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Liu Xiaobo’s Three Refusals: No Enemies, No Hatred, No Lies

An Excerpt from ‘Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century’

Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, died today, July 13, 2017, from complications of liver cancer, while serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” The following essay is excerpted from Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century, by Orville Schell and John Delury.

Black Horse

In the spring of 1989, Liu Xiaobo was a thirty-four-year-old professor of literature and philosophy at Beijing Normal University with a keen interest in political ideas, who when demonstrations broke out, quickly became a habitué of Tiananmen Square. Having written a doctoral thesis on the topic of aesthetics and human freedom, he was a prolific if acidic writer, a loner and iconoclast who believed that the most worthy role of intellectuals was to “enunciate thoughts that are ahead of their time” and to strive for a vision that is able “to stretch beyond the range of accepted ideas.” He believed that a truly autonomous intellectual must be “adventurous” and “a lonely forerunner” whose true worth would be discovered “only after he has moved on far ahead.”1 A uniquely independent thinker whose signatures were close-cropped hair, an addiction to cigarettes, and a fondness for aviator glasses, Liu rejected the fundamental premises of one-party rule, which he felt had corrupted the ability of most Chinese to think for themselves. Party rulers, he later said, “bribe us with small favors, threaten us with the lash, entertain us with songs and dances, and use lies to poison our souls.”2 For those intellectuals who too easily accommodated the party, Liu had little but contempt. “And China’s so-called intelligentsia,” he wrote, “is, for the most part, the dictator’s conspirator and accomplice.”3

An admirer of nonviolent leaders such as Vaclav Havel, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., Liu prided himself on his intolerance for cant, groupthink, and political pandering.4 “The Chinese love to look up to the famous, thereby saving themselves the trouble of thinking,” he wrote before the 1989 demonstrations began. That’s why they “rush into things en masse. Occasionally someone stands out from the crowd and lets out a shout: Everyone is astounded. What I’m saying is that there are too few people with their own minds, their own ideas.”5

Born in 1955 into an intellectual family in the northern Manchurian city of Changchun, Liu was “sent down” to the countryside to work on an agricultural commune during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. Admitted to the Department of Chinese Literature at Jilin University when it reopened in 1977, he went on to receive his PhD in 1988 before becoming a lecturer at Beijing Normal University in the capital.6 During these years, he began writing Lu Xun–like zawen (杂文), “miscellaneous essays” in which he subjected everything and everyone he wrote about to withering critical scrutiny. In 1988, for instance, he lit into Chinese attitudes toward the West:

From the beginning of the Opium Wars, all Chinese reforms have been carried out in an atmosphere of admiration for and fear of the West. But the Chinese will never admit to themselves that they are hopelessly backward, that their culture is senile. Instead, they are constantly engaged in a quest to find some source of national pride with which to console themselves. When the Chinese admit the material superiority of the West, in the same breath they belittle Westerners for their lack of spiritual life. At the same time that they recognize the West’s scientific superiority, they opine that it is morally decadent...Confronted with the powerful culture of the West, the Chinese search for a spiritual crutch in the ancient culture that once made them proud.7

By being mercilessly irreverent and critical toward anyone he considered fatuous, Liu quickly gained a reputation as an enfant terrible of the intelligentsia, earning the moniker “Black Horse.”8 This put him in an almost constant state of confrontation with party watchdogs and censors, whose utterances he openly disdained. But his iconoclasm also put him on a collision course with many members of the literary and academic establishment whom he viewed as spineless. Because Liu always seemed to be attacking someone, he alienated many and was distrusted by many more.

“In Beijing,” wrote Australian sinologist and colleague Geremie Barmé, “his coarse stuttering harangues during academic meetings, public lectures or even at sedate dinner parties in which he would assault every aspect of conventional wisdom left few people, either Chinese or foreign, kindly disposed to the fiery critic.” He soon became, says Barmé, “notorious in Beijing as an abrasive and ill-mannered figure.”9 In fact, during the early 1989 demonstrations, Liu even criticized fellow dissident Fang Lizhi, belittling the logic of his refusal to appear in the square, lest by association he compromise the student movement’s independence and “purity.”10 Liu justified his provocative manner by insisting, “There should be room for my extremism; I certainly don’t demand of others that they be like me.”11 A lodestone for confrontation, he sometimes seemed like a hyperintellectualized version of jailed dissident Wei Jingsheng. Despite their un-Maoist democratic beliefs, both seemed drawn to contradiction and conflict in a way not so dissimilar from Mao himself.

Perhaps because of his stammer, Liu did not come across as a pugnacious person with a chip on his shoulder. Instead, what he radiated was a certain lack of social grace, almost ineptness. His wife, Liu Xia, once described him as “an awkward and diligent poet.”12

Viewpoint

07.13.17

The Chinese Think Liu Xiaobo Was Asking For It

James Palmer from Foreign Policy
Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Chinese dissident writer, is dying of liver cancer. He’s been in prison since 2009, his “crime” being the publication of a charter calling for political reform. But he’s not a hero to his countrymen. Most...

As the demonstrations of 1989 gathered momentum, what distinguished Liu were his constant presence in Tiananmen Square and his close relationship with student protesters. Most other academic colleagues tended to appear only intermittently, usually in groups with other well-known professors and intellectuals, and even then often with an air of grand self-importance. This behavior conformed to Liu’s view of the older generation of academics as self-centered, with a superior attitude that made them want to “caress and suckle” less well-known scholars in a manner calculated “to possess, co-opt, and finally asphyxiate” them.13

Believing, as he did, that intellectuals must be willing to act on their thinking, Liu participated more fully in the drama of the square than many of his colleagues, and he did so without much pretension or fanfare, even living with younger Beijing Normal University students.14 With his pockmarked face, a cigarette eternally in hand, and scruffy shirt that had not been changed in days, Liu became a familiar sight around the square. He even became an advisor to the most outspoken and brash student leader, Wu’er Kaixi, a Muslim Uighur from his own university. Their closeness reflected Liu’s hope of transcending the barriers that the hierarchies of age and position traditionally imposed on Chinese, especially in intellectual circles.

Ironically, Liu had not been initially supportive of the protests. When the demonstrations broke out in mid-April 1989, he had just arrived in New York City as a visiting scholar at Columbia University and was skeptical that the new movement would amount to anything. Calling the reaction to Hu Yaobang’s death “hysterical,” he wondered why heroic status should be conferred only on relatively liberal party leaders like him, while true dissidents were ignored. How could someone like Hu, who had stayed in the party system, constantly trimming his jib to match its endless political demands, qualify as a truly independent Chinese intellectual, much less a hero? “Why do the Chinese constantly reenact the same tragedy?” he asked in a 1989 essay, “The Tragedy of the Tragic Hero.” “Why do the Chinese mourn as tragic heroes people like Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai and Hu Yaobang, while they forget such tragic figures as Wei Jingsheng...? How many of China’s intellectuals have thought about asking after Wei Jingsheng’s family as he sits rotting in jail?”15 It was almost as if Liu had a presentiment that one day he, too, would suffer a similar fate.

