Alexander the Great accidentally killed one of his friends, Clitus, when the latter chided him for slowly turning himself into a tyrant. Alexander, having been reared under the keen eye of Aristotle—the great philosopher—knew that the most abominable thing that could ever happen to a leader is to turn himself into a tyrant. Yet, tyranny can also be in the form of government, and it is more abominable when it has the face and force of a highly systematic government.
The 80s had been marked by great political upheavals. It started when the famous Halley’s Comet appeared ominously over the horizon after 76 years of absence, with its tail pointing upward in 1986. This sign augurs well for the brewing political upheaval throughout the world which, like a fledgling swallow, took its maiden flight at EDSA, Philippines in February of 1986, with the bloodless People Power reverberating throughout the world, bringing down to his knees the strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Then, the swallow—the bird of freedom—landed in Cathay, inspiring the youth and intellectuals of China to make a standoff at Tiananmen Square for several days in 1989, but was thwarted by the monstrous hand of red tyranny; and thus once again, the young swallow was forced to soar high towards Europe taunting the European youth, as well as its old, to dismantle the infamous Berlin Wall, and her maiden flight culminated in 1991, with the fall of the USSR and the end of Cold War.
It was around 1986, when Liu Xiaobo slowly matured in his political and social views while taking his doctoral study. Then onward he was tagged as the “dark horse” for his biting comments and poignant opinions of the government.
Liu Xiaobo’s Academic Background
Liu Xiaobo was born on the 28 of December 1955 in the city of Changchun, Jilin. He studied Literature in Jilin University where he received his college education. In this university, he had a poetry group called "The Innocent Hearts" (Chi Zi Xin), composed of him and five other friends. He graduated in 1982 with a B.A. in Literature. Then he was admitted at Beijing Normal University as a research student. He received his M.A. in Literature and later on taught in that same University in 1984. On that same year, he married Tao Li, and had a son whose name is Liu Tao.
Later on, in 1986, Liu went on to take Doctoral Study program. He likewise published his literary critiques through the various magazines in China. He then published his first book, “Criticism of the Choice: Dialogues with Li Zehou,” in 1987 which became a non-fiction bestseller. This book focuses on criticism of Confucianism. Likewise, it confronts the ideas of Li Zehou who was influential at that time among Chinese intellectuals.
He got his Ph.D in literature after he successfully defended his doctoral thesis, “Aesthetic and Human Freedom.” This thesis later on was published as his second published book. He then visited several universities including the University of Oslo, Columbia University, and University of Hawaii. He also published his third book during this year, entitled “The Fog of Metaphysics.” In 1989, while he was abroad as a visiting scholar at the Columbia University, he learned of the ongoing student protest in Tiananmen Square. Upon learning about what was happening in Tiananmen Square, he went back to China.
Detention in China and Migration to the US
When he arrived in China, he saw the possibility that the protest might end up in a bloody dispersal of thousands of protesters. So Liu, together with three other scholars, namely, Hou Djian, Gao Xin, and Zhou Duo went on a hunger strike for three days.
A day before the bloody massacre, on June 3—upon seeing that the government was bent on dispersing the crowd by any means—Liu and his companions persuaded the students to abandon Tiananmen Square. Then, the crackdown happened on the fourth of June and the students were forcefully driven out of the Square. Some students were run over by tanks and some died. Liu wasn’t detained until the 6 of June. Liu was later on held in Qincheng Prison, Beijing.
In January 1991, he was sentenced guilty of involvement in counter-revolutionary propaganda, but later on was exempted from any punishment for their role in encouraging the students to leave the Square. He was imprisoned for 21 months. After his release, he and his family migrated to the United States.
Xiaobo’s Books Gets Blacklisted in China
In the United States, he resumed his writing, though he was forbidden to publish his writings in China. A book entitled “The Monologues of a Doomsday's Survivor” was later on published. This contained his hindsight and views of the popular movement of 1989, which likewise contains his memoirs of that fateful event.
