimistic attitude people had toward the political “circumstances,” and helped Chinese citizens stop waiting around and watching from the sidelines, instead inspiring them to actively work for change themselves. — Wu Qiang
The news of Liu Xiaobo’s (刘晓波) terminal liver cancer emerged over the last few days on Chinese social media and in the international press and, remarkably, was met with official confirmation. Amidst the shock and grievance, an open letter by Chinese intellectuals, dissidents, and activists has been published demanding that Liu be released to receive medical treatment. Many are now wondering: How will the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate spend the final days of his life? Will he be able to actually receive the prize from the Norwegian Nobel Committee? Will his life and death alter China’s destiny? In particular, in the crucial period before the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Party Congress this fall, the deterioration of Liu Xiaobo’s health, as well as his status as a political symbol, have become sensitive questions that could play a role in political developments and have potentially explosive implications.
It must, of course, be acknowledged that accurately evaluating Liu Xiaobo’s political contribution and assessing the impact of his death is exceedingly difficult. The influence of Liu Xiaobo on the minds of the majority of the Chinese citizenry isn’t as great as his supporters sometimes imagine. The older generation is likely to have a vague impression of him being maligned by the government after the June 4 massacre as a “black hand behind the scenes,” while younger people are apt to have no idea at all who he is — just as they have no memories of the Tiananmen movement itself.
Even in the world of Chinese political activists, opinions on Liu Xiaobo are polarized, and this has to a large degree also impacted his exposure among the public. The most controversial item is no doubt the last sentence of Liu’s statement, delivered to the court on November 23, 2009 (and later adapted as his Nobel acceptance speech in absentia): “ I Have No Enemies.” A significant number of committed democracy activists in China have for years strongly maintained that this pledge was no less than Liu’s capitulation. They facetiously call him “No Enemy Liu,” and dismiss his path of nonviolent resistance. This, however, is precisely why the Norwegian Nobel Committee thought so highly of him, and it’s likely also the reason that so many Chinese activists are proud of him and see him as China’s own Mandela, Ghandi, Aung San Suu Kyi, or Xanana Gusmão. Though it also led to another view, which was that the civil society in China has no need to call for Liu’s amnesty, as this would simply be an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the sentence against him. This has been a view propagated precisely by the activists who purportedly support Liu.
The result of all this has been that, while Liu Xiaobo spent nearly a long decade in jail, not only was his wife Liu Xia (刘霞) put under house arrest and isolated by the authorities, but the so-called Liu Xiaobo supporters, who supposedly had “no enemies,” created a conceptual rift between Liu Xiaobo and the public. They not only failed to proactively expound on his theories of nonviolent resistance — the failure to do which goes against what Liu stood for in the first place — but in fact ended up playing the role of isolating him, and dampening the awareness of his political contribution among the Chinese citizenry. It must be observed, of course, that this circumstance to some degree reflects the fragmented and chaotic state of opposition politics, and the attenuation of civil society in post-2008 China, when Liu was detained and jailed. For all these reasons, evaluating afresh Liu Xiaobo’s remarkable contribution to Chinese opposition politics, including from the perspective of the Norwegian Nobel Committee when they gave him the prestigious award, will be a profitable exercise.
December 10, 2010, was the two year anniversary since Liu Xiaobo’s involvement in the “Charter 08” movement; it was also the United Nations’ Human Rights Day; and it was the day that the Norwegian Nobel Committee left an empty chair for Liu Xiaobo at the ceremony in which they awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. The award ceremony speech recollected the history of Liu Xiaobo’s activism, from the 1989 Tiananmen student protests to the “Charter 08” movement, and praised him for his commitment to nonviolent activism; on this topic the chairman of the committee quoted Liu’s own words: “The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason.”
This is obviously an entirely appropriate summation and praise of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights — and yet, it still doesn’t fully make clear the special contribution Liu made to promoting resistance in China and political transition over the over 20 years since 1989. Liu is closer to an Aung San Suu Kyi than a Mandela, who at one point embraced armed resistance, or a Gusmao, the leader of East Timor’s resistance movement. Liu’s work far exceeds either the narrow praise or attacks afforded it by his typical supporters and critics. Liu Xiaobo’s contribution and influence has successors among today’s social and political activists. Every year during the June 4 memorial in Hong Kong, the seed that Liu planted can be seen, grown and blooming once again.
Simply put, when he was released from prison the second time in 1999, Liu picked up the pen instead of the sword, quickly becoming an active voice for political dissent. But more importantly, in the short period in which he was free, he was involved in the founding of three movements and organizations that were the embryonic form of China’s political opposition — this is what gives Liu his stature as China’s equivalent to a Mandela-type political figure.
Firstly, in 2000 Liu Xiaobo helped Ding Zilin (丁子霖), Zhang Xianling (张先玲), and others, to initiate the “Tiananmen Mothers” (天安门母亲) movement. By 2004, 15 years after the Tiananmen movement, Tiananmen Mothers had collated a name list of 126 mothers of those killed; on May 16 of that year, 40 Tiananmen Mothers mourned together in a joint ceremony. The significance of this was that it turned what was in 1990 a small-scale group of mothers who were petitioning and writing appeals, into a social movement that enjoyed widespread public support and international currency. Tiananmen Mothers persists to this day, having become something like the Chinese version of Argentina’s “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.” This is just an example of the precious value of the example set by Liu’s nonviolent ideals that encourages more and more mothers and wives of human rights victims to join the struggle — the latest manifestation of which is the group of wives of the “709” human rights lawyers.