Despite his initial skepticism about the demonstrations, Liu quickly sensed that this time something different might be afoot, and the thought of missing out on a historic moment in his country’s political progress helped focus his attention. So, on the spur of the moment, he gave up his coveted U.S. fellowship, jumped on a plane, and returned to Beijing. Upon his arrival at Tiananmen Square, he was surprised to find himself truly inspired by what he found: a new sense of gongmin yishi (公民意识), or “civic consciousness”—a phrase that could have come straight from the pages of Liang Qichao or Chen Duxiu. Soon Liu had become far more involved than he had imagined. Before the Beijing Spring had ended, this acerbic, borderline nihilistic thirty-something professor had become concerned with building up as well as tearing down.

One senses his change of heart in “Our Suggestions,” a statement he largely penned that was released a few days after Deng Xiaoping authorized martial law in May. “Each stage in the expansion and escalation of this student movement and its development into a civic movement has been prompted by the government’s political folly,” it read. “We must attempt to change the government’s long-standing inability to listen to the voice of the people and its ideology of privilege that denies the people the rights to demonstrate, strike, and establish popular organizations. We must teach the government to accept the people’s desire to use the powers accorded them in the Constitution to supervise the government and express their demands. We must teach the government how to rule the country democratically.”16

The Hunger Artist

By the beginning of June, the protest movement had lost much of its effective leadership and momentum. In hopes of helping it regain some of its earlier élan, Liu and three other activists—rock singer Hou Dejian, former Beijing Normal University newspaper editor Gao Xin, and Peking University sociology researcher Zhou Duo—decided to camp in the middle of Tiananmen Square at the base of the Monument to the People’s Heroes beneath a banner proclaiming, “No Other Way.”17 They also issued a somewhat histrionic declaration: “We are going on a hunger strike! We protest! We appeal! We confess!” They called on other intellectuals and students to “end their weak-kneed behavior of all talk and no action, passed down for several thousand years,” and to “protest martial law and call for the birth of a new political culture.” As to why they were fasting, they explained, “We want to use peaceful means to display the strength of our democratic forces in civil society and to smash the undemocratic order maintained only by bayonets and lies.”18

The four iconoclasts also took on Deng directly. “Chinese society has been living in a vicious cycle of a new emperor replacing an old emperor,” they proclaimed. “History has proven that the stepping down of some unpopular leader and the assumption of power by some very popular [new] leader cannot solve the essential problems of Chinese politics. What we need is not a perfect savior, but a perfect democratic system.”19

Liu and his fellow fasters also criticized the way that student leaders had been running the protest movement, noting its “disorderly internal organization” and “excessive sense of privilege and inadequate sense of equality...The key lies in recognizing mistakes and correcting them.” Student leaders may have been democratic in theory, they said, but in handling concrete problems they had shown “too much emotion and too little rationality.”

Finally, Liu and his three fellow fasters proclaimed their “Four Basic Slogans”:

  1. We have no enemy! Don’t let hatred and violence poison our wisdom and the process of democratization!
  2. We all need to examine ourselves. China’s backwardness is everyone’s responsibility!
  3. We are first and foremost citizens.
  4. We are not looking for death, but are seeking a true life!20

Their refusal to acknowledge an enemy was meant to be a rejection of Mao’s notion of “antagonistic contradictions” and of his reliance on unending violent struggle as a process. Their challenge to resist hatred hinted at a Christian influence, while their call for self-examination of personal shortcomings had distinctively Confucian overtones. Their third slogan, affirming “citizenship,” was an attempt to realize, at long last, Liang Qichao’s dream of a country populated by “new citizens” capable of enough political consciousness to govern themselves without an emperor, dictator, or Leninist party. And their final slogan was a gentle reprimand to those student leaders who had become fascinated with blood, death, and self-sacrifice as signs of patriotic devotion to “the Chinese Motherland” not to get too carried away by such melodrama.21 Indeed, just before the Goddess of Democracy, a towering white plaster sculpture that looked like a sibling of the Statue of Liberty, was erected by Central Academy of Fine Arts students in front of Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square, protest movement “general commander” Chai Ling had famously proclaimed, “The next step is bloodshed. Only when the Square is washed in blood will the people of the whole country wake up.”22 In the typically overwrought language of the moment, students pledged, “I will devote my young life to protect Tiananmen and the Republic. I may be beheaded, my blood may flow, but the people’s square will not be lost. We are willing to use our young lives to fight to the very last person.”23

As the drama built on that last fateful night of June 4, at about 4:00 a.m. after many students and citizens of Beijing had already sacrificed their blood and lives as the People’s Liberation Army besieged the city, Liu Xiaobo and Hou Dejian managed to secure an agreement from soldiers surrounding the square for peaceful retreat of the remaining demonstrators. With the deal in hand, they rushed back to the monument to plead with students to save themselves by voluntarily leaving. “Blame me if you want, just leave!” Hou begged. A few, who had resolved to die, derided Hou and Liu as “capitulators.” But in a chaotic voice vote, a majority of the exhausted, frightened students seemed to agree.24

“We have achieved a big victory!” Hou proclaimed. “We have made our point! We are not afraid to die...but it is our duty to fight and regroup elsewhere.”25 And in fact, unlike the avenues leading into the square, where the carnage had been great that night, the heart of the Central Kingdom was finally cleared without any known loss of life. In a strange twist of fate, it was thanks to Liu and Hou’s efforts that the government could later claim that “no one was killed in Tiananmen Square.”

Serial Arrests

As a reign of virtual terror descended on Beijing after June 4, Liu did not go into hiding or flee the country like so many others. Late on the night of June 6, as he was openly taking a friend home on his bicycle, an unmarked van pulled up alongside them; several men jumped out, threw the two into the van, and drove away. Not until June 24 did the Chinese government officially announce Liu’s arrest, accusing him of being one of the “black hands” behind the “counterrevolutionary riot.”26

Although he remained in detention for almost twenty months, on January 26, 1991, he was released from jail far earlier than other offenders.27 Undoubtedly this was an acknowledgment of the unusual role he had played in preventing a bloodbath in that most symbolic of spaces, Tiananmen Square. The Chinese state would nonetheless find reason to lock Liu up again on numerous other occasions over the coming years.

As was the case for so many others of his generation, Liu found that his experience in the square became a defining point in his life, one that continues to haunt him even today, as can be gleaned from his book of poetry, June Fourth Elegies. When in 2002 the U.S.-based Chinese Democracy Education Foundation gave Liu its annual award for “outstanding activism,” the Chinese government refused to let him go to Los Angeles to accept it. In a speech delivered in absentia, he revisited his 1989 experience, evincing a continuing sense of survivor’s guilt.

