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Liu Xiaobo: Walking the Path of Kang Youwei, Spilling His Blood Like Tan Sitong

Wang Dan, July 20, 2017

“Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party.”


Liu Xiaobo in 1989



When I heard that Liu Xiaobo had died, I quickly posted the news on Facebook. So many online friends shared their condolences. One message among them struck me as particularly incisive and worthy of our consideration — this friend said that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei (康有为), and spilled his blood like Tan Sitong (谭嗣同).”

Of course, to say that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei” is not to say that Liu advocated for constitutional monarchy, but rather that his political position and basic viewpoint were actually quite moderate, just as were those of Kang Youwei in his day. Liu Xiaobo never called for revolution, to the point that he maintained “I have no enemies.” But like Tan Sitong, Liu came to a violent end: persecuted to death for the sake of advancing reform. Sometimes, history does repeat itself.

But Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party. No matter how moderate the view, no matter how much goodwill its proponents convey, to the CCP he is an “enemy of the state” and must be eliminated as soon as possible. Within and without the system, from former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) to the dissident Liu Xiaobo, it has always been thus.

What does this tell us? It tells us that all those who abide in the hope that the CCP will initiate political reform, all those who believe that the CCP will move toward democracy once a certain stage of economic development has been reached, all those who wait on the chance that Xi Jinping will turn out to be an enlightened autocrat—are all wrong, naive, even ignorant. Liu Xiaobo’s death has proven this once again.

This point has profound implications as to whether China’s future transition will bode well for its neighbors and for the world. If China’s ruling party is willing to permit moderate opposition, the transition may be smooth and peaceful; but if the CCP cannot even admit moderate opposition like Liu Xiaobo’s, then the only option is to break away from the moderates, and for hatred to accumulate in society.

If the path to reform is cut off, China will be left with opposition between state and society, and the only way out will be bloody revolution. We certainly don’t want this, but once it happens, China will inevitably plunge into chaos, and that internal chaos will impact neighboring countries and the whole world. This is the profound fear that Liu Xiaobo’s death has given us.

No doubt Liu Xiaobo’s horrific end is the result of the CCP’s total lack of humanity. But as New York University Law Professor Jerome Cohen has pointed out, Western countries are increasingly indifferent to human rights in China, so much so that they have nearly abandoned the issue. This conniving and appeasement is also to blame. Liu Xiaobo’s death will reverberate throughout the international community, emboldening the call to reckon with its policy towards the human rights of the Chinese people. The tragic death of a Nobel Peace laureate, we hope, will prompt those parties and politicians who have cozied back up to China to rethink their relationship.

In other words, Liu Xiaobo’s passing could become a turning point in China’s rise: the CCP, which continues to buy global support with the image of rapid economic growth, must bear the burden of Liu Xiaobo’s death for a long time to come. It will deal a blow to that image and an immense setback for the CCP’s arrogance. We will be glad to see this change, but the price we paid for it was Liu Xiaobo’s life. It is a tragedy of our time.

With his life, with his final breath, Liu Xiaobo gave us this truth—the CPP is the new Nazi Party. I hope this will make the world think.



TAIWAN-HONGKONG-CHINA-DEMOCRACY-POLITICSWang Dan (王丹) is a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, and was one of the most visible student leaders during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and has been teaching in Taiwan until recently.




More articles on the passing of Liu Xiaobo:

Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.

The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.

As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.


Translated from Chinese by China Change.





Reconsidering Deng Xiaoping the Reformer: What Did He Really Reform?

Li Xuewen, February 21, 2017



Li Xuewen. Photo: New York Times


In the world of Chinese Communist Party propaganda, the image of Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) has been molded into that of the master architect of China’s reform and opening up. He’s said to have helped China through two major transformations: the reform and opening up following the Cultural Revolution, and then the development of a market economy following his Southern Tour in 1992. Thus, in the mythology of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng is the second deity following Mao Zedong (毛泽东).

But if we step back, take in a broader historical perspective, and make a rational examination at the twentieth anniversary of Deng’s death (February 19, 1997), it quickly becomes clear that Deng Xiaoping managed to effect only one transition: launching China onto the road of crony capitalism after the June 4 massacre. The baneful consequences of crony capitalism have saved the Party but are a crime against the nation.

