On Christmas Day 2009, a court in Beijing convicted Liu Xiaobo of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced him to 11 years in prison and two additional years of deprivation of political rights. The verdict cited as evidence passages from six essays Liu published online between 2005 and 2007 and his role in drafting Charter 08, an online petition for democratic reform issued on December 9; 2008 which has since been co-signed by some 10,000 persons, mostly Chinese in China. This December 2010, Liu Xiaobo will receive the Nobel Prize for Peace, though his presence at the ceremony in Oslo is in doubt.
Liu Xiabo’s case highlights one of the most crucial challenges facing the emerging Chinese civil society: the limits of freedom of expression. Liu Xiaobo not only offers his criticism of the regime but puts forth proposals to deal with crucial questions facing both the government and society, such as his essays on the future of Tibet.
Liu Xiaobo also reflects on the history of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and urges the Chinese people to awaken from a supplicant mentality shaped by a historical system continued to the present that has infantilized them. As he wrote “After the collapse of the Qing dynasty and especially after the CPC came to power, even though our countrymen no longer kowtow physically like the people of old, they kneel in their souls even more than the ancients…Can it be that Chinese people will never really grow up, that their character is forever deformed and week, and that they are only fit to, as if predestined by the stars, pray for and accept imperial mercy on themselves?”
His essays, since he returned to China from a visiting professorship at Columbia University in New York City in May 1989 to participate in the 1989 Democracy Movement, have infuriated the Chinese authorities with his hard, polemical style — “ Driven by profit-making above all else, almost no officials are uncorrupted, not a single penny is clean, not a single word is honest…Degenerate imperial autocratic tradition, decadent money-worship, and the moribund communist dictatorship have combined to evolve into the worst sort of predatory capitalism.”
Liu Xiaobo stresses that China’s course toward a new, free society depends on bottom up reform based on self-consciousness among the people, and self-initiated, persistent and continuously expanding non-violent resistance based on moral values. He underlines the importance of New Age values that “Humans exist not only physically, but also spiritually, possessing a moral sense, the core of which is the dignity of being human. Our high regard for dignity is the natural source of our sense of justice.”
He sets out clearly the spirit and methods of non-violent resistance in the current Chinese context:
"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. The victim, with a love that is humble and dignified takes the initiative to invite the victimizer to return to the rules of reason, peace, and compassion, thereby transcending the vicious cycle of ‘replacing one tyranny with another’. Regardless of how great the freedom-denying power of a regime and its institutions is, every individual should still fight to the best of his/her ability to live as a free person and make every effort to live an honest life with dignity…
“The non-violent rights-defense movement does not aim to seize political power, but is committed to building a humane society where one can live with dignity…The non-violent rights-defense movement need not pursue a grand goal of complete transformation. Instead it is committed to putting freedom into practice in everyday life through initiation of ideas, expression of opinions and rights-defense actions, and particularly through the continuous accumulation of each and every rights-defense case, to accrue moral and justice resources, organizational resources, and maneuvering experience in the civic sector. When the civic forces are not yet strong enough to change the macro-political environment at large, they can at least rely on personal conscience and small-group cooperation to change the small micro-political environment within their reach.”
Liu Xiaobo thus joins those champions of non-violent action such as Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama who have been recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize. The spirit of the New Age is rising in the East and is manifesting itself in non-violent action to accelerate human dignity— a trend to watch closely and to encourage.
The text of the six essays cited in the trial for “inciting subversion of state power” and a translation into English is in the N°1, 2010 issue of China Rights Forum published by Human Rights in China: www.hrichina.org.
Rene Wadlow is Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
For those who are interested in reading the essays that got Liu Xiaobo into so much trouble with the Chinese government, here is a link to the page on the HRIC* website where the English translations of the essays are available:
("The CPC’s Dictatorial Patriotism" is the first essay.)
The translation from Chinese into English is superb. It is easy to see why these writings angered the Chinese government so much.
* HRIC stands for "Human Rights in China." They have a superb website, doing extremely important work.