I receive this award today, May 31, 2003, only four days before the anniversary of that bloody morning in June fourteen years ago. I do not know whether my work has been worthy of the people who died and cannot claim to deserve this award. I can understand the honor only as a tribute to those who continue to speak the truth inside a system built on lies as an offering to the souls of the dead, delivered through me, of memory that refuses to be erased. I feel that those who perished that day are looking down on me from above. They look down on a person privileged still to be alive...and I am haunted by the grave responsibility of being still alive.28

What gave Liu’s writing about the 1989 massacre such resonance was his humanistic perspective, which he had acquired in part from reading China’s greatest twentieth-century writer, Lu Xun. Like Lu in his time, Liu was bent on probing uncomfortably deep into the most sensitive interstices of China’s psychosocial identity. “Most depressing is this,” Liu wrote in 2006. “Behind the superficial, arrogant nationalism lies a national ethic that is disconnected from civic values. It is more nearly a primitive jungle ethic of master and slave. In front of the strong, people act like slaves; in front of the weak, like masters.”29 Here he was evoking well-known lines of Lu Xun, who had written in Random Thoughts Under the Lamp in 1925, “The simplest and most adequate way of describing the history of China would be to distinguish between two types of periods: 1/ The periods when people wished in vain to enjoy a stable slave condition; and 2/ The periods when people managed to enjoy a stable slave condition. The alternation of these two states is what old scholars called ‘the cycle of chaos and order.’”30

For Liu, the master-slave dynamic, the lack of values, and the excess of patriotism had all been exposed by his 1989 experience. In a rumination on the June 4 massacre, he cited another Lu Xun essay, this one written in 1926 after forty-seven student protesters were killed in front of Tiananmen. “In China a few brief lives count for nothing,” Lu had forlornly concluded. In his own memorial essay after 1989, Liu added: “The so-called elites of our country have made no progress at all since Lu Xun’s day. It is hard to find any shame or guilt in us. We have yet to learn to draw spiritual meaning from our encounters with suffering, how to live in human dignity, or how to feel concern for the suffering of actual ordinary people.”31

Liu’s sense of unshirkable responsibility for what had happened did little to soften his attitude toward the party, and even his own colleagues. While he was in detention, several of his earlier essays had been published in Hong Kong, and in them he excoriated fellow intellectuals for their continuing subservience to officialdom. “Why is it,” he asked, that Chinese intellectuals “in the end always remained the ‘prostitutes’ and ‘tools of emperors’?” Why were they able to oppose an occasional corrupt or incompetent leader but never turn on the despotic system itself, which gave such leaders their legitimacy? Liu’s answer was that historically they had been bought off by being given a seat at the official table and, by trading “obedience for the purpose of achieving their own vested interest,” had grown accustomed to enjoying its privileges. Even though they well understand the dangers of autocracy, he said, such intellectuals “either sing its praises, contrary to their convictions or remain silent.” And, for Liu, silence was the most reprehensible of all responses because, even when “seething with discontent,” silent intellectuals do nothing “to weaken evil forces.”32 As he would explain several years later in a letter to fellow dissident Liao Yiwu, “One of the main reasons for the silence and amnesia that enshrouded China in the years after the massacre is that no inspiring moral leader stepped forward to be a symbol” of opposition.33

As if to step directly into that role, Liu went right back to writing once he was released from prison—never asking, as his English translator Perry Link puts it, “How should I couch things? What topics should I touch on? What indirection should I use?”34

The Universality of Human Rights

In terms of his basic political philosophy, Liu was very much the heir of Fang Lizhi’s vision of democracy and human rights as values that transcend their utilitarian benefit to a country’s development. For both men, liberal values were part of a universal humanistic legacy that was just as much Chinese as it was French or American. Fang’s belief in human rights grew out of his training in science, an intellectual world in which reason and logic were considered universals. In this sense he was indeed the latter-day incarnation of those two esteemed gentlemen, Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy, called for by May Fourth Movement activist Chen Duxiu. Unlike Fang, however, Liu derived his convictions not from scientific rationalism but from a humanistic spirit that left him contemptuous of the impulse to use Western culture “merely as a tool with which to regenerate the Chinese nation.” He called on Chinese to instead adopt the West’s tradition of employing a “critical attitude toward everything.”35 He was concerned with his country’s international status, but in a way quite unlike those leaders who put “wealth and power” before all else. “China’s present condition, in international comparison, is just too outmoded, too degenerate, too fossilized, and too senile,” he wrote in 1989, just before leaving New York. “It needs challenge, even ‘menace,’ from another civilization; it needs a vast and surging, boundless sea to pound it out of its isolation, its solitude and its narrow-mindedness.”36

As Premier Zhu Rongji and President Jiang Zemin pushed forward their own program of reforming and opening up China’s economy in the 1990s, the only place they could imagine for a person as relentlessly outspoken and implacable as Liu Xiaobo was prison. As a result, throughout the decade he was in and out of jail. Indeed, his plight exemplified Chen Duxiu’s 1919 observation about the experiential benefits of youth alternating time between school and prison. (“Only the civilization that comes out of these two places,” he had said, “is the true civilization, a civilization that has life and value.”37)

During one of his intermittent periods of freedom in May 1995, Liu released a provocative petition entitled “Learn from the Lesson Written in Blood and Push Democracy and Rule of Law Forward: An Appeal on the Sixth Anniversary of Tiananmen.” He was quickly rewarded with another stint in prison for his efforts. After seven more months in jail he was again freed, only to let loose with yet another broadside, this one on the ever-sensitive topic of Taiwan. Rearrested in October 1996, he was sent away again, this time via an extrajudicial procedure known as “reeducation through labor” that required neither formal charges nor trial.38

Released three years later, Liu now found himself jobless and without any means of support, save what he could earn freelancing for overseas Chinese-language publications. But after so many years of imprisonment, he had become a changed person. Though he remained unrepentant, he was less arrogant and less inclined to launch ad hominem attacks on fellow intellectuals. His experience of deprivation and travail seemed to have tempered him with a new generosity of spirit, an appreciation, perhaps, of how difficult it is for anyone to remain truly human under such trying circumstances. His long periods of incarceration had acquainted him with what it means to suffer and wrestle with one’s conscience, even one’s soul. In “A Poem to St. Augustine,” he wrote of “discover[ing] the cruelty and mystery of time.”39 Indeed, he appeared to have experienced a spiritual epiphany that would be reflected again and again in his writings, especially his love poems to his wife, Liu Xia, which became filled with allusions to martyrdom, guilt, repentance, confession, atonement, forgiveness, and salvation through love. These suggestively Christian themes were possibly due to the influence of his close friend Yu Jie, the novelist, who had converted to Christianity in 2003, before being forced into exile.