Historians have already used a wide variety of documentary sources to show that during the anti-rightist movement of the 1950s, Deng Xiaoping was a “leading vanguard” and a chief perpetrator. But there’s no need to rehearse that history here — after all, the chief culprit in the anti-rightist campaign was Mao, and Deng only truly came into his own as a historical figure following the Cultural Revolution, as the so-called “second generation core” leadership. This essay aims at analyzing why Deng Xiaoping only oversaw a partial, not a full, transition, and it argues that this is the key in any evaluation of Deng.

The first matter to address is why the first so-called transformation wasn’t a transformation at all.

By the end of the Cultural Revolution, China had been so thoroughly ravaged by Mao that people could hardly get by, the economy was ruined, and the Chinese people were living in unspeakable misery. Mao, as head of the Party, had driven the country into the ground. When Mao died and the Party carried out so-called “reform and opening up,” they said it was to save the nation and save the people — but it would be better put that they were mainly about saving themselves. The Party’s decision for Deng Xiaoping to take the lead was no more than a passive historical choice, the only option when there were no options. In the years following 1949, all the outstanding political leadership of the Nationalist Party had either fled to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek, or were slaughtered by the communists. During Mao’s dictatorship, the communist’s own pragmatists, for instance Liu Shaoqi (刘少奇) and Zhou Enlai (周恩来), had either been struggled to death or had their careers stifled out. The designated successor, Lin Biao (林彪), died trying to flee to Mongolia, and other veteran revolutionary cadres were either too old to be of any use or were already dead. The remnants of this corps, including Ye Jianying (叶剑英) and Li Xiannian (李先念), had ideals, but were too old to be at the helm. The only two remaining figures who had the resourcefulness and strategic measure to rule the country were Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun (陈云). Overall, Deng was more capable than Chen, and so it became a matter of “none but Deng.”

Given what a wreck China was at the end of the Cultural Revolution, no matter who the successor was to be, their only option was to reform and open the economy. This was a product of circumstance, the trend of history, and not something that any individual could reverse. The fact that Hua Guofeng (华国锋) was unable to keep the Maoist antics going is a prime example. If it wasn’t Deng who took control, it might have been, for instance, Lin Biao — and he may have taken things much further than Deng, and been still more groundbreaking. Simply taking a glance at the seditious, anti-Mao thought in Lin Liguo’s (林立果, son of Lin Biao) “Project 571 Outline” (《五七一工程纪要》) makes clear the possibilities. My claim that the circumstances overrode the individual is to say that at that point in China, whoever took charge simply had to carry out economic reform and opening. Besides, the official propaganda around Deng Xiaoping being the grand architect of reform and opening doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As scholar Wu Wei (吴伟) revealed in his recent book “On Stage and Backstage: China’s Political Reform in the 1980s,” (《中国八十年代政治改革的台前幕后》) Deng lifted many of his ideas about governance from Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) and Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳). In particular when it came to political system reform, Deng was no architect. Thus, attributing the entire reform and opening program to Deng, as Deng’s achievement and the first post-Mao transformation, is simply not supported by the historical evidence.

These days, there are many people of my father’s generation who hate Mao but feel a great sense of gratitude toward Deng. The reason is simple: they were persecuted in the Mao era, and in Deng’s time they were able to live a normal life. But rarely do they think it through a step further: they should have been able to live unmolested in the first place. The Party under Mao robbed them of that, and under Deng it simply gave them back a bit — not all — of what was stolen. Not to mention that their youths, and most of their lives, had been wasted — giving them their lives back shouldn’t be seen as the grace and magnanimity of the Party, but simply the basic rights they are entitled to as citizens.

At the end of the Cultural Revolution, a group of veteran cadres used classic coup d’état-style tactics to purge the remaining Maoists. The Party, with Deng at the helm, then transitioned from Mao’s mode of frantic political violence to a form of stable, pragmatic politics: so-called abandonment of class-struggle as the guiding principle, and a turn to economic development as the central focus. Through this, Deng was able to gradually establish his personal power and authority, and forge for himself the historical role as so-called grand architect.

