As I watched actress Liv Ullmann read Liu Xiaobo’s address, ‘I Have No Enemies’, on BBC World, I was quite moved.
The address is what the Nobel Prize-winning author and intellectual delivered prior to his sentencing by a Red Chinese court for subversion.
What is fascinating is the dignity with which the words are written, showing respect even to his prosecutors.
Liu even discusses how the human rights in the prison at which he is held have greatly improved since the ﬁrst time he was locked up there, saying that the ‘enemy mentality’ that Red China once held is disappearing in favour of a more humanist approach.
Given that he knew he would be found guilty just before Christmas 2009, the address is remarkable for the hints of optimism he holds for his country.
Liu Xiaobo will not, by himself, see through a wholesale change in the way the Communist Party is running mainland China, but he is representative of many forces which will, some day, make the country freer and more open.
He is also representative of the area with occident and orient disagree: human rights. While those campaigning for Liu’s release should not stop, his address puts a lot of things into context.
Mainland China, as it opens up, has tried to ﬁnd a balance between governmental intervention and the market-place. Even Confucius has been partially recognized by the Politburo as a way to reinforce the state’s position, somehow reinterpreted along the lines of: we bring you prosperity, you give us your loyalty.
As much as the internet is patrolled, there is a tendency for people to wish to be more free, and blacking out TV screens behind the Bamboo Curtain or resorting to censorship simply makes people wonder what they are missing.
Where the country might yet succeed, however, is keeping a ﬁrm hand on change. Instead of the rush that saw to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing is being pragmatic. As unbridled globalization and a corrupt, conspiratorial ﬁnancial system has seen to two economic downturns in the last decade, and as the US’s politics move to extremes, the occident is giving fuel to Beijing’s methods. That’s not something that we should feel happy about, nor should we tolerate our commerce being run to further class structures in our societies.
Liu has been likened to Nelson Mandela by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland. Mandela made a similar speech on the eve of being sentenced to treason in 1964. While Liu has his supporters, and I do not proclaim to be any expert on South African history, my feeling is that the former president was known to far more of his own people. There are also other differences to the other Nobel winners who have not been able to attend, be they Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi.
The chief difference is that fewer of us living in the occident in 2010 can be as smug or as preachy. While I support calls for Liu Xiaobo to be released—the jailing of a man exercising the same rights you and I do in criticizing our governments shows, in my mind, the weakness and insecurity of the critiqued régime—there is a real lesson for the rest of us.
We cannot be in a position to insist on change if we keep supporting governments that weaken our own approaches to human rights. If we vote in a government that widens the distance between rich and poor—and history has more than often shown us which do—then we are letting down our most downtrodden citizens. If we fail to tidy up the mess our business sectors have left in their wake, then we are simply allowing their mistakes to recur.
For every failure we chalk up because we let things remain the way they are, the more Beijing’s politicians can sit back and accuse us of hypocrisy.
Even as Liu Xiaobo gets a Nobel prize, Beijing can be smug
As I watched actress Liv Ullmann read Liu Xiaobo’s address, ‘I Have No Enemies’, on BBC World, I was quite moved.
17 thoughts on “Even as Liu Xiaobo gets a Nobel prize, Beijing can be smug”
Simply beautiful, Jack. Your analysis frames this news in such a thought-provoking and meaningful way for me.
Thank you, Jak. We have slipped as a society—but there’s still hope.
The fact is this Nobel prize is being used as a tool to undermine China. It has nothing to do with ‘human rights’, but everything to do with furthering Western hegemony over China. Any country in the world which sticks up for its own interests and pursues an independent line, is seen as a threat by the West.
Liu Xiaobo simply does not deserve the Nobel peace prize. For one he advocated the invasion and 300 year occupation of China by the West:
“Three hundred years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would take 300 years of colonialism for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough.”
Given the holocaust the West inflicted on China during China’s 100 years of humiliation, Liu Xiaobo is the equivalent of a Jewish person who supports Adolf Hitler and pines for a return to German fascism.
China has every right to jail Liu Xiaobo, just as Western countries jail Holocaust revisionists, and even have laws against communist era symbols. Similarly South Korea jails those who are in possession of North Korean music and
The point is this. The last British gunboat the HMS Amethyst was driven away by the PLA only in 1949. Under the principle of extraterritoriality, white people could kill Chinese people with impunity right up until 1946. White people had signs in Shanghai’s parks “no chinese or dogs allowed”. The West plundered China for over a century, becoming enriching themselves from this plunder.
But 1949 was the turning point. Mao Zedong proclaimed “the Chinese people have stood up!” The Western imperialists were driven out of China, and China took a strong independent path to development, independent of course from the US, and then later the Soviets.
