Why Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo Could Be Not Be Silenced
via The Hill
In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the “Memory Hole” was a chute leading to a furnace that erased history by incinerating newspapers and other politically troublesome documents.
For many years, China has tried to put Liu Xiaobo, the leading Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died last week, in a Memory Hole.
It didn’t work when Liu was alive and it won’t work now that he is gone.
By all accounts, Liu, who was born to an intellectual family, was a gentle man. He believed in nonviolent change in China; “No Enemies, No Hatred” is the title of a collection of his essays and poetry.
He was a social and literary critic who dissected belief and political systems from Confucianism to totalitarianism, critiqued the “erotic carnival” in modern China (“the craze for political revolution in past decades has now turned into a craze for money and sex”); and coolly explained why the “gold medal nationalism” of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was corrosive to Chinese sports culture.
But Liu’s sin in the eyes of the Chinese government was daring to suggest that China might have a different future than the one its rulers had in mind. In an essay, “To Change a Regime by Changing a Society,” Liu argued that the regime’s existence depends on several eroding pillars, including a nationalized economy that prevents “economic independence for citizens” and a political system that makes “personal freedom impossible.”
Liu believed that in the long term a free and democratic China will gradually emerge from the “bottom up,” especially through growing self-awareness among the Chinese people and “popular rights-defense movements.”
The Chinese leaders, whose insecurity is marrow deep (another Liu theme), decided to stuff him down a Memory Hole. In 2009, Liu was tried for the crime of inciting “subversion of state power.”
After a two-hour trial, he was convicted on the basis of his writings, including “To Change a Regime,” and sentenced to 11 years in prison. This was his fourth (and by far longest) prison term for the offense of standing up for human dignity, whatever Orwellian name China uses to characterize it as a crime.
The Chinese may have thought that they silenced Liu, but in 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the greatest honor on the planet. Infuriated, the authorities broke up celebration parties in several Chinese cities; pressured foreign diplomats to stay away from the Nobel ceremony; and put his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest, where she remains today.
After an empty chair was placed on the stage at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo to symbolize Liu’s absence, the Chinese blocked the words “empty chair” on the Internet.
When a fellow dissident began writing a biography of Liu, he was told by a Chinese security officer that “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour, and no one on earth would know.”
Despite the threat, Liu’s biography was published in 2012 (the dissident and his family had fled China). The Chinese government clumsily generated more world-wide publicity for Liu after he was diagnosed earlier this year with liver cancer.
The authorities allowed him to leave prison and enter a hospital, but provoked world-wide anger by refusing to let him go abroad for medical treatment that might have prolonged his life. Liu was 61 when he died, both mourned and celebrated throughout much of the world.
The Chinese attempted, once again, to put him back in the Memory Hole. His wife was not allowed to speak about her husband’s death and Liu’s body was cremated and the ashes scattered in the sea to ensure that no grave would be left as a memorial. The Chinese rulers may think that, finally, they silenced Liu.
But, in fact, Memory Holes don’t work, as demonstrated by other Nobel Peace Prize winners whose transformative ideals could not be suppressed by assassination, exile or prison, including Martin Luther King, Jr., the Soviet nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.
Liu belongs in that company and his ideals for China will live on.