Through intense personal struggle Liu seemed to have rid himself of much of his earlier egotism and pettiness, concluding, “Hatred only eats away at a person’s intelligence and conscience” and can “poison the spirit of an entire people (as the experience of our country during the Mao era clearly shows). It can lead to cruel and lethal internecine combat, can destroy tolerance and human feeling within a society, and block the progress of a nation toward freedom and democracy...I hope that I can answer the regime’s enmity with utmost benevolence and use love to dissipate hate.”40 As he acknowledged in his 2009 courtroom self-defense, June 1989 was a turning point in his life, engendering a new philosophy, which he summed up in these words: “I have no enemies and no hatred.”41

The China Miracle

When Liu Xiaobo walked out of prison in 1999, he stepped into the middle of one of the most extraordinary bursts of economic growth that China, or any country on the planet for that matter, had ever seen. For the next decade, the attention of the whole world turned in astonishment to the Chinese economic “miracle,” which, near the end of his term, President Hu Jintao could extol as the Chinese people’s “glorious pursuit of prosperity and strength.42” Even in 2008, when the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis turned into a global financial contagion and demand for exports flagged, Beijing managed to drum up a stimulus package massive enough to keep China’s economy from faltering. In 2009 the country overcame Germany to become the world’s largest exporter. The next year China’s economy surpassed Japan in total size to become second only to that of the United States. It seemed that Lenin’s warnings about the dangers of international finance monopoly capitalism were being inverted. After decades of struggle against the hostile, reactionary forces of international capitalism, the Chinese Communist Party had become not only the darling of Wall Street but banker to the world. On Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s watch, the nation’s foreign exchange reserves—denominated heavily in U.S. debt—ballooned to over $3 trillion, causing Beijing to look for ways to diversify its foreign holdings away from U.S. Treasury bills. This led to the creation of a sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation, with an initial pool of $200 billion. After over a century of being a debtor nation, in the 2000s China suddenly found itself not only awash in surplus foreign currency but in the unprecedented and enviable position of becoming a global lender and investor. Hu’s “glorious pursuit of prosperity” seemed, from a distance, to have been executed with great acumen, winning over businessmen, tourists, and development experts, all astonished by the towering new urban skylines, magnificent airports, and ultramodern high-speed rail, highway, tunnel, and bridge networks, as well as all the new highconcept museums, opera houses, government centers, and corporate headquarters.

Only a few voices wondered whether the “China miracle” was not in some ways a mirage. Foremost among them was Liu Xiaobo. As the economy flourished, he wrote in a 2008 essay, “Behind the China Miracle,” “powerful officials saw an opportunity to make sudden and enormous profits. Their unscrupulous pursuit of profit became the engine of the ensuing economic boom.”43 The prosperity generated by such crony capitalism had “stirred a nationwide popular fever to get rich quick,” he charged, allowing a few “to amass huge fortunes.” “Growth rates of over 9 percent annually were called a ‘miracle,’ and, indeed they were, in a way.” But, because the “privatization” that followed “was neither legal nor ethical,” in Liu’s view it had led to “a robber baron’s paradise, a free-for-all.”44

As Liu saw it, the party’s elite was using the economic boom to keep the intellectual elite “atomized, scattered and isolated.”45 “First they terrorized them with a bloody crackdown, then they seduced them with material rewards,” he said. “After a few years the intellectuals had been transformed into a pack of complacent cynics. In their hearts, many of them still reject the regime’s ideology and feel contempt for its actions. But the lure of material benefit on one side and the threat of political persecution on the other have channeled them into alignment with the regime. . . . They no longer feel embarrassed at defending what the power elite does, and are often willing to serve as cosmeticians for the new capitalist-Communist regime.”46

Whereas many inside China and elsewhere extolled the way the standard of living for hundreds of millions had risen to unprecedented levels and an incomparable new national infrastructure was being built in record time, Liu saw a descent into a morass of craven selfishness that was morally crippling the nation even as it was materially building it up and out. “This is what lies behind the economic miracle: the miracle of systematic corruption; the ‘miracle’ of an unjust society; the ‘miracle’ of moral decline; and the ‘miracle’ of a squandered future,” he wrote caustically. “The damage—to the economy, to human rights, to the entire society—is incalculable. Will we ever be able to recover? If so, that would be the miracle!”47

Although they might not dare to put it so bluntly, many mainstream Chinese economists agreed with Liu, at least in part. Even Premier Wen Jiabao warned of “unsteady, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable” growth.48 The gap between rich and poor that Zhu Rongji had fretted about as he left office had only grown larger. Like continental plates inching inexorably apart toward an earthquake-like rupture, China’s Gini coefficient, the standard measure of economic inequality, already exceeded 0.4 by 2001, the last year that the government released an official number. And by 2010, the index was thought to be as high as 0.6, making China one of the most unequal major economies in the world.49 In 2010, even though up to five hundred million people continued to live in grinding poverty on less than $2 a day, China earned the dubious distinction of boasting more billionaires than Russia.50

And, sure enough, as inequality increased, so did social instability. The number of officially reported “mass incidents” of local protest rose from thousands to tens of thousands a year until 2006, at which point the government stopped releasing annual statistics.51 But according to leading researchers on social stability, by the end of the Hu Jintao era the number was well over a hundred thousand, some thought fast approaching two hundred thousand.52

With instability on the rise, party leaders turned to an ancient formula—the Confucian emphasis on he (和), “harmony”—for an ideological salve. Liu saw Hu Jintao’s counterintuitive decision to reembrace the party’s former ideological enemy, Confucianism—what Hu called “China’s vast and rich culture [that] embodies the profound spiritual aspirations of the Chinese nation”53—as an utterly cynical act. Never mind that such a move would have confounded May Fourth intellectuals and disgusted Mao; the party was now shamelessly trying to revive a pop version of Confucianism, to use it like fire retardant to extinguish hot spots of social instability, lest they build into full-fledged conflagrations. Liu had a particular revulsion for the kind of sophistry involved in such popularizers as Yu Dan, the Confucian televangelist who hawked a watered-down version of the Sage’s beliefs for the masses, complete, as Liu wrote, “with a sales pitch that combines tall tales about the ancients with insights that are about as sophisticated as the lyrics of pop songs.”54

Living in Truth

Compelled to live in a society that would not countenance the public expression of dissenting views, Liu wrestled with a dilemma: How could he stay true to his beliefs under such repressive circumstances? He particularly admired former Czech president and playwright Vaclav Havel as one of those rare human beings who, even while living in totalitarian circumstances, had somehow found “the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support,” and who, by stepping beyond “living within the lie,” had managed to find a way “to live within the truth.”55 Or, as dissident artist Ai Weiwei described the choices in a 2012 tweet, one can decide “to be true, or to lie. To take action, or be brainwashed. To be free, or to be jailed.”56

“We need not demand of ourselves any extraordinary courage, nobility, conscience, or wisdom,” wrote Liu, echoing Havel. “We need not ask ourselves to risk prison or to go on hunger strikes or carry out self-immolations. All we need to do is to eliminate lies from our public speech and to give up the use of lies as a tactic of dealing with the threats and enticements of the regime...To refuse to lie in day-to-day public life is the most powerful tool for breaking down a tyranny built on mendacity.”57 This might be considered the third refusal in Liu’s developing life philosophy—no enemies, no hatred, no lies.

