It would be hard to overstate how much the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo on October 8 has meant to China’s community of dissidents, bloggers, and activists. Not only has it lifted their spirits tremendously; many also view it as a possible turning point in the long struggle to bring democracy and human rights to their country. Their ebullience seems unaffected by the hostile reaction of the Chinese government, which has called the Nobel Committee’s decision “obscene” and an “insult to China.” Chinese authorities have spread the message in China’s state-run media that Liu Xiaobo is a criminal serving time in prison, but without quoting even a small sample of the words or ideas that have caused him to be there; and they have escalated their harassment of Liu’s friends and colleagues.
On October 14, one hundred and nine of those friends and colleagues released on the Internet the open letter that follows. The signers include Zhang Zuhua, Wen Kejian, Wang Debang, and others who worked with Liu Xiaobo on Charter 08, the citizens’ pro-democracy statement that became the main reason for Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year prison term. The co-signers include many other distinguished figures: rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang and Teng Biao; Dai Qing , the journalist and environmental activist; the novelist and democracy theorist Wang Lixiong; the Tibetan poet Woeser; veteran publisher Yu Haocheng; film scholar (and translator of Vaclav Havel into Chinese) Cui Weiping; senior academicians in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Zi Zhongyun, Xu Youyu and Zhang Boshu. Co-signers came from all across China, including two each from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
After release of the letter, its organizers invited signatures from anyone in the world, and within days hundreds more had signed. Readers of this blog are welcome to sign, too, by writing to email@example.com. An updated list of signers can be found at http://wexiaobo.org.
Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities continue to try to control how the story is perceived both at home and abroad. Liu Xia, who is Liu Xiaobo’s wife, is under house arrest without having been charged, which violates Chinese law and is bad press internationally for the regime. Her telephone and computer have been confiscated, but she managed to get this message out on October 16 by Twitter on a cell phone:
One of the policemen watching me said that it was his wife’s birthday and that he wanted to go shopping for her. But his orders were that he had to stay with me, so would I like to accompany him to the shopping mall? Sure, I thought, and went. When we got to the mall, I noticed all kinds of strange people photographing me from various angles. I realized it had all been a trick. The authorities wanted photographs to prove that Liu Xia is free and happily shopping at malls.
This shows, beyond the regime’s bald mendacity, that it cares about international opinion.
On Liu Xiaobo and the Nobel Peace Prize: An Open Letter
The awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese citizen, has drawn strong reactions both inside and outside China. This is a major event in modern Chinese history. It offers the prospect of a significant new advance for Chinese society in its peaceful transition toward democracy and constitutional government. In a spirit of responsibility toward China’s history and future promise, we the undersigned wish to make these points:
1. The decision of the Nobel Committee to award this year’s prize to Liu Xiaobo is in full conformity with the principles of the prize and the criteria for its bestowal. In today’s world, peace is closely connected with human rights. Deprivation and devastation of life happen not only on battlefields in wars between nations; they also happen within single nations when tyrannical governments employ violence and abuse law. The praise that we have seen from around the world for the decision to award the prize to a representative of China’s human rights movement shows what a wise and timely decision it was.
2. Liu Xiaobo is a splendid choice for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has consistently advocated non-violence in his quest to protect human rights and has confronted social injustice by arguing from reason. He has persevered in pursuing the goals of democracy and constitutional government and has set aside anger even toward those who persecute him. These virtues put his qualifications for the prize beyond doubt, and his actions and convictions can, in addition, serve as models for others in how to resolve political and social conflict.
3. In the days since the announcement of his prize, leaders in many nations and major world organizations have called upon the Chinese authorities to release Liu Xiaobo. We agree. At the same time we call upon the authorities to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are in detention because of what they’ve said or written, their political views, or their religious beliefs. We ask that legal procedures aimed at freeing Liu Xiaobo be undertaken without delay, and that Liu and his wife be permitted to travel to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.
4. Upon hearing the news of Liu Xiaobo’s prize, groups of citizens in several places in China gathered at restaurants to share their excitement over food and wine and to hold discussions, display banners, and distribute notices. Law-abiding and reasonable as these activities were, they met with harassment and repression from police. Some of the participants were interrogated, threatened, and escorted home; others were detained; still others, including Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia, have been placed under house arrest and held incommunicado. We call upon the police to cease these illegal actions immediately and to release the people who have been illegally detained.
5. We call upon the Chinese authorities to approach Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize with realism and reason. They should take note of the responses to the prize inside and outside China and see in these responses the currents in world thinking as well as the underlying preferences of our fellow citizens. China should join the mainstream of civilized humanity by embracing universal values. Such is the only route to becoming a “great nation” that is capable of playing a positive and responsible role on the world stage. We are convinced that any positive steps taken by or sign of goodwill from the government and its leaders will be met with understanding and support from the Chinese people and will be effective in moving Chinese society in a peaceful direction.
6. We call upon the Chinese authorities to make good on their oft-repeated promise to reform the political system. In a recent series of speeches, Premier Wen Jiabao has intimated a strong desire to promote political reform. We are ready to engage actively in such an effort. We expect our government to uphold the constitution of The People’s Republic of China as well as the Charter of the United Nations and other international agreements to which it has subscribed. This will require it to guarantee the rights of Chinese citizens as they work to bring about a peaceful transition toward a society that will be, in fact and not just in name, a democracy and a nation of laws.