Secondly, in 2001, Liu Xiaobo and the exile democrats Bei Ling (贝岭), Meng Lang (孟浪), and others, together established what would become the Independent Chinese PEN Center (独立中文笔会); he also served as its president for two terms. It was an attempt to appeal to the widest possible number of Chinese political dissidents and writers. He turned the Center into a meeting ground for China’s rights defense activists and political dissidents, and planted the seed for China’s opposition movements and online presence.
Thirdly, in 2008, 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated, 30 years after the Xidan Democracy Wall movement, and 10 years after China signed (but did not ratify) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Liu Xiaobo, Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦) and others, in imitation of Czechoslovakia’s “Charter 77” movement, initiated a “Charter 08” for China. The goal was to mobilize, to the maximum extent, China’s forces of political opposition and to initiate a “gradual, peaceful, orderly, and manageable” transition to constitutional governance. Liu Xiaobo was arrested for this, charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.
These actions show that Liu Xiaobo is not only a hardworking dissident author, but also a leader and organizer of political opposition. His superb leadership ability and political acumen allowed him to establish, during the course of the first decade of the 21st century, in a strict authoritarian environment, a movement that inherited the spirit of the Tiananmen democracy movement, an organizational network, and a nationwide opposition platform. In each instance he changed the pessimistic attitude people had toward the political “circumstances,” and helped Chinese citizens stop waiting around and watching from the sidelines, instead inspiring them to actively work for change themselves.
Some of these activities were publicized and learned about abroad, while others were kept quiet, and only those deeply involved knew what really happened. The organizers were as circumspect and low-key as Liu Xiaobo — silently and diligently working away in the post-1989 period of social transformation, advocating gradual transition like Liu Xiaobo. They gradually but steadfastly got past the muddled sense of opposition they felt during the 1989 movement, the vague “self-reflection” they went through in the early 1990s. They bid farewell to the often noisy and chaotic “overseas democracy movement” set off by the Xidan Democracy Wall and followed by large-scale exile after 1989. Instead, they worked to build the framework, in the era of China’s economic takeoff, social transformation and Internet, for a clear and purposeful opposition movement that would have a far-reaching impact on China’s development and the direction of its future political transition. Liu Xiaobo led this transition of China’s political opposition, exactly the way he abruptly left the U. S. as a visiting scholar in the later half of the 1989 student movement to exercise leadership. In both instances, his actions were rooted in mature thinking.
More valuable again was Liu Xiaobo’s continued insistence on non-violent resistance and political opposition, despite being sentenced to 11 years in prison. This is the dual meaning of Liu’s “I have no enemies” statement: persevering in non-violent resistance — rather than adopting a “fight to the death” style — is the only way to preserve space for political opposition in a highly authoritarian state, as well as to preserve the flexibility, possibility, and longevity of the opposition movement. Characteristic of this is Liu Xiaobo’s insistence in court of upholding Article 35 of the Chinese constitution, regarding the rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, organization, marches, and demonstrations. In so doing he turned the criminal accusations against him into a political defense of his own constitutional rights and an examination of the judicial system. This is another important way for political opposition movements in China to engage in lawful struggle.
Apart from being welcomed by the opposition movement itself, this mode of resistance also has a strong appeal to the wider Chinese citizenry, including the burgeoning middle class, whose pursuit of the “good life” and social order it fits in well with. As Walter Benjamin writes in Theological-Political Fragment, the secular order founded in and oriented around the good life is constituted by a value outlook based on love, lenience, humility, dignity, and rationality — it transcends the relationship between the public and the sovereign or its police agents, as well as the ruling structure. This spirit was continued in the “New Citizens Movement” (新公民运动) of Xu Zhiyong (许志永) and others. That movement emphasized “liberty, justice, love” and was an attempt to, through the concept of “transparent, constitutional government” and the demand for “equality in education,” and so on, mobilize a growing urban middle class, and transform them into a new political force.
Thus, precisely in an authoritarian, materialist state full of human rights abuses, Liu Xiaobo’s voice in the courtroom that “I have no enemies,” injected into China’s human rights struggle and political opposition the Buddhist-inspired spirit of compassion of Aung San Suu Kyi, a spiritual power that shows a specially Asian character in its vision of the struggle for human rights and the transition to democracy. This was not only enough to sustain Liu through his imprisonment; it will also become part of his precious moral heritage and political legacy; it will win him wider public support; and it will have a long-lasting influence on the future of political opposition in China.
Dr. Wu Qiang (吴强) holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He is a researcher of social movements and a freelance writer.
Also by Wu Qiang:
Translated from a revised version of this article: https://theinitium.com/article/20170628-opinion-wuqiang-liuxiaobo/
By Xu Youyu, published: May 13, 2014
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.
(Translated by Stacy Mosher)
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.