Home GRASP GRASP/China China’s conscience Liu Xiaobo’s suffering holds a message for China

China’s conscience Liu Xiaobo’s suffering holds a message for China

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LIU XIAOBO, who died on July 13th, was hardly a household name in the West. Yet of those in China who have called for democracy, resisting the Communist Party’s ruthless efforts to prevent it from ever taking hold, Mr Liu’s name stands out.
LIU XIAOBO, who died on July 13th, was hardly a household name in the West. Yet of those in China who have called for democracy, resisting the Communist Party’s ruthless efforts to prevent it from ever taking hold, Mr Liu’s name stands out. His dignified, calm and persistent calls for freedom for China’s people made Mr Liu one of the global giants of moral dissent, who belongs with Andrei Sakharov and Nelson Mandela—and like them was a prisoner of conscience and a winner of the Nobel peace prize.
Mr Liu died in a hospital bed in north-eastern China from liver cancer (see  article) . The suffering endured by Mr Liu, his family and friends was compounded by his miserable circumstances. Mr Liu, an academic and author specialising in literature and philosophy, was eight years into an 11-year sentence for subversion (see our obituary) . His crime was to write a petition calling for democracy, a cause he had been championing for decades—he was prominent in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Though in a civilian hospital, he was still kept as a prisoner. The government refused his and his family’s requests that he be allowed to seek treatment abroad. It posted guards around his ward, deployed its army of internet censors to rub out any expression of sympathy for him, and ordered his family to be silent. The Communist Party wants the world to forget Mr Liu and what he stood for. There is a danger that it will.
A cynical game
Western governments have a long history of timidity and cynicism in their responses to China’s abysmal treatment of dissidents. In the 1980s, as China began to open to the outside world, Western leaders were so eager to win its support in their struggle against the Soviet Union that they made little fuss about China’s political prisoners. Why upset the reform-minded Deng Xiaoping by harping on about people like Wei Jingsheng, then serving a 15-year term for his role in the Democracy Wall movement, which had seen protests spread across China and which Deng had crushed in 1979?
The attitudes of Western leaders changed in 1989 when Deng suppressed the Tiananmen unrest, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Suddenly it was fashionable to complain about jailing dissidents (it helped that China seemed less important when the Soviet Union was crumbling) .

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