Liu Xiaobo, Leader of China, R.I.P.

A pro-democracy activist mourns the death of Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong (Reuters: Bobby Yip)

Liu Xiaobo was, in a sense, the leader of China. He was the country’s foremost proponent of freedom, democracy, and human rights. He thought that Communism was a gross imposition on China and that it could not last indefinitely, if enough Chinese stood up against it.

Liu has now died at 61. Apparently, the cause was liver cancer, plus years of torture and abuse in prison. He died surrounded by state agents, as he had lived much of his life.

He was born in 1955. An intellectual, he became a scholar of literature. In 2008, he was a founder of Charter 08, the democracy movement patterned after Charter 77. Charter 77 was the movement in Czechoslovakia, founded in 1977. It was led by Václav Havel — who would become a major supporter of Liu’s.

Like so many other Chinese democracy leaders, Liu was at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He was then imprisoned for a year and a half. Persisting, he was again imprisoned in 1995. From 1996 to 1999, he was in a “reeducation through labor” camp. Charter 08 was the last straw, and Liu was imprisoned in December of that year.

Never before had the Nobel peace committee given its prize to a Chinese person. In 2010, they did: to Liu Xiaobo. He could not attend the ceremony, of course, being a political prisoner. In 1936, the committee gave the prize to a prisoner of the Nazis, Carl von Ossietzky. Before his death, the Nazis transferred him to a hospital, where he died surrounded by guards (in 1938).

Just the same would happen to Liu Xiaobo, almost 80 years later.

During his years of imprisonment, his wife, Liu Xia, was kept under house arrest — of a particularly brutal kind. She has been denied access to the outside world. (This includes television and the Internet.) Guards have kept her locked in, day and night, as her health has unraveled.

In the United States, there was a peep or two for Liu Xiaobo, but not many. The 2009 Nobel peace laureate, President Obama, did not bestir himself for the 2010 peace laureate. In the Senate, however, Ted Cruz proposed that the area outside the Chinese embassy in Washington be renamed “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.” In this, he took a page from the Reagan Republicans of the mid 1980s, who renamed the area outside the Soviet embassy “Andrei Sakharov Plaza,” after the leading dissident in the USSR.

Incidentally, Sakharov, too, was a Nobel peace laureate, and denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony.

The “Liu Xiaobo Plaza” bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent. It was then killed in the House by the GOP leadership. No explanation was given.

Today, Liu Xiaobo’s friends and allies are in furious agony. Before Liu died, Yu Jie, a dissident living here in America, said this: “In front of the world, Liu Xiaobo is being murdered by Xi Jinping,” the boss of the Chinese Communist Party. “Yet not a single Western political figure is condemning Xi Jinping. This is a sign of the complete failure of Western human-rights diplomacy.”

Xi has been unflagging in his viciousness. In July 2015, he had the Party round up some 250 human-rights lawyers, in what became known as the “709 Crackdown.” (The term refers to the date the arrests began, July 9.) Some of the prisoners have been tortured into insanity.

So far, President Trump has gone out of his way to make nice with Xi Jinping. “A great guy,” he calls him. “A very good man.” “He loves China, and he loves the people of China.”

No, not at all. Liu Xiaobo and others who stand up against the tyrants love China and the Chinese people. Indeed, some of them sacrifice their lives for their country and their countrymen, as Liu has.

His counterpart in Czechoslovakia, Havel, left prison to become president of the country. This fate has now been denied Liu. But at the time of his final prison sentencing, in December 2008, Liu said, “I believe that my work has been just, and that someday China will be a free and democratic society.”


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