And yet for all this, because what Deng presided over was always merely a maimed transition — economic reform without political reform — China’s reform never resolved the most fundamental issues and it failed to achieve the genuine transformation that would have brought true political modernization. Throughout the 1980s, Deng constantly suppressed the political reformist leanings of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, he personally ordered the June 4 massacre, and then he used his personal power and prestige to make clear that “whoever fails to promote economic development will be sacked.”

This was the direct catalyst for ushering in the period of China’s crony capitalism, which persists to this day. It’s not only through the Jiang Zemin (江泽民), Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), and Xi Jinping (习近平) eras that discussion of political reform has been out of bounds — nothing comparable to the political reformist aspirations of the 1980s in the Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang period has been allowed to appear. As Wu Wei reveals in his “China’s Political Reform in the 1980s”: “Deng Xiaoping added a line to a draft of the document ‘Overall Considerations in Political System Reform’ (《政治体制改革总体设想》), saying: ‘We absolutely won’t carry out Western-style separation of powers, with periods of elected office.’ Without this line being added, Deng wouldn’t have felt reassured. And without Deng’s approval, the entire political reform program at the time would have died in its crib.”

The liberal intellectuals have mocked the “Five Nos,”* proposed by the then-National People’s Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo (吴邦国) in 2011 that summed up the key political changes that the Party rejects. Few know that Deng Xiaoping was the one who first set out the “Five Nos.” Rejecting political modernization is in fact rejecting reform, because true reform must have at its heart reform of the political system. Any reform without political reform is ersatz reform — all simply a matter of using the banner of “reform” to monopolize power and plunder the people of their wealth. For these reasons, following Deng there was simply no more so-called reform. Reform was long dead. What was left were a pack of political swindlers.

People who think clearly ought to be able to see that Mao and Deng were not at loggerheads. Their commitment to the sustenance of Communist Party totalitarianism was identical. Mao pointlessly set the Cultural Revolution in motion, and Deng caused the June 4 massacre; Mao created a one-man dictatorship, Deng demanded eternal adherence to the Four Cardinal Principles (四项基本原则).** Whether under Mao or Deng, the same one-Party dictatorship was up there all the same, lording it over the people. This is the fundamental commonality in the ruling power clique, and could be said to be the Party’s core, unshakable mafia code.

The only true transition that Deng Xiaoping oversaw was his opening the road to crony capitalism. It was this transition that threw the Communist Party a lifeline following the 1989 massacre — and which also threw open the floodgates for the mass expropriation of the Chinese people by corrupt officials, which continues to this day.

This historical turning point that Deng presided over comes into clearer focus twenty years after his death because, as the Party’s crony capitalists continue their mad plunder of the citizenry, the regime is getting closer and closer to the mouth of a volcano that threatens to erupt. If we concede that his reform and opening following the Cultural Revolution saved the Party, then we must say that his inauguration of crony capitalism will lead to the death of the Party, and the June 4, 1989 massacre was the historical inflection point.

Deng ended the madness of Mao, but he ushered in another form of madness. The latter has led to an enormous wealth disparity in China, to a corrupt class alloyed with power who act as they  wish, to environmental disasters, moral collapse, and the plunder of the country’s patrimony. Perhaps even Deng failed to foresee all that.


*Five Nos: No multiparty rule; no diversification of the Party’s guiding principles; no separation of powers and no two parliaments; no federalism; no privatization.

**The Four Cardinal Principles of Deng Xiaoping: Keeping to the socialist road, upholding the dictatorship of the proletariat, upholding the leadership of the Communist Party, and upholding Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.



Li Xuewen (黎学文) is an independent writer in Beijing. This article was first published to WeChat, and later censored. China Digital Times preserves an archived version.



《黎学文:邓小平转了什么折?》 translated by China Change.




Yu Shiwen Hunger Strikes in Protest at Two Year Detention Without Trial For Holding Zhao Ziyang Memorial

China Change, May 3, 2016


YU Shiwen chen wei

Yu Shiwen and wife Chen Wei.