Twenty-First-Century Nationalism

For Liu, one of the most unforgivable forms of state mendacity was when officials used nationalist sentiment to excite citizens over imagined foreign threats in order to distract them from real problems at home. Lacking the deep visceral feeling of so many other reformers and intellectuals that above all else they must first help erase China’s “century of shame,” Liu, like Fang Lizhi, spoke contemptuously of the party’s efforts to promote what he considered a toxic mixture of traditional culture and modern patriotism. Liu felt China’s challenge was to regain a sense of national pride by learning how to govern itself justly and treating its own people humanely, rather than by impressing the world through demonstrations of brute wealth and military power. He worried more about “a mentality of world domination” characterized by a “thuggish outlook.” “What these traits have actually brought to the common people of China, past and present, has not been peace, success, honor, health, or a vigorous society,” he warned in 2002, but “bloodshed, defeat, ruin, humiliation, dismal lives and societal collapse.”58

What Liu found most humiliating was not China’s weaknesses, but the embarrassing way its leaders had historically presumed its citizenry to be incapable of participating in the process of self-government. “During the last century of China’s history the nation has fallen victim to cycles of self-abasement and self-aggrandizement, and this is because we have never been able to escape the clutches of the demon of nationalism,” he wrote in a provocative 2002 essay, “Bellicose and Thuggish: The Roots of Chinese ‘Patriotism’ at the Dawn of the 21st Century.” Seeing modern Chinese history as an epic of serial catastrophes leading to ever greater levels of failed nerve and collapsed national confidence, he cautioned against reacting with a mixture of arrogance and self-deprecation. “From ‘Our technology is not as good as other people’s’ to ‘Our political system is not as good as other people’s,’ and on to ‘Our culture is not as good as other people’s’ Chinese reflections on our own defects probed ever deeper,” he wrote. “But the primary mind-set that guided the probing was neither ‘liberation of humanity’ or even ‘enriching the people,’ but rather a sense of shame at China’s loss of sovereignty and other national humiliations.”59 Liu particularly feared that China would move from being a weak country that had been bullied to a strong country that would bully both its own people and those of other countries. And he wanted nothing to do with a reform effort that sprang from such “narrow nationalism” or from striving for “goals of enriching the state and strengthening the military [that] took precedence over ideas that could lead to human freedom.”60

As Liu saw it, China faced a choice between a crude nationalism that could create the impression of strength, on one hand, and universally accepted humanistic values that could create a more just society and real strength, on the other. “When a population gives its majority support to narrow nationalism in preference to the universal values of human freedom and dignity,” wrote Liu, “it turns ‘patriotism’ into an argument for despotic government, military adventurism and thuggery.”61

The Opium of Gold Medalism

For Liu, one such tawdry manifestation of “thuggery” was the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, where “the love of gold medals among Party officials and the patriotic set” quickly reached a point that Liu saw as “pathological.”62 Such an “obsession” with the medal count, he wrote, was devoid of “any traces of the ‘Olympic spirit’ or human values.” It was just another primitive way for the government “to channel popular nationalism into support of its dictatorship.”63

Of course, Liu already viewed the Chinese leadership’s long-standing fixation on “overtaking the West” as also being pathological. “The excitement that gripped the whole country at being number one in gold seemed to forecast a brilliant prospect of China’s overtaking America in every other respect and becoming the number one nation in the world,” he wrote.64 But, he concluded, “a nation obsessed with gold medals will never turn into a great, civilized nation.”65

In many ways Liu agreed with dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who, although he had helped design the giant National Stadium—better known as the Bird’s Nest—had come to view the Olympic Games as “an extremely strange and surreal nightmare.”66 For Ai, the Games were like “a fake smile, an elaborate costume party with the sole intention of glorifying the country,” as he told the Guardian. “From the opening to the closing ceremony, from the torch relay to the cheers for gold medals—these all displayed the might and the desperation of a totalitarian regime.”67

Needless to say, the party leadership, as well as many ordinary Chinese, saw the Olympic Games in a very different light. Indeed, hosting them was one of Deng Xiaoping’s last unfulfilled dreams. In the wake of the events of 1989, he had hoped that by winning a bid to host an Olympic Games, China could repair some of the damage to its international prestige. When in the 1993 competition to win the 2000 Summer Games Beijing lost to Sydney by one vote, party propagandists portrayed the decision—which had been influenced by global human rights concerns—as a national affront, alleging that China’s enemies had blocked its bid as part of an ongoing international campaign to deny the country its rightful place in the world. When Beijing won the International Olympic Committee vote in the 2000 competition for the 2008 Games, the decision triggered wild celebrations of joy.

As the 2008 Games approached, Beijing hoped that they would be able to highlight China’s heping jueqi, and hexie shehui (和平崛起, and 和谐社会), “peaceful rise” and “harmonious society.” But then trouble suddenly erupted in Lhasa, Tibet. On March 10, the Dalai Lama released a statement on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese Communist rule, the failure of which had sent him into permanent exile in India. “China is emerging as a powerful country due to her great economic progress,” he wrote. “This is to be welcomed, but...the world is eagerly waiting to see how the present Chinese leadership will put into effect its avowed concepts of ‘harmonious society’ and ‘peaceful rise.’ For the realization of these concepts, economic progress alone will not suffice. There must be improvements in observance of the rule of law, transparency, and right to information, as well as freedom of speech.”68

That same day a few hundred monks from Drepung Monastery in Tibet marched toward Lhasa to protest restrictions on their cultural and religious life. The next four days saw an escalating cycle of monastic protests and police suppression, until on March 14 the movement grew violent: Tibetan residents in Lhasa exploded into an orgy of rioting and ethnic retribution, rampaging through the streets of the city, reserving a special brutality for Chinese business owners.69

For President Hu Jintao, the news from Lhasa must have sparked a sense of déjà vu. In early 1989 when monks, students, and commoners had engaged in an earlier round of mass protest against the Chinese government, he was a rising star in the party, a liberal-leaning technocrat serving as the senior provincial official in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and he had quickly ordered martial law, forcefully suppressing the demonstrations. His tough line won many admirers in Beijing, including Deng Xiaoping, who put him in line to be selected top leader in 2002. Given Hu’s background, it was not surprising, then, that when protests again erupted on his watch in March 2008, his response was to deploy overwhelming force once more. Tibet was put under severe security lockdown, and reports of mass detentions, even executions, were soon filtering out of the region. Members of the foreign press were barred from reporting there, and Chinese officials angrily denounced the Dalai Lama—an internationally respected Nobel Peace Prize laureate—as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Many in the international community began wondering aloud if it had been such a good idea to award Beijing the right to host the Olympic Games after all.

The violence in Tibetan areas turned the upcoming Olympics into a lightning rod for criticism of the Chinese government on a global scale. To generate excitement for the Games, Beijing had planned the longest Olympic torch relay in history, extending eighty-five thousand miles and touching down in all quarters of the globe. But instead of ending up symbolizing a “journey of harmony,” as Beijing had hoped, the torch relay soon degenerated into scenes of acrimonious and sometimes violent confrontations between foreign human rights protesters scuffling with patriotic pro-China counterprotesters. The worst moment came in early April, when a wheelchair-bound Chinese Olympian named Jin Jing was accosted by pro-Tibet demonstrators along the banks of the Seine River in Paris. When Jin used her body to try to defend the torch, nationalist Chinese netizens immediately dubbed her the “Smiling Angel in a Wheelchair,” a proud, heroic defender of Chinese dignity pitted against a hostile world still trying to humiliate China.