He was invited to Australia and US. In both visits, he was interviewed and these interviews were included in a documentary film, “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” He was cautioned against returning to China, but Liu went back to China in May, and continued his writing.
Not long enough, in May 18, 1995, he was arrested for his criticism of China’s Communist Party and for a petition campaign he launched calling on the Government to take a second look at the 1989 event and to initiate the necessary political reforms. For nine months, he was under house surveillance. He was then released in February 1996. Again he was arrested in October 1996 for co-authoring the “October Tenth Declaration” and advocating the release of those involved in Tiananmen Square. He was then sentenced to three years of reorientation through labor.
“The Selection of Poems” Gets Published
He was later on released on October 7, 1999. He then went on again with his writing. In 2000, the book “A Nation That Lies to Conscience” was published in Taiwan by Liu Xiaobo. He likewise published in Hong Kong, “The Selection of Poems,” containing the poems exchanged between him and his wife while he was imprisoned. The other book he published during this year was the “The Beauty Offers Me Drug: Literary Dialogues between Wang Shuo and Lao Xia.”
He then spearheaded the founding of PEN Centre—which works to readily advance literature, to defend the use of free expression, and to foster a kind of international literary fellowship—of which he was one of the members of the board of directors. He said on behalf of the PEN writers:
"I would like to speak about two points. First of all, we writers who are writing in mainland China, who are writing in Chinese language are often called dissident writers by others. We stick to our writing under the condition of lack of freedoms of speech and publication, the conditions of lack of freedoms of writing. We will maintain the spirit of the freedom of writing in the field of literature, criticism and editing."
The Two-Week House Arrest
In 2004, he endeavored to write a Human Right Report of China at home. Because of this activity, his computers and other paraphernalia were confiscated again by the Chinese Police and once again in 2005, Liu was put under house arrest for two weeks. This was, in fact, a precautionary move by the Chinese government after the death of Zhao Ziyang, the former Chinese Premier, who was sympathetic towards the student demonstration of 1989.
According to the police, when asked by Liu why he was put under house arrest: “the move was for precautionary measure and for his safety.” In that same year, he published two more books, “The Future of Free China Exists in Civil Society” and the “Single-Blade Poisonous Sword: Criticism of Chinese Nationalism.”
Liu, by this time has been a recognized figure, not only in China, but in the rest of the world. His effort has been recognized by the award given by Reporters Without Borders.
In one of the last television interviews before he was imprisoned in 2008, conducted by Ms. Liz Jackson of Australian Televisions’ programs “Four Corners,” Liu said:
"Living under the umbrage of the Chinese Communist Authoritarian Government and doing pro-democracy works and the possibility of being sent to prison, doesn’t scare him or intimidate him too much. What I am afraid of is the way this can affect your family, the major problems it can cause them, psychologically and in many other ways. The way I see it, people like me live in two prisons in China. You come out of the small fenced-in prison, only to enter the bigger fence-less prison of society. My phone, my computer, my whereabouts and so on are all monitored by the Chinese Public Security Bureau."
In that interview, he likewise said:
"For myself, I firmly believe in the value of what I'm doing and I'm prepared to face the risks. But there are many times when it doesn't just affect you. There's also your wife, your parents and other family members. I'm the one who has brought fear into their hearts so deep down I feel guilt and sometimes that can turn into fear."
Through his words, we could readily see the apprehension of Liu, not for himself but for his family.
His criticism of the Chinese Communist Government continued during this time. In the above-mentioned interview, he, quoting Zhang Yihe, said that ‘if the rice of every Chinese still comes from the bowl of the Communist Government, just like in the 1950s, we still have to keep our mouths shut.’ He also stressed in that interview: “I would like to stress that the driving force for positive change within the Chinese political system does not come from the top, it comes from ordinary people and it's unstoppable.”