Because Western imperialism has lost its grip on China, and cannot treat the Chinese like dogs anymore, they hate the Chinese government. While the Chinese government is of course far from perfect, and has been guilty of many wrongdoings, they do pursue a line which is strongly independent from the West.
So the West, led by the USA and UK, will do everything in their power to sabotage China’s return as a strong independent and prosperous state. Liu Xiaobo and the Dalai Lama among others, are tools, witting or unwitting, of Western imperialism.
It is also ironic how Liu Xiaobo, a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq, is seen as a man of ‘peace’.
In this article read his effusive support for US and British imperialism in the middle east, as well as his slavish admiration and devotion to the United States and Britain (in Chinese):
Liu Xiaobo’s last paragraph, loosely translated, says the following “Is not the world so fortunate to have the US and UK who defend world civilisation which has freedom as its core values. Britain -the mother of modern civilised values, the US who synthesised/implemented these civilised values, their kindness and benevolence have become 21st mainstream civilisation for mankind. Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, and tyrants such as these came into the world, luckily they were Churchill, Blair, Roosevelt, and George W Bush (ffs!), did not tolerate evil and tyranny and became freedom’s leaders”
So here is a man who holds George W Bush to be a great hero, who has a sickening slavish devotion to those same Western powers who ravaged China in the not too distant past, and who supported the horrific invasion of Iraq, which has caused several hundred thousand of excess deaths.
No wonder some in the West so love this creature so much they would award him this ‘peace’ prize.
Interestingly two men who truly deserved a Nobel price (physics)- came out strongly against awarding the prize to Liu, describing the prize as ‘patronising’ towards the Chinese:
Wei, while I would argue that moves to stamp out the imperialists could be traced back to Dr Sun Yat-sen, and that Liu’s quotation has been explained by the author himself as being off-the-cuff, your comment proves one very important point that I make. The occident’s position is weaker today (weakened by its own hypocrisy) and China’s position is stronger (strengthened by its greater willingness to engage).
No state is innocent of revisionism and China is no exception; comments such as yours, which pull out this single quotation from Liu, appear on a multitude of websites, all closely timed.
Though even if Liu advocates such a view, it is surely a minority view that China can allow him to entertain freely.
Many have advocated far worse within their own countries: one only needs to trawl some of the extremist websites in the US to see what is freely expressed without fear of imprisonment.
I’m sure your view that the jailing of Holocaust revisionists exists applies only to extreme cases where such revisionism has taken on the form of anti-Semitism. I can think of at least one who is free to spout his viewpoint, and if I were to do a quick search online, I could ﬁnd many more. On South Korea and jailing over music, I cannot comment because I do not know.
Opposition to a ruling party is trivial in comparison and despite what you have written, it still highlights a certain insecurity by the Politburo over the utterances and writings of one man. This basic human rights’ issue is, whether we like it or not, highlighted by this case. Whether Liu deserves the Nobel Peace Prize or not is another question, but I say that he has done China more of a favour than is believed in Beijing with a speech that actually states some of the country’s improvements.
It is only when we begin seeing state-coordinated campaigns to smear him that thoughts of over-reaction and “the bad old days” come rushing back.
We may not like what others say but it is through dialogue, I believe, that we come to greater understandings about one another. I despise the denial of the Holocaust, as much as I despise the denial of the millions of Chinese murdered during the Sino–Japanese War. But we must engage from a position of strong fact; even David Irving, an infamous Holocaust denier, has since changed his views.
On that note of engagement, I fully agree with you on numerous points when it comes to history. It’s widely agreed that the Ching Dynasty allowed foreigners to plunder China and signs equating Chinese to dogs were still present in the ﬁrst part of the 20th century. (As I understand it, one of the ancestors of US senator John Kerry was hugely involved in the shipping of drugs to China, and the family essentially got rich through that trade.) There are parallels between what you label a western ‘hegemony’ or ‘imperialism’ with what I label the ‘technocracy’ in my writings, though technocratic thought in politics is not conﬁned to the occident. (Indeed, we can ﬁnd those within Russia and China who exploit technocratic loopholes in international trade.)
While I doubt the mentality of debasing Chinese people to the level of animals exists among westerners, there is some level of truth to what you believe: I believe that there is a desire by certain occidental institutions to ensure that a system that promotes the plundering of countries can continue, and opposition to them will be met, on occasion, by warmongering. You are also right when you say that a strong China is perceived as a threat: I say it is a threat to these institutions, as China’s growth reveals the fallacy behind many western governments who pretend that technocratic, globalist agenda have been for the greater good.
