He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny

Liu Xia
The Nobel Prize–winning writer Liu Xiaobo before his arrest, photographed by his wife, Liu Xia; from the exhibition ‘The Silent Strength of Liu Xia,’ which opened last fall at the Boulogne Museum outside Paris and will be on view at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University February 9–March 1. Liu Xia’s photographs, which were smuggled out of China, show what she calls her ‘ugly babies’: mute dolls that, according to the curator Guy Sorman, represent ‘the Chinese people, and sometimes Liu Xia and her husband.’

Better than the assent of the crowd: The dissent of one brave man!
—Sima Qian (145–90 BC)
Records of the Grand Historian

Truth will set you free.
—Gospel according to John

The economic rise of China now dominates the entire landscape of international affairs. In the eyes of political analysts and statesmen, China is seen as potentially “the world’s largest economic power by 2019.” Experts from financial institutions suggest an even earlier date for such a prognosis: “China,” one has said, “will become the largest economy in the world by 2016.” This fast transformation is rightly called “the Chinese miracle.” The general consensus, in China as well as abroad, is that the twenty-first century will be “China’s century.” International statesmen fly to Peking, while businessmen from all parts of the developed world are rushing to Shanghai and other provincial metropolises in the hope of securing deals. Europe is begging China to come to the rescue of its ailing currency.

All thinking people wish now to obtain at least some basic understanding of the deeper dynamics that underlie this sudden and stupendous metamorphosis: What are its true nature and significance? To what extent is it viable and real? Where is it heading? Bookshops are now submerged by a tidal wave of new publications attempting to provide information about China, and yet there is (it seems to me) one new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance, both for the specialist and for the general reader alike—the new collection of essays by Liu Xiaobo, judiciously selected, translated, and presented by very competent scholars, whose work greatly benefited from their personal acquaintance with the author.1

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 brought the name of Liu Xiaobo to the attention of the entire world. Yet well before that, he had already achieved considerable fame within China, as a fearless and clearsighted public intellectual and the author of some seventeen books, including collections of poetry and literary criticism as well as political essays.2 The Communist authorities unwittingly vouched for the uncompromising accuracy of his comments. They kept arresting him for his views—four times since the Tiananmen massacre in June 1989. Now he is again in jail, since December 2008; though in poor health, he is subjected to an especially severe regime. As Pascal…

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