Shortly before June 4, 2014, ten citizens in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, were arrested for holding a public memorial for Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳), the late Communist Party leader who died under house arrest in 2005. Zhao’s crime was to show sympathy for students in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. The memorial was held in the open fields of China’s Central Plains, not far from Zhao’s hometown; now, all participants but Yu Shiwen (于世文) have since been released.

Mr. Yu was indicted on February 11, 2015, for “provoking disturbances.” But he hasn’t been sentenced, and is instead being kept in deplorable conditions as his health rapidly worsens. Both Yu Shiwen and his wife Chen Wei were college students in Guangzhou in 1989 and got involved in the democracy movement that took China by storm.

On March 9, 2016, Yu wrote an open letter to Ren Kai (任凯), the lead judge of the court in Zhengzhou, where his case was supposed to be tried, confronting his abuses and cowardice. Yu vowed: “I’ll hold you responsible for this for the rest of your life. You’ll be pursued by me forever, to the very ends of the earth.”  

On March 18, Yu was told that his trial had been postponed for the third time, supposedly approved by China’s Supreme Court.

On April 1, Yu’s lawyer Ma Lianshun (马连顺) submitted a complaint against the presiding judge and three other judicial personnel.

“The law doesn’t say who you can or can’t hold memorial services for,” the complaint said. “Moreover, Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) and Zhao Ziyang were both former leaders of the Party and state, and made great contributions to the reform and opening of China. When Zhao Ziyang died, he was cremated at the Babaoshan revolutionary cemetery. Why can’t Yu Shiwen, who shared the same hometown with Zhao, memorialize the latter’s death? Why all of a sudden is it a matter of picking quarrels and provoking trouble?”


Participants in the public memorial took a group photo in front of Zhao Ziyang’s birth place, February 2014.

The argument continued: “None of the defendants [referring to the judges] independently exercised their judicial authority. They did not scrupulously follow the constitution and the law as required in China’s Judge’s Law. Judicial cases must be founded in the facts, the law must be the criterion for judgement, cases must be handled impartially, and judges must not bend the law to favor their associates or other officials. Refusing to exercise proper judicial judgement, detaining Mr. Yu for two years with the clear knowledge that he was innocent of the crime, and refusing to promptly exercise judicial supervision over procuratorial power as required by law—all of this, according to Article 399 of the Criminal Law, constitutes a crime.”  

On April 28 Yu Shiwen’s wife Chen Wei published an open letter to the president of the Supreme People’s Court Zhou Qiang (周强) titled “A Captive Who’s Neither Been Tried, Sentenced, Nor Released,” (《一名不审不判不放的被羁押者》) in which she wrote: “The procedures under which this case was heard are shockingly preposterous, and even the Supreme People’s Court played a special role in how it was handled.”

Chen wrote that every time the Guancheng District Court of Zhengzhou city postponed the trial, it provided Yu Shiwen’s lawyer with a letter saying that it had received the approval of the Supreme People’s Court for the “postponement.” Each postponement was for three months. But the court refused to give Yu’s lawyer an explanation of the reason for the postponements, and also refused to provide them the authorization documents from the Supreme People’s Court.

“Just like that, my husband became a non-person, a lonely prisoner that no one was responsible for. His fate was simply ‘set aside’ in this inconceivable fashion. His future, family, happiness, and career—all was taken away. His life was frozen, given over to an indeterminate ‘postponement.’”

“During  the nearly two years he has been held captive like this….in a tiny cell about 30 square meters, curling up with a dozen other prisoners in a long bed with little room to move around and only occasional yard time. You can imagine the torment and helplessness he suffers!”

“For my own part, every day is spent enduring bottomless anxiety. Yu Shiwen suffers high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, and in late 2012 he suffered a serious stroke. He suffered another stroke shortly after he was detained, and spent four months in the detention center hospital. My mother-in-law, 86 years old, is sick from worrying about her son. I can’t help but worry that she won’t live to see her son again.”

On May 2, the lawyer met with Yu Shiwen again, who had been fasting for nearly a week in protest against his treatment. Though extremely weak, Yu said he’s going to resist until the end—to use his death as protest, if need be. He said: “Tell my friends to take care! This is how I’m leaving!”



