Liu Xiaobo : The Man Who Cherished Freedom
Endangered Scholars Worldwide Remembers Liu Xiaobo
China’s most famous activist, Nobel laureate, and Social Research author, Liu Xiaobo, has died in custody at age 61. The cause was liver cancer.
His death, confirmed on July 13 by Chinese authorities in Shenyang province, comes two weeks after Chinese officials announced he was being moved to a hospital for treatment.
It was China’s decision to jail Liu Xiaobo for 11 years over a call for peaceful reform that spurred the Norwegian Nobel committee to honor him with its peace prize in 2010 and propelled him to international renown.
But Liu's first nomination had come two decades earlier, after the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989, in which the author played a crucial role, first as one of the prominent “four gentlemen” who launched a hunger strike in support of the students; then by helping to broker a peaceful exit from the square for remaining demonstrators amid the brutal crackdown.
An empty chair without audio equipment where Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo should sit is
seen before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2010. | Photo Credit: Reuters
The events were the turning point in Liu’s life. The writer, who was was a visiting Professor at Columbia University by the time the movement started in New York went home despite the risks. The decision brought him jail, and an end to his career as a brilliant young literary professor.
In 2008, along with other dissidents, he drafted Charter 08, a document that called on the Chinese state to change its character and abandon one-party rule. Soon after he was tried for subversion. According to freedom-of-speech advocacy group PEN America, he was convicted in 2009 for writing seven sentences, a total of 224 Chinese characters. He was given an 11-year sentence.
On June 26, 2017, after serving more than seven years of his sentence, the prison holding Liu announced that he was being transferred to a nearby hospital to be treated for late-stage liver cancer—the same disease that killed his father.
“A calm and steady mind can look at a steel gate and see a road to freedom,” Liu once wrote of life as a prisoner.
He insisted that love could dissipate hate, and that progress would be made. No Enemies, No Hatred, a selection of his essays and poems, was published in 2013.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide believes that the Chinese government is responsible for Liu Xiaobo's death. It imprisoned him unjustly, then withheld proper medical treatment until his cancer was too advanced to treat. And at the end, it spurned international appeals to allow him to go abroad to get treatment.
We join with the many others around the world in mourning the death of a brave Chinese activist and remember that the values that Liu Xiaobo lived and died for are our values, the virtues and freedoms incorporated in our political and social system that are under threat by powerful autocrats. For us, Liu Xiaobo's life and death should serve as a poignant reminder that freedom has a price.
Liu Xiaobo (28 December 1955 – 13 July 2017)
Here is a timeline of the life of a man who has been deeply admired, who is being deeply mourned, and whose last days have become for many a symbol for many of the darkness that clouds the story of China’s economic rise. | Credit: Quartz
Liu Xiaobo is born on Dec. 28 in northeastern China’s Jilin province, the third of five brothers.
The Cultural Revolution begins. Millions of urban youth head to the countryside to be “re-educated” by peasants, following leader Mao Zedong’s exhortations to “go up into the mountains and down to the countryside (上山下乡运动)” (paywall). Liu’s grandmother, whom he is very close to, is designated a “landlord” and sent away. Meanwhile, his father, a Communist Party member, is busy, and his older brothers go away to become Red Guards. Liu remembers this time of turmoil as one of unexpected freedom according to his biography, Steel Gate to Freedom:
“My parents were off ‘revolutionizing,’ schools stopped, and I was for a time able to be rid of the constraints of an ‘education.'”
Liu is admitted to Jilin University and studies Chinese literature. During his university life, he organizes The Innocent Hearts (赤子心), a poetry group with his friends.
Liu starts a two-year master’s program in Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University. After receiving his master’s, Liu stays at Beijing Normal University to teach and marries Tao Li, with whom he has a son, Liu Tao.
Liu begins his doctoral studies and publishes literary criticism in dozens of magazines. In 1987 he publishes his first book, Criticism of the Choice: Dialogues with Li Zehou, which critiques a prominent intellectual. It becomes a bestseller.
Liu works abroad at universities in Oslo and Hawaii and at Columbia University as a visiting scholar.
While Liu is still in America, Chinese students break into massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. He flies back to stand staunchly on the side of students. Liu, as well as others, including Zhou Duo and Hou Dejian (a Taiwan-born singer), play pivotal roles, including organizing a hunger strike. Thanks to Liu’s efforts to persuade students to leave the square, many of them escape death. However, because of his leadership role in the protest, Liu is detained, fired from his job as a teacher, and his books are banned.
He later divorces his wife Tao in order to protect his family, according to the Guardian newspaper. His son, then about six years old, goes to live with his grandparents; Liu will see little of him for the rest of his life, according to his biography.
Liu doesn’t stop writing. His book The Monologues of a Doomsday’s Survivor, about his memories and evaluation of the Tiananmen Square protest, is published in Taiwan. In the book, he points out what he sees as the misjudgments of the movement. He says that it delayed China’s democratization, and that students and intellectuals had become “conceited—just as if we had reverted to the time of the Cultural Revolution.”
Liu is sentenced to three years behind bars for a letter criticizing party rule. While still in the labor camp, he marries his current wife, fellow poet Liu Xia. According to Ian Johnson, writing for the New York Review of Books:
They had met in the 1980s but became close only after Tiananmen. In 1995, Liu Xiaobo was detained for writing an open letter calling for basic rights and then formally sentenced in 1996 to three years in prison. Liu Xia traveled regularly up to the labor camp and—in a phrase that is now legendary—told the guards that “I want to marry that enemy of the state!” Eventually she did, while he was still in prison; their wedding banquet was in the prison cafeteria.
Liu Xiaobo is released in October.
Liu Xiaobo helps establish the Independent Chinese PEN Center, a “non-political, non-profit organization of writers that fights for the protection of freedom of expression and publication,” and serves as its president from 2003 to 2007. During this time he writes the essay “The internet is God’s present to China,” about his belief that the internet is making China freer (republished later in the Times of London).
Liu Xiaobo co-authors Charter 08 with other dissidents, a political manifesto. The document appeals for a fundamental political transformation including a new constitution, separation of powers, and guarantee of human rights. In December 2008, he is detained.
He is put on trial. On Dec. 25, he is convicted of “inciting subversion of state power.” According to PEN America, his conviction is largely for writing seven sentences, including this one: “One-party monopolization of ruling privileges should be abolished.”
In October, Liu wins the Nobel Peace Prize while in custody, “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” His wife Liu Xia is placed under house arrest in Beijing the same day.
At the December ceremony (video), the medal and diploma are placed on an empty chair since Liu is still in prison. Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann reads the statement Liu had written prior to his sentencing: “I have no enemies and no hatred.”
Liu’s father dies of liver cancer; he is briefly paroled to attend the funeral, according to Steel Gate to Freedom.
On June 26, the Liaoning Prison Administrative Bureau prison makes the announcement that Liu is being transferred from prison in Jinzhou to a nearby hospital in the final stages of liver cancer. His lawyer confirms the news, setting off an outpouring of grief and anger among people who know and respect him globally.
As Liu’s condition deteriorates, concerns over his treatment grow. The couple seeks to go abroad for treatment, news reports say, but his doctors in China say he is too ill to travel. China invites German and US doctors to visit him. Liu Xia is with her husband in hospital in his final days.