In the interview, he was asked whether economic prosperity, which China experiences, would make irrelevant his struggle. Liu's reply was, “with the economic development, people will understand the rights of private ownership. Now if the Chinese government violates a person's rights, whether economic or political, no one will just take it lying down and remain silent. Everyone would speak out.”
Charter 08 Leads to Liu Xiaobo’s Imprisonment
During this time, Liu had really become a marked man for his biting criticism of Chinese Communist Government. He had been a thorn to the Chinese Communist Government. Liu was once again arrested in 2008 for his participation in the writing of the “Charter 08.” The Charter was about to be released on December 10, 2008, but two days prior to its release, Liu was immediately arrested together with Zhang Zuhua.
He and Zhang Zuhua were imprisoned in a solitary confinement. However, Zhang Zuhua was later on released the following day, while Liu remained in detention. After the arrest of Liu, almost all the 300 original signatories of the Charter 08 were either interrogated to gather evidence against him. He was afterwards indicted on charges of inciting subversion of state power on the 10th of December 2009 in a trial that lasted for three hours, in which his lawyers were not allowed to present evidence.
Diplomats from different countries, including those of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Sweden, and New Zealand were not allowed into the courtroom to witness the trial. On the 25th of December 2009, Liu was then sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment and additional two years of deprivation of political rights.
Liu's imprisonment was readily condemned worldwide. Leaders from all over the world voiced their disapproval of Liu’s imprisonment. Outcry from different writers associations, as well as from former Nobel awardees, reverberated throughout the whole world. The international community and organizations worldwide readily condemned the detention of Liu Xiaobo.
Winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize and the Empty Chair
The U.S. Department of State called for the release from detention of Liu. This was likewise followed by a request from scholars, lawyers, writers, and human rights advocates throughout the world. In January 2009, famous international writers called for the freedom of Liu. Moreover, in March, Liu was awarded the Homo Homini Award, an award given by One World Film Festival which was organized by the People in Need Foundation. The award was in view of Liu's fight for the basic principles of democracy.
Many other succeeding calls were made by international organizations. A petition letter was sent by European Association for Chinese studies to Hu Jintao, asking for the release of Liu. On the 8 of October, Liu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace considering his protracted non-violent struggle for basic rights in China. When told about the announcement of the award, Liu readily wept and told his wife that he dedicated this award to the martyrs of Tiananmen Square. He wasn’t able to receive the award because of his detention. However, it did not stop the organizers of the event to save a chair for him, which remained empty, to show their disapproval towards his imprisonment.
The government then reacted in a negative way against the award. News curtailment regarding the awards was wrought throughout the land. The Chinese Foreign Ministry readily denounced the award. In China, according to the Chinese government, Liu is a criminal and doesn't really deserve the prize. China likewise lobbied countries against attending the awarding ceremony. Any celebration regarding the Nobel Award for Liu was either curtailed or banned. Travel restrictions likewise were imposed on known dissidents ahead of the awarding day.
In October, it was reported that China has been trying to force Liu to go into exile by pressuring his wife, who was not well. However, Liu would not agree, according to a source close to his family. His reason for not leaving was that his voice will be greatly marginalized when he leaves China.
Calls for His Release
In 2012, Nobel Laureates and other Chinese activists have continuously called for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo. Moreover, his wife has been under house arrest for almost two years now. In a letter sent to the New Communist Party head, the 134 Nobel Laureates had asked for the release of Liu. Likewise, a group of Chinese activists and writers have also signed a petition urging the release of Liu.
In the news by BBC, the wife of Liu said that her house arrest had been a painful experience. The letters of the Nobel Laureates, which included the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Toni Morrison and many others, were publicized. The Chinese Government, however, is adamant in its ironic claim that China is a law abiding country. “Liu was lawfully sentenced to imprisonment, and for this reason, he has to serve his sentence,” according to the government.
Likewise, in October, Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature hoped that Liu be freed, though he was criticized by others for being too close to authorities. In January 2013, a Chinese activist, Hu Jia, urged the public to regularly visit Liu Xiaobo's wife to highlight her house arrest.