As the August start of the Games approached, the mood in Beijing felt increasingly like the spring of 1999, when students outraged over the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade had hurled rocks at the U.S. embassy. In that volatile moment it had been Hu Jintao, then heir apparent, who had appeared on TV to denounce the “criminal” and “barbarous” act perpetrated by a “U.S.-led NATO.”70 Now, in 2008, Hu was once more under pressure to defend the nation’s dignity. But again there was a contradiction: the deep desire for the kind of international prestige and recognition conferred by a successful Olympic Games was in direct conflict with the feelings of insult from the anti-China protests that had so marred the torch’s “journey of harmony” around the world. If China was to pull off the feat of successfully hosting the Games—which were, after all, supposed to be a symbol of world peace—leaders in Beijing would have to resist lashing out, for the moment at least, and focus instead on dazzling the world with an Olympic celebration of China’s progress.

And dazzle they did. With billions watching worldwide, Beijing put on a spectacle befitting a great-power-to-be. Pyrotechnic artist Cai Guoqiang designed a radiant fireworks show that lit up the night sky over the capital, and the ninety thousand spectators in the Bird’s Nest stadium feasted their eyes on an extravaganza produced by legendary film director Zhang Yimou at a cost of over $100 million. In the ceremony’s dramatic opening sequence, 2,008 drummers festooned in the robes of ancient warriors took their places on the stadium field, their bodies forming the single Chinese character that President Hu had chosen to define his era: he (和), “harmony.”

The Games represented an emphatic victory for China, helping put 1989 behind it, repairing much of the damage of the disastrous torch debacle, erasing the memories of the Tibetan revolt, and projecting instead a gleaming image of a rising power espousing ancient values. But the price of this harmony was paid domestically through further controls on “unharmonious” elements. State security budgets swelled in order to pacify Tibetan areas, while nationwide, police and domestic security agents installed tens of thousands of new surveillance cameras and Web monitoring devices, made “house calls” to the homes of dissidents, and stepped up other kinds of oversight programs to ensure that there would be no surprises. And even after the Games, these enhanced security measures remained in place, “turning the Olympic experience into a lasting mechanism,” as the minister of public security put it, in rather Orwellian language.71 The new buzzword became weiwen (维稳), or “stability maintenance,” a euphemism for a vast new array of ongoing public security measures on which the government expended close to $100 billion in 2011—reportedly more than on national defense.72 Perhaps the most prominent victim of this new push to ensure that there were no discordant voices to challenge the party’s triumphant narrative of strength and prosperity was Liu Xiaobo.

Blogging the Truth

Already in 2002, in the wake of the Color Revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia, President Hu had signed off on new crackdowns against political dissent, including yet another detention order for Liu Xiaobo.73 The state’s campaign “to harmonize society” was resisted by civil rights groups, public interest lawyers, and activist intellectuals, who formed a loose-knit movement that came to be known as weiquan yundong (维权运动), “rights defenders,” and led to public campaigns to defend the physically disabled, AIDS victims, and fellow political dissidents. Those who became too outspoken were simply arrested or disappeared—like the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng in 2005, the lawyer Gao Zhisheng in 2006, and the community organizer Hu Jia in 2007. But, the biggest new battlefield in Hu Jintao’s campaign to impose harmony on an increasingly outspoken and freewheeling society was online.

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the number of Chinese Internet users exploded, doubling from around thirty million to nearly sixty million in just the first year of Hu’s reign alone.74 A decade later, China had more than half a billion people online, three hundred million of whom were obsessively microblogging their daily lives and thoughts for all the world to see. In order to “maintain order” over this sprawling, hyperconnected virtual China, the party engineered a system in which data coming in from the outside world had to flow through a certain limited number of gateways that were relatively easy to monitor and control via packet sniffing of their content. This online censorship regime, officially called the “Golden Shield” but criticized as the “Great Firewall of China,” enabled the party to keep certain ideologically unacceptable sites that resided on servers abroad beyond the reach of most Chinese users. At the same time, tens of thousands of surfing Internet police were employed to warn or simply shut down sites and users who crossed the line of what was acceptable to the party. What the party essentially aspired to create was a Chinese Intranet, one that could be disconnected from the rest of the world as necessary. In this game of online cat-and-mouse, Chinese netizens came up with a playful term to describe having a post deleted or website blocked: they called it bei hexie (被和谐), “being harmonized.”

Despite the compromised state of the Internet in China, however, a new online revolution was taking place that had a profound effect on Liu Xiaobo and his work. Although he spent much of the last two decades in prison, he never stopped writing. (Indeed, his hundreds of essays and poems now fill some seventeen volumes.)75 Yet because of official censorship, his work could not be published or distributed in print inside China. Fortunately, the brave new world of the Internet created for him, and other dissident writers, a whole new global outlet, one that has also proven deeply unnerving to the party.

“The Communist regime, always obsessed with media control, has been frantic to keep up with Chinese web users,” explained Liu in a 2006 essay, “Long Live the Internet.” “Dictators always fear open information and freedom of speech, and the political possibilities of the amazing Internet can be terrifying to them...It is no wonder that controlling what gets onto the Internet has moved to the very top of the regime’s agenda in ideological matters.”76

By 2013, the ballooning number of Chinese online had created a new reality, a powerful tool for dissident writers and political activists previously shut out of state-controlled media outlets. As Liu wrote in a second Internet essay in 2008, “China has a rich tradition of persecuting people for their words. Victims are strewn across Chinese history, from the First Emperor of Qin and his famous ‘burning of books and live burials of scholars’77...[but] the Internet is like a magic engine, and it has helped my writing erupt like a geyser. Now I can even live off what I write!”78

Liu was amazed by the new diversity that the Internet injected into Chinese life. Whereas previously “there was only one avenue to public prominence in Communist China, and that was through the official Party-state system,” now the Internet was capable of generating “‘stars’ outside the Party-state system,” such as Han Han, an immensely popular and opinionated blogger in Shanghai who had millions of followers.79 The costly effort the government made to erect the Great Firewall was only further proof of the Web’s powers. And, as Liu discovered in 2008, one of its new powers was that it enabled people like him to organize and then solicit signatories for political petitions and open letters.

“Before the Internet,” it “took a lot of work to organize them,” explained Liu. “As a veteran of those efforts, I look now at the computer screen before me, on which I do emails so easily, and sigh to remember what I used to have to go through.”80

Charter 08

In 2008 Liu became involved in just such an open letter, and its repercussions on his life would be profound. As he watched the Tibetan uprising, the Olympic Games, and “stability maintenance” campaign unfold, Liu and a group of like-minded liberal critics went public with a straightforward critique of China’s system of one-party governance in a document they called “Charter 08.”

