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Advancing a peaceful transition to democracy in China through truth, understanding, citizen power, & cooperative action

Liu Xiaobo’s Shining Example and Stern Warning

Liu Xiaobo’s Shining Example and Stern Warning
By YANG Jianli
For speech at Forum 2000, Oct 2017
This speech would have been made by Dr. Jianli Yang, President of Initiatives for China, on the night of Oct. 8 at the opening ceremony of Forum 2000 held in Prague, Czech. Dr. Yang was not able to make it to the Forum due to a travel document issue. We are sharing the text of the speech for your reference.

Dr. Yang Jianli at Forum 2000 in September, 2013
Standing on this Forum 2000 stage created by Václav Havel, I cannot help but thinking of our Václav Havel, China’s Václav Havel, my friend and hero-Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xiaobo died a martyr’s death less than three months ago. In this oblivious world, while many people are yet to know him, many others are pretending they’ve already forgotten him. Truly, as Milan Kundera wrote, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. As a friend and supporter who represented his family at his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and helped conceive the idea of Empty Chair at it, I think the meaning of remembering him is to embrace his legacy and follow his example in our continued struggle for democracy and freedom.

By the 1980s, Liu Xiaobo was one of the most provocative thinkers in China. His learning encompassed both Chinese and Western scholarship, particularly in philosophy and the humanities, and his genuine academic integrity enabled him to maintain independence and profundity in his thinking. An admirer of thinkers such as Václav Havel, Liu Xiaobo prided himself on his intolerance for hypocrisy, groupthink, and political pandering.

Compelled to live in a society that would not accept the public expression of dissenting views, Liu Xiaobo struggled with a dilemma: How could he stay true to his beliefs under such repressive circumstances? He particularly admired former Václav Havel as one of those rare human beings who, even while living in totalitarian circumstances, somehow found the strength in himself to step beyond “living within the lie,” and manage to find a way “to live within the truth.” Echoing the sentiments of Havel, Liu Xiaobo argued that “We need not demand of ourselves any extraordinary courage, nobility, conscience, or wisdom. We need not ask ourselves to risk prison, or go on hunger strikes, or carry out self-immolations. All we need to do is to eliminate lies from our public speech and 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.”

When Liu Xiaobo flew back to Beijing from New York in late April 1989, the largest march of the weeks-old protest was in full swing. An endless crowd of peaceful protesters flooded the miles-long Chang’an Avenue-a true demonstration of people power. This march was a strong testimony and symbol for the Chinese people: that the pursuit of democracy was not the goal of just a few dissidents, but the common hope of millions of Chinese citizens, especially the youngest generation of students. From that point on, Liu Xiaobo undertook a 28-year-long journey from a scholar to a committed fighter for democracy. Before his fourth and final arrest, he was widely recognized as a political leader-a role which he never felt comfortable to play, but a responsibility which his sense of mission drove him to shoulder.

He was last arrested in 2008 for being the lead author and organizer of Charter 08. Modeled after Charter 77, the declaration spearheaded by Václav Havel and Jan Patočka in 1977 that helped bring about the Velvet Revolution to end communism in Czechoslovakia, Charter 08 was published on the 60th 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. Since its release, this manifesto for democracy and constitutional government has been signed, at great personal risk, by more than 14,000 Chinese citizens. Liu’s imprisonment only increased his stature and international fame, and in 2010, he was deservingly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Through intense struggles, Liu Xiaobo came to the conclusion in his 2009 courtroom self-defense, “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.” As he acknowledged, June 1989 was a turning point, engendering a new philosophy, which he summed up in these words: “I have no enemies and no hatred.”

Liu Xiaobo’s unwavering commitment to bear such a burden as the misery of Chinese society shall live on and shine in history. Yet, his sudden death before our ultimate triumph brings tears and pain to everyone who shares his cause, values and ideals. The international community stood helpless as the Chinese government ruthlessly shattered Liu Xiaobo’s last wish by denying his request to seek medical treatment abroad and die as a free man. The free world’s appeasement of the evil deeds of the Chinese regime will adversely affect global democratization, which is exactly what Liu Xiaobo warned against a decade ago. Liu feared then that the West might repeat the same mistake it made during the rise of the fascist Third Reich and the Communist USSR. He warned that the international community must remain vigilant in the face of the rising Chinese Communist dictatorship because the game for world dominance had changed. The Chinese Communists had also morphed into a new beast-more adaptive, cunning, and deceptive than ever before.

And we are now witnessing an astonishing reversal of world history: Dictatorial China is gaining the upper hand. This constitutes the most serious threat to universal human rights and democracy since World War II.

From playing a pivotal role in Tiananmen Square in 1989 to suffering a lonely death under police guard, Liu Xiaobo’s fate has become both a symbol of the plight of China’s democracy and an urgent warning to the world. In Liu Xiaobo’s own words: “To eliminate the adverse impact of the rise of China on world civilization, the free world must help this largest totalitarian country to achieve a democratic transition as soon as possible.”

I hope that Liu Xiaobo’s example will continue to shine on all freedom fighters and his stern warning will not fall on deaf ears.
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