Wei, to your comment no. 4, I will quickly say that there aren’t too many George W. Bush fans in the west. And as I mentioned before, whether we like his view or not, he should be free to state it, just as you and I are free to state ours. His article reads vaguely like the argument for resolution 1441 when the US went in to Iraq, a viewpoint still held by some in the west—but they don’t get locked up for it. Tony Blair still walks free.
Perhaps it is my perception, but the tactics you employ seem targeted at the one man more than at the ideas, which strike me as a little curious.
I need to make it clear that the original post is not about whether Liu Xiaobo deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. The main points, which you may have missed if you need two comments attacking him, are that strong nations need not worry about the statements of one man if their foundations are sound; and that western nations are not in a strong position to lecture China when they have so many faults of their own.
I accept that we are writing comments at the same time, which means that neither of us has had a chance to read the other’s latest words.
“while I would argue that moves to stamp out the imperialists could be traced back to Dr Sun Yat-sen”
True. Dr Sun Yat-sen was indeed a great forerunner of the anti-imperialist struggle. He eventually took a decidely pro-Soviet line (indeed his wife remained on the mainland after 1949), disgusted at the way the so called ‘democracies’ were treating to China, ala the Versaille treaty which handed over to Japan, German rights in Shandong province.
“Though even if Liu advocates such a view, it is surely a minority view that China can allow him to entertain freely.”
Actually I’m surprised that you did not pick me up on this. Liu was not sentenced for his obvious sympathies towards imperialism. In fact he made quote on colonialism in 1987 or 88, in Hong Kong. He was never jailed for this quote, nor was he ever jailed for a plethora of other pro-imperialist writings.
Liu was jailed for “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power”. Indeed in his unoriginally named ‘Charter 08’ there is an implicit call for subversion of state power. Liu is an unapologetic agent of imperialist interests and openly consorted with these same agents.
“Many have advocated far worse within their own countries: one only needs to trawl some of the extremist websites in the US to see what is freely expressed without fear of imprisonment.”
So what? China has laws for China, the US has laws which apply to the US.
Singapore has the death penalty for the smuggling 1/2 a kilo of cannabis. In New Zealand, even the local cop may roll up a joint. Should New Zealand lecture Singapore on her drugs laws?
Even if China, from a purely ideological standpoint, thought it desirable and correct that so called free speech should be curtailed, that would be China’s business only. Not the business of the US.
As it is however, I do not believe China’s position is actually is ideologically driven. It is purely for pragmatic reasons – the need to maintain social stability in a country of 1.3 billion with 1/6 the per capita arable land of a country like the US. Without social stability there would have been none of the economic progress we have seen these past few decades- which surely has provided the greatest improvement in real ‘human rights’ for the greatest number of people in human history.
South Korea laws relating to pro-North songs:
Holocaust deniers in prison. Note that these revisionists were not jailed for explicit expressions of anti-semitism – althought I would agree they are most likely anti-semites. Note that denying the Holocaust is automatically deemed to be anti-semitic – other overt expressions of anti-semitism are not required to warrant imprisonment.
Sylvia Stolz, jailed for 3 1/2 years
Horst Mahler jailed for 5 years
So you see, many countries have laws which may seem unreasonable to people of other countries. But they have the right to these laws, because they no doubt take into account the unique historical experience of a nation, as well as its cultural context, and civilizational aspirations. It is not for one country to demand that another country does things in the same way as the first country.
Even if China executed Liu Xiaobo, that would be China’s business only and would not be the business of the United States, Britain or New Zealand.
Agreed on the point about Dr Sun. As to what Liu is, neither of us actually knows for sure. Maybe we can call him an agent, or maybe we can call him misguided. Unless we have a nice Wikileak that reveals something!
As to law, you ask, ‘So what?’ Remember that what I advanced was in response to your own statements about Holocaust revisionism and South Korea. I was not the one advancing an argument on comparative legal systems.
But the People’s Republic does have laws allowing freedom of speech, and has done since 1949; where the conﬂict lies is whether Liu has descended into subversion. You might argue that he has been put before a fair trail before a tribunal of people better versed than either of us in his case, where he has been found guilty of subversion. That is not a bad argument to make. However, it doesn’t mean that you and I cannot make an evaluation of such a law or judgement and its appropriateness to a state that wishes to regard itself as strong and vibrant. Who cares whose business it is, provided that each nation is left to legislate for itself?
The local cop in New Zealand cannot roll up a joint. This is a curious position to take. He can be drummed out of the force even for driving drunk. However, on the other hand, Singapore will hang someone on far less than 500 g of cannabis in one’s possession.
Your last paragraph is something I already alluded to in my original post, though only brieﬂy—since it wasn’t the main point. It’s a worthwhile separate post on the role of government, which is to govern: this is where I think many western governments have gone wrong, because they have allowed foreign corporations to take over and inﬂuence them. Maybe another day.
