Liu Xiaobo’s legacy will shape China’s future, forum told


China’s government should ensure that the law grants access to independent legal counsel and family members, as well as addressing the ill-treatment in detention and deaths in custody, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said today.

“The recent death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo shocked many around the world, as did the deaths, also in custody, of Cao Shunli in 2014 and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in 2015,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the UN’s Human Rights Council.

A long-time editor has filed a complaint with a Human Rights Tribunal against a Vancouver-based Chinese-language newspaper over his dismissal, The Globe and Mail reports:

Lei Jin, deputy editor of Global Chinese Press, lost his job a week after his attempt to publish an obituary of China’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. The death in July of Mr. Liu, a Chinese writer, thinker and well-known dissident, sparked widespread reporting outside mainland China. But Global Chinese Press withdrew the news of Mr. Liu’s death at the last minute as it was ready for printing and days later dismissed Mr. Jin, who had written and decided to run the story.

A poster mocking Liu’s death appeared on the campus of Hong Kong’s Education University, two days after a similar poster mocking the death of a local official’s son was widely condemned and removed, according to the HK Free Press:

Written in simplified Chinese, the apparently satirical poster on the Democracy Wall read: “Congratulations to Liu Bandit Xiaobo on going west, congratulations to [his wife] Liu Xia on being forever house-imprisoned by our party.”

A well-known poet from the southern province of Guangdong has been detained after he helped produce an anthology of poems commemorating the late Nobel laureate, the HKFP adds:


Wu Mingliang, who is better known by his pen name Langzi (left), was taken from his home by police officers and criminally detained on August 18 upon suspicion of “illegal business operations,” according to Amnesty International.

Recent events appear to confirm Liu’s insight that “unrelenting inculcation of Chinese Communist Party ideology has… produced generations of people whose memories are blank.”

At a recent National Endowment for Democracy event celebrating Liu’s legacy, the NED’s Louisa Greve (above, far right) recalled Milan Kundera’s observation that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

“We are here today to remember Liu Xiaobo and understand his legacy. This is a profoundly important and significant contribution to this struggle of memory against forgetting,” she added:

He recognized that the direct communication from activists to followers is not worth much without what we call intermediating institutions. He was not only a critic and intellectual. He was not only a voice of conscience. He was not only a man of exceptional moral courage. He created a true legacy of flesh and blood human beings. Inspired by him, yet, but also shaped and molded by the aspirations he articulated, and, just as importantly the experience of working together to build ideas, build institutions, and work on practical problems.

Liu was known as China’s ‘iron man of democracy’, but we should steer clear of hagiography, said Perry Link (above, second from right) of the University of California, Riverside, noting that the dissident “struggled with mistakes and frailties” as his political character was tempered (HT: VOA – in Chinese).

Indeed, the trauma of the Tiananmen Massacre and his embrace of transcendental values prompted a transformation in Liu, from a self-absorbed and politically confused “egomaniac” to the status of a secular saint and spiritual hero, said Xiao Qiang (above, far left) of China Digital Times.

Liu was distinctive for combining intellectual writing and political activism in three major contributions to China’s democracy movement, said Link:

  • Charter 08: providing a third way alternative to accepting the status quo or supporting the CCP’s ‘liberal’ wing;
  • Taking a principled moral stand in the face of acute repression in a manner comparable to dissidents such as Vaclav Havel;
  • Anticipating the toxic global influence of an authoritarian China

“Liu’s mature ideas, as shown in Charter 08 and elsewhere, opened a third new alternative for modern China—one that transcends the standard dichotomy between ‘moderate’ and ‘conservative’ wings of the Chinese Communist Party, which for nearly seventy years had been the only alternatives the Chinese people had been able to regard as possible,” said Link, author of an essential collection of Liu’s writing (above).

“Liu Xiaobo’s contribution to democracy was monumental, and his analysis of Chinese politics and society – and his warnings about the danger to the world of a rising and dictatorial China remain profoundly relevant,” said NED president Carl Gershman (above, third left) . He possessed a moral authority that his persecutors can only envy and probably did more to promote harmony than any other individual since the start of the millennium, he has noted, adding that “with Charter 08, Liu tirelessly pushed for political change by asking the state to live up to its own laws and obligations,” he added.

Citizen efforts to hold leaders accountable, evident in the lodging of grievances as well as social unrest, give the lie to proponents of the China model who claim that the country’s people want only material benefits and care nothing for liberty, Xiaorong Li (left) told the NED forum, held in conjunction with a parallel commemoration held by the Taiwan Democracy Foundation.

“We need a meeting of minds to ask the hard questions about the future of China,” she said, including “Why are the leaders of a superpower like China so afraid of Liu that they feel the need to obliterate him?”

There is a strength-weakness paradox at the heart of China’s ruling Communist Party, said Columbia Universitys Andrew Nathan (above, second left). Despite its repressive capacity and its success in delivering economic growth, the CCP knows that a series of events – from the Tiananmen uprising and the Soviet collapse to current widespread social unrest, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement and Taiwan’s Sunflower movement all demonstrate that the political order is inherently fragile and vulnerable, he added.

There is a further structural factor underpinning the regime’s fragile legitimacy: it is based on a vanguard party which represents only 6% of the population, said Nathan.

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