Modeled on Charter 77, the declaration spearheaded by Václav Havel and Jan Patočka in 1977 that helped bring about the Velvet Revolution ending communism in Czechoslovakia, Charter 08 was launched on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the goal of spelling out the reforms necessary to end one-party domination and establish the rule of law in China. Liu quickly became one of the most active members of the loosely federated group that called itself Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Needless to say, the call for an end to one-party rule was not welcomed by China’s leaders, who denied its organizers all access to mainstream media outlets. So the group turned to the Internet. Posted there on December 10, Charter 08 garnered more than twelve thousand supporting signatures, which was a substantial feat in a country where signing anything of a controversial political nature has grave consequences.

For the party, December 2008 was supposed to mark a grand celebration of the spectacular success of thirty years of “reform and opening up” and of national rejuvenation. But for the drafters of Charter 08, China’s economic boom had only papered over the failure of political reform and a concomitant debasement of social values. “A hundred years have passed since the writing of China’s first constitution,” the Charter 08 document began. “We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre of pro-democracy student protesters. The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values. By departing from these values, the Chinese government’s approach to ‘modernization’ has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse.”81

Warning that China’s “future hangs in the balance,” Charter 08 went on to declare, “For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an ‘enlightened overlord’ or an ‘honest official’ and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy and the rule of law.”82 It concluded, “Unfortunately, we stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics. Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby not only constricting China’s own development, but limiting the progress of all human civilization...The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer.”83

In its uncompromising directness, the language of Charter 08 was vintage Liu Xiaobo. “I think my open letter is quite mild,” he protested to The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos. “Western countries are asking the Chinese government to fulfill its promises to improve the human-rights situation, but if there’s no voice from inside the country, then the government will say, ‘It’s only a request from abroad; the domestic population doesn’t demand it.’ I want to show that it’s not only the hope of the international community, but also the hope of the Chinese people to improve their human-rights situation.”84

In the end, it didn’t really matter how Liu explained his effort; the message of Charter 08 was simply too bold and too antithetical to the strategy for modernization that the party’s leadership had adopted.

The Trial

Late on the night of December 8, 2008—two days before Charter 08 was posted to the world on the Internet—police arrived at Liu’s apartment, seized his books, papers, and computer files, and detained him yet again. This time he was accused of using “rumor mongering and slander to incite subversion of state power and overthrow of the socialist system.”85 Faced with a trial, Liu, like Wei Jingsheng, insisted on defending himself, hoping to use his court appearance as a pulpit to continue his attack on one-party rule.

Liu’s trial did not begin until a year later, leaving him plenty of time to draft his self-defense. In it, he explained to the court that he wanted to leave behind “the fullest possible historical record of what happens when an independent intellectual stands up to a dictatorship.”86 “Criticism is not rumor-mongering and opposition is not slander,” he argued defiantly. “Over the past two decades, from 1989 to 2009, I have consistently held that China’s political reform should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and under control. I have always opposed the notion of sudden radical leaps, and have opposed violent revolution even more stoutly.”87 And he stubbornly defended freedom of speech, which, he declared, had disappeared after 1949, when “the entire country fell into a tawdry chorus of enforced uniformity.”88 He reminded the court that “treating speech as crime not only runs counter to the modern trends in world history, but more deeply, abuses humanism and human rights in a fundamental moral sense. This is true regardless of whether we are speaking of ancient times or modern, of China or the world.”89

About himself, he said: “Merely for expressing different political views and for joining a peaceful democracy movement, a teacher [i.e., Liu] lost his right to teach, a writer his right to publish and a public intellectual could no longer speak openly. Whether we view this as my own fate or as the fate of China after thirty years of ‘reform and opening up,’ it truly is a sad fate.”90

Liu continued to express hope that whatever the outcome of his trial, he could “rise above my personal fate and contribute to the progress of our country and to changes in our society. I hope that I can answer the regime’s enmity with utmost benevolence, and can use love to dissipate hate.” But he also evinced defiance. “No force can block the thirst for freedom that lies within human nature, and someday China, too, will be a nation of laws where human rights are paramount...I hope that I will be the last victim in China’s long record of treating words as crimes. Free expression is the base of human rights, the roots of human nature, and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature, and to suppress truth.”91

Not surprisingly, the court found Liu’s closing statement too much of an affront, and the presiding judge unceremoniously cut him off after fourteen minutes, claiming (contrary to Chinese legal procedure) that a defendant should take no more time in defending himself than the prosecutor took in putting forth the state’s accusations.92

Then Liu was sentenced to eleven more years in prison.

Nobel Redemption

When Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, visited his Manchurian prison to inform her husband that he had won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, he wept, declaring, “This is for those souls of the dead.”93 As he had said in his self-defense, “Twenty years have passed since 1989, but the aggrieved ghosts of those who were massacred that year are still watching us.”94

Of course, he could not travel to Oslo to accept his award, making him only the fifth prize recipient in history unable to attend the ceremony in person. The Chinese government denied his family and friends exit permission to attend the ceremony. At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a tirade against the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee. “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who violated Chinese law,” a spokesman declared. “It’s a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the Peace Prize itself for the Nobel committee to award the prize to such a person.”95 Then, Chinese diplomats began aggressively pressuring other governments not to send their ambassadors in Oslo to the ceremony, canceled a fisheries conference scheduled with Norway, and even put Norwegian smoked salmon exports to China on hold.

In praising the Nobel Committee’s choice, Fang Lizhi, then living and teaching in Arizona, wrote that the prize committee had “challenged the West to re-examine a dangerous notion that has become prevalent since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre: that economic development will inevitably lead to democracy in China...Regardless of how widely China’s leaders have opened its market to the outside world, they have not retreated even half a step from their repressive political creed.”96

For China, a country that had for so long coveted a Nobel Prize, Liu’s award was a bitter slap in the face. Just as many Chinese feel a fierce patriotic urgency to “catch up to the West,” so they have also passionately yearned to have a PRC citizen living in the motherland win a prize. But now when the long-awaited moment had at last arrived, the recipient had disappointingly turned out to be incarcerated as an enemy of the state. (Finally, in 2012, a Chinese citizen neither in exile nor in prison, writer Mo Yan, did win the Nobel Prize for Literature.)

In 1988, just before his first trip to the United States, Liu had written his friend Geremie Barmé: “Perhaps my personality means that I’ll crash into brick walls wherever I go.” But, he wrote, “I can accept it all, even if in the end I crack my skull open.”97 During the two decades since, Liu did indeed hit a few brick walls. What made his predicament so intractable was not just that he was unyielding on matters of principle but that for him human rights had no class or national character, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, and Mao. For him, human rights could not be eschewed, even if one wished to do so. They were something everyone just had by dint of being human. “Human rights,” said Liu, “are not bestowed by a state.”98 Like democracy, they were for him immutable, not simply tools that could conveniently be taken up or set aside by a reformer or a government depending on their functionality at a given moment.