In another news, a former Premiere's aide said that the conviction of Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo was a mistake for China. He delineated the reasons why the imprisonment is a big mistake. First, it was based on a false premise that "citizens who have different opinions from the ruling class are dangerous." “In the 18th Party Congress,” he said, “it was arrived at that the biggest threat to the existence of the state is basically the proliferation of corruption. Likewise, Liu was imprisoned because he was found to have advocated Federalist form of government. Yet, it was obvious in the 2nd Party Congress and 7th Party Congress that the goal of these two Party congresses was for the government to lead to a federalist form of Government. The third reason, which is the most important reason, he said, why the imprisonment of Liu is wrong, is based on humanistic principles. Liu just fought for these humanistic principles and therefore should not be imprisoned.”
Liu currently is serving his 11 years of imprisonment. He will remain in prison until he serves his sentence. Yet, the outcry for his early release will never be silent until he gets back his rights and freedom for his countrymen for which he has been fighting.
Liu was then moved to the Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning, his hometown province. It is reported that now he has access to books which are published in China and is allowed some rare visits from his wife.
Political Views of Liu Xiaobo
In the early years of Liu Xiaobo, his political views seemed to be leaning in favor of Western democracy and he considers the western democracy as the paradigm of perfect government. In a particular interview, he once said that Modernization is tantamount to Westernization. In those early years of experiencing the bounty of the West, he unhesitatingly expressed the good life as equal to being westernized—a wholesale westernization.
In some way, the material bounty and provisions provided by the government of some of the most established democracies in Europe and America had attracted the eyes of Liu. This perception of the western democracy as better compared to China's communist way of life was paramount in the mind of Liu during that time. He used to portray the Western Civilization as the perfect example of how a society should be.
Yet in a particular occasion, he experienced “enlightenment,” a certain “epiphany” which led him to a deeper understanding of the values of human existence. In a particular confession, he said that his "tendency to put in pedestal and idealize western Civilization had arisen from his longing to better the condition of China.” Though, he later admitted that because of this desire, he readily overlooked the flaws of the West.
Later on, he realizes that the Western model of society could never really save the world or humanity in totality. In view of this realization, his view evolved into a more holistic approach into humanity and society. He referred to the two critiques he is going to make in order to come up with something more ideal: first, he said he would use the Western civilization to critique the Chinese Civilization. Using the Western Civilization as the viewing lens in analyzing the inherent flaws in the Chinese Government and society; on the other hand, he is going to use the Chinese creativity as the critical lens to analyze western culture and figure out the inherent flaws in the Western Civilization.
The life of Liu Xiaobo may serve as a catalyst in engendering change in China, though Liu believes that change will be very gradual as he said:
“We cannot expect things to change overnight in China; I think it's a very slow process.”
- PEN Center China
- 1990: Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Grant
- 1996: Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Grant
- 2003: Democracy Education Fund for Outstanding Activist
- 2004: Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France Prize for defender of press freedom
- 2004: Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards
- 2005: Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards
- 2006: Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards
- 2007: Asia-Pacific Human Rights Foundation (Australia) Courage of Conscience Award
- 2009: People in Need (Czech) Homo Homini Award
- 2009: PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award
- 2009: Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (USA) Free Spirit Award
- 2010: Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism
- 2010: German PEN Hermann Kesten Award
- 2010: Nobel Peace Prize
- Honorary member of German, American, Portuguese, Czech and Sydney PEN Centers
- “A Nation That Lies to Conscience”
- Consideration for the Persecution of Falun Gong
- Speculative Revolution – Perspective Cut. Guevara Phenomenon
- The Institutional Bribe – Six Chinese Corruption Theory
- Zhu Rongji and Political Reform
- “Tiananmen Square” and the Distribution of Power
- The Greatest Lie is Also a Lie
- The Beauty Offers Me Drug: Literary Dialogues between Wang Shuo and Lao Xia
- The Monologues of a Doomsday's Survivor