Prominent 1989ers Voice Support for Yu Shiwen

The Zhengzhou Twelve

The Torchbearers – Participants in the 1989 Democracy Movement Who Are Currently in Prison




Prominent 1989ers Voice Support for Yu Shiwen, Detained for Commemorating the Tiananmen Movement

By China Change, published: January 12, 2015


Shortly before June 4th, 2014, ten in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, were arrested for holding a public memorial for Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳). Seven of them have since been released, and three have remained in custody for over six months now without an indictment. The 47-year-old Yu Shiwen, who organized the memorial along with his wife Chen Wei, suffered a stroke. Recently, the public security once again urged indictment for the three. Yu’s case has drawn attention from participants, inside and outside China, of the Tian’anmen democracy movement 25 years ago.

于世文陈卫在加州On February 2nd, 2014, Yu Shiwen, Chen Wei, and a group of Henan-based citizens held a memorial in Hua County, Henan provicnce (河南滑县), to remember Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang and those who died during the June 4th massacre in 1989. After the memorial, Yu Shiwen sent photos to overseas Chinese websites and was interviewed by Radio Free Asia. But they were not arrested until shortly before the June 4th anniversary on charges of “picking quarrels and creating disturbances,” likely a result of Chinese authorities’ nervousness leading up to the anniversary.

In poor health, Yu Shiwen has been shuttled several times between the detention center and a hospital. The public security twice recommended indictment but were asked to provide more evidence. Last December, the public security once again sent Yu Shiwen’s case to the prosecutors for indictment.

Lawyers of the three recently issued statements against possible indictment. Yu Shiwen’s lawyer Ma Lianshun argued that there is nothing against the law about remembering Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and the June 4th dead, and what Yu and his friends did in no way “created disturbances.” Lawyer Ma further argued that the Chinese Communist Party should redress the Tiananmen Democracy Movement, recognizing its legitimacy and historical significance. Should Yu Shiwen be tried, Ma said, he would have to defend his client by introducing a plethora of witness accounts relating to the June 4th crackdown, its origin, development and tragic ending.

Participants in the public memorial took a group photo in front of Zhao Ziyang's birth place.

Participants in the public memorial took a group photo in front of Zhao Ziyang’s birth place.

Yu Shiwen and Chen Wei were students at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou in 1989. They became student leaders during the democracy movement that took the country by storm that spring. They each served prison time afterwards. In the two decades that followed, the couple lived mostly in Zhengzhou where they tried their hand in business and made a considerable fortune in stock trading.

Zhou Fengsuo, another 1989 student leader who lives in California now, told Radio Free Asia that, “as a member of the 1989 generation, I have a lot of respect for Yu Shiwen for keeping alive his idealism after 25 years. I personally feel compelled to stand side by side with them in his current plight, and I also call on other 1989ers to pay attention to his case.”

Braving the cold, on January 6, Yu Shiwen’s 85-year-old mother and older sister, the wife of Dong Guangping, and the mother of Hou Shuai demonstrated in front of Guancheng District Prosecurorate, holding banners that read, “It’s not a crime to remember the dead,” “Return to your loved ones.”

Family members, including Yu Shiwen's mother, demanded release of their loved ones.

Family members, including Yu Shiwen’s mother, demanded release of their loved ones. Click to enlarge.

“Among our ranks of the 1989ers, many have had success in business and made money,” said Zhou Fengsuo. “In private, many are candid about their assessment of the democracy movement of our youth, but few are as courageous as Yu Shiwen and Chen Wei to make a public statement. Such is the burden imposed on our conscience by the CCP tyranny. When we choose silence, we are giving tyranny a free rein.”

Fang Zheng, another 1989er who lost both legs in the morning of June 4th to charging tanks, initiated a signature campaign calling upon 1989ers, whether they are overseas or inside China, to provide testimonies on the truth of the Tiananmen Massacre, should Yu Shiwen and the two others be tried.

“I don’t know what CCP is thinking to detain Yu Shiwen and the two others, and possibly try them, for commemorating June 4th after 25 years. As witnesses, it’s imperative that we step out to testify the facts of that time in front of the CCP prosecutors…. We will make our voices heard,” said Zhou Fengsuo.