Whether in the very end Liu will be pushed to the side of Chinese history, like Wei Jingsheng and Fang Lizhi (the latter dying in exile in Arizona in April 2012), or whether he might someday reemerge from prison a hero and play a prominent role in his country’s political future, like Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel, Lech Walesęsa, Kim Dae-jung, and Aung San Suu Kyi, is still uncertain. However, one thing that is certain, at least for the moment, is that most of the things for which Liu Xiaobo sacrificed his freedom remain antithetical to China’s current political leaders and that his ideas have represented a parallel, but less urgent, stream of thinking about China’s modernization that has flowed quietly alongside the torrent of words from thinkers and leaders questing after revitalization of the nation’s wealth, power, and honor.

In contemplating the future, it is always important to remember that, despite all its rigidities and infirmities, the Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly surprised the world with its ability to change course and prevail, including its most recent feat of steering China into the twenty-first century as a nascent superpower. Indeed, in doing so, it has upended both Marxist orthodoxy and the common wisdom of Western experts about how countries develop and whether free markets have an intrinsic and necessary relationship to democracy. But these two streams of thought—one in search of wealth and power, the other reaching for democracy—may well yet converge in the future. And if they do, the voices of people such as Wei Jingsheng, Fang Lizhi, and Liu Xiaobo will doubtless become more important. Of course, when and how this might come to pass is still an unanswerable question.


  1. Liu, quoted in Barmé, “Confession, Redemption, and Death,” in Hicks, The Broken Mirror, 56.
  2. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 237.
  3. Liu, June Fourth Elegies, xxv.
  4. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, xv.
  5. Liu, quoted in Barmé, “Confession, Redemption, and Death,” 53.
  6. Yang, translator’s afterword, in Liu, June Fourth Elegies, 214.
  7. Barmé and Jaivin, New Ghosts, Old Dreams, 385.
  8. Yang, translator’s afterword, in Liu, June Fourth Elegies, 215.
  9. Barmé, “Confession, Redemption, and Death,” 57.
  10. Ibid., 59.
  11. Ibid., 52.
  12. Yang, translator’s afterword, in Liu, June Fourth Elegies, 225.
  13. Liu, quoted in Barmé, “Confession, Redemption, and Death,” 81.
  14. Ibid., 62.
  15. Ibid., 61.
  16. Barme and Jaivin, New Ghosts, Old Dreams, p. 67–9.
  17. Fathers and Higgins, Tiananmen: The Rape of Beijing, 90.
  18. Ogden et al., China’s Search for Democracy, 357.
  19. Ibid., 358.
  20. Ibid., 360–61.
  21. See Dardess, Blood and History in China for historical echoes of student martyrology.
  22. Schell, Mandate of Heaven, 138–9.
  23. Barme, “Confessions, Redemptions, Death,” 79.
  24. Schell, Mandate of Heaven, 152–53.
  25. Fathers and Higgins, Tiananmen: The Rape of Beijing, 122.
  26. Schell, Mandate of Heaven, 169 and Perry Link, Introduction, No Enemies, No Hatred, xvii.
  27. Yang, translator’s afterword, in Liu, June Fourth Elegies, 218.
  28. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 293.
  29. Ibid., 237–8.
  30. Lu Xun, Random Thoughts Under the Lamp quoted in Schell, Mandate of Heaven, faceplate. For different translation, also see Selected Works of Lu Xun, 2:135.
  31. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 10.
  32. Goldman, Comrade to Citizen, 13–14.
  33. Liu’s letter to Liao Yiwu was written in 2000 and can be found in No Enemies, No Hatred, 288.
  34. Link Introduction, ibid., xiii.
  35. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 118.
  36. Ibid., 117.
  37. Chen Duxiu, quoted in Lanza, Behind the Gate, 141.
  38. Link Introduction, No Enemies, No Hatred, xviii.
  39. Ibid., 241.
  40. Ibid., 322–23.
  41. Ibid., 321–22.
  42. “Full Text of Hu Jintao’s Speech at CPC Anniversary Gathering,” Xinhua, July 1, 2011.
  43. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 223.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Ibid., 226.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid., 227.
  48. “Premier: China Confident in Maintaining Economic Growth,” Xinhua, March 16, 2007.
  49. Shen Hu, “China’s Gini Index at 0.61,” Caixin, December 10, 2012.
  50. Devichand, “Millions ‘Left Behind’ in Rural China,” BBC News, May 12, 2010; Flannery, “China’s Billionaire Boom,” Forbes, October 27, 2010.
  51. Freeman, “The Accuracy of China’s ‘Mass Incidents,’” Financial Times, March 2, 2010.
  52. Orlik, “Unrest Grows as Economy Booms,” Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2011.
  53. Hu Jintao, “Adhering to the Socialist Cultural Development Path with Chinese Characteristics and Striving to Build a Country with a Strong Socialist Culture,” Qiushi Journal, April 2012.
  54. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 189.
  55. Havel, Václav Havel: Living in Truth, 55.
  56. Ai Weiwei Twitter feed, cited in Wall Street Journal, “A Dissident’s Tips for Survival,” December 29–30, 2012.
  57. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 295.
  58. Ibid., 83–84.
  59. Ibid., 62–63.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Ibid., 83.
  62. Ibid., 246.
  63. Ibid., 245.
  64. Ibid., 249.
  65. Ibid., 255.
  66. Ai, “The Olympics Was a Strange, Surreal Nightmare,” China Boom Project.
  67. Ai, “China Excluded Its People from the Olympics. London Is Different,” The Guardian, July 25, 2012.
  68. Dalai Lama, “Forty-Ninth Anniversary,” Central Tibetan Administration, March 10, 2008.
  69. Barnett, “Thunder from Tibet,” New York Review of Books, May 1, 2008; Miles, “Siege of Lhasa,” The Economist, March 17, 2008.
  70. Hu Jintao, “China’s Response,” PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, May 9, 1999.
  71. Fewsmith, “‘Social Management’ as a Way of Coping with Heightened Social Tensions,” China Leadership Monitor 36, January 26, 2012, 6.
  72. Jacobs and Ansfield, “Well-Oiled Security Apparatus in China Stifles Calls for Change,” New York Times, February 28, 2011.
  73. Fewsmith, China Since Tiananmen, 260–61.
  74. China Internet Network Information Center.
  75. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, xxi.
  76. Ibid., 203.
  77. Ibid., 211.
  78. Ibid., 204.
  79. Ibid., 209.
  80. Ibid., 205.
  81. Ibid., 301.
  82. Ibid., 303, 305.
  83. Ibid., 309–10.
  84. Osnos, “Liu Xiaobo Wins the Nobel Peace Prize,” The New Yorker, October 10, 2010.
  85. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 315.
  86. Ibid., xx.
  87. Ibid., 315–16.
  88. Ibid., 319.
  89. Ibid., 318.
  90. Ibid., 322.
  91. Ibid., 323–26.
  92. Mo et al., “Criminal Defense in Sensitive Cases,” 73–74.
  93. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, xvii.
  94. Ibid., 322.
  95. International Reaction to Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize,” BBC News, October 28, 2010.
  96. Fang, “Liu Xiaobo and Illusions About China,” New York Times, October 11, 2010.
  97. Barmé, Confessions, Redemption, Death, 80.
  98. Liu, No Enemies, No Hatred, 304.