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China's intellectual repression
Tuesday, 17 January 2012 22:44

Today, economic, strategic and political observers analyse and debate the rising power of China.

But how powerful can this emerging dragon be, when it fears the influence of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize–winning poet and essayist Liu Xiaobo to such a point that he is put in jail.

One of the first major events in the life of Liu Xiaobo occurred as he was deprived of several years of conventional schooling when his intellectual parents were deported to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. This allowed him the freedom to read a wide variety of books and discover the principle that would guide his life, namely, that one must think for oneself.

In 1977, he was part of the first group of students to go to university again when universities were reopened after the Cultural Revolution.  Outstanding success led to a teaching position in political science at Columbia's Barnard College in New York.

At the time of the 1989 student movement in Tiannamen Square, he made the brave decision to return to Beijing.  He was arrested after the massacre, and imprisoned without trial for 2 years.

When he was released, he was dismissed from university, and banned from publishing and from giving any lectures within China.  Thanks to the Internet, "God's gift to the Chinese people", he developed a career as a freelance commentator on Chinese society and culture, publishing both overseas and within China.  He was imprisoned several times.

In December 2008, Liu sponsored Charter 08 which spells out basic principles and fundamental rights that should inspire China's long-overdue political reform.

He was thus arrested in December 2008, and charged with inciting subversion of state power.  On 25 December 2009, he was sentenced to eleven years in jail.

When he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, his wife, his friends and his acquaintances were all subjected to various forms of arbitrary detention to ensure that they would not be able to go to Oslo to collect the prize on his behalf.  Today, his wife, Liu Xia, is in her second year of house arrest without charges.

If China is thought to be so strong politically, economically, and militarily, why are its leaders so scared of a frail and powerless poet and essayist, and why did the mere sight of his empty chair at the Nobel ceremony plunge them into such a panic?

China is obviously more fragile than we think.  We can get many insights from Liu Xiaobo's book, "No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems", which has just been published.  It documents many of the atrocities of life in China today.  We have no reason to doubt their voracity as they confirm so many other reports coming out of China.

We will just share with you a few of Liu's many must-read observations:

--  In China the underworld and officialdom have interpenetrated and become one. Underworld chiefs carry tittles in the National People’s Congress and the People’s Political Consultative Conference, while civil officials rely on the underworld to keep the lid on local society.

--  The main concern of the Communist Party is to maintain its tight monopoly over all public power.  But the mighty government is not ready to do battle with the Chinese underworld.

--  The Communist government’s jealous defense of its dictatorial system and of the special privileges of the power elite has become the biggest obstacle to movement in the direction of freedom.

--  Most of the major clashes that have broken out in China in recent years have pitted commoners against officials. Most have occurred at the grassroots in the countryside, and most have been about land. Local officials, protecting the vested interests of the power elite, have been willing to use a range of savage means, drawing on government violence as well as on the violence of the criminal underworld, to repress the uprisings.

-- Officials wielding the power of the state and invoking “government-ownership of land” have colluded with businessmen all across our country…. The biggest beneficiaries of the resultant land deals, at all levels, have been the Communist regime and the power elite…. Farmers are the weakest among the weak. Without a free press and an independent judiciary, they have no public voice, no right to organize farmers’ associations, and no means of legal redress…. And that is why, when all recourse within the system…is stifled, people are naturally drawn to collective action outside the system….

-- The Internet enables exchanges and diffusion of ideas in ways that largely escape government censorship; government control of thought and speech grows less and less effective. To become a free society, the only road for China can be that of a gradual improvement from the bottom up. This gradual transformation of society will eventually force a transformation of the regime.

--  Following the Tiananmen massacre, Deng Xiaoping attempted to restore his authority and to reassert his regime’s legitimacy.  He set out to build his power through economic growth. As the economy began to flourish, many officials saw an opportunity to make sudden and enormous profits.  The most highly profitable of the state monopolies have fallen into the hands of small groups of powerful officials.

Any student of history would ask how long can this last, and how might it finish.


He told the truth about China's tyranny.  Simon Leys.  The New York Review of Books.


No enemies, no hatred: selected essays and poems by Liu Xiaobo



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