The local cop in New Zealand cannot roll up a joint
Sorry of course he cannot…I have actually seen one do so…but of course he would be drummed out of the force if caught —-my point was the relative relaxedness towards drugs in NZ cf Singapore.
However, it doesn’t mean that you and I cannot make an evaluation of such a law or judgement and its appropriateness to a state that wishes to regard itself as strong and vibrant. Who cares whose business it is, provided that each nation is left to legislate for itself?
You are right.
My own evaluation, and of course this is a guess, that strictly speaking, techically speaking, Liu Xiaobo did not offend against the laws of China.
But of course Liu would not be stupid as to do that, in his quest to undermine the current system.
My own attitude is this reflects badly on the rule of law in China. Agreed. But I still do not worry myself over Liu’s fate.
We know that Liu Xiaobo is a bad person. He is cunning. And it may have been hard to pin him down using the letter of the law (and in fact if we rewrote the law to pin people like him down – surely that would be an even worse thing?) So we go round the law as it is exactly written. Again. So what?
China’s priorities are to feed and clothe 1.3 billion people, to raise the living standards of hundreds of millions of still very poor people, while at the same time guarding against attacks on her national sovereignty. These are the exigencies of the current time, and they override the right of a few subversives to subvert.
Even Abraham Lincoln said “necessity knows no law.”
And in the West, under states of emergency, authorities arrogate vast powers to themselves, and many of the safeguards and protections of more normal more peaceful times are set aside. In South Korea, one can be imprisoned for several years just for having pro-North Korean literature or music. Perhaps understandable when one sees the precarious nature of things on the Korean Peninsular. During Hurrican Katrina, troops I believe had the right to shoot to kill in certain circumstances – essentially execution without trial.
China, it can be argued, especially when viewed in relation to the established industrialised western countries, is continuously more or less in a state of emergency, and thus there is more than enough justification for the Chinese authorities to deal with Mr Liu in the way they have done so. And in any case the Chinese do not have to justify this to anyone else but themselves.
“The main points, which you may have missed if you need two comments attacking him, are that strong nations need not worry about the statements of one man if their foundations are sound;”
I agree with your points. But You say ‘strong’ nations. China is not particularly strong, neither is she stable. China’s leaders are riding a tiger. China could continue its ascendancy or descend into chaos over the next few decades. I’d say, 50-50.
And it is precisely because China is not stable and well established like Western countries, that individual rights, well mostly respected, are not used to override all other rights, including even the rights of society, as is the case often in the West.
“and that western nations are not in a strong position to lecture China when they have so many faults of their own.”
No argument from me whatsoever on this point. In fact I would add that the penchant of the US to go round subverting and invading nations that don’t toe the line, does in fact engender a well founded fear in China’s leaders of the true intent of the West towards China, and this in turn leads to a harsher line taken against people like Liu Xiaobo, who are perceived to be Western stooges.
You write, ‘It is not for one country to demand that another country does things in the same way as the ﬁrst country.
‘Even if China executed Liu Xiaobo, that would be China’s business only and would not be the business of the United States, Britain or New Zealand.’
I won’t debate the two cases you’ve cited because if we start going into more legal systems, we’ll be here for a long time. But I’ll just say that you have summed it up well about different legal systems and contexts. It doesn’t negate either your or my earlier points but clariﬁes them.
Technically, your last paragraph is correct, and there’s even a provision in the UN Charter to this effect. But China itself hasn’t exactly stayed inward-looking when it comes to how other governments conduct themselves.
I could equally adopt a fortress position: who cares what foreign nationals think about what I write? It is not their business. Yet the dialogue is fruitful; for how else can we learn the ‘unique historical experience of a nation, as well as its cultural context, and civilizational aspirations’? Or make any progress in our own?
Hence, we cannot be ostriches when it comes to each other’s affairs. It may not be the US’s, Britain’s or New Zealand’s ‘business’ what the People’s Republic chooses to do with Liu; but it is mutually beneﬁcial for nations to have a dialogue through which we share.
You began our dialogue today by examining the treatment of Chinese by foreign colonial powers during the last days of empire. Perhaps a related note is a good one to end on.
Since those days, Chinese people have ventured internationally, often subjected to racism in their new host countries. If it were not for dialogue post-1911, for this so-called meddling in other states, who knows what mistreatments would have continued? Would the New Zealand Government have apologized for the Poll Tax and racist legislation against Chinese immigrants if it were not for the actions of Chinese expatriate groups and the Embassy of the People’s Republic?
A strict legal interpretation of borders may be technically correct, but progress still comes, as it has come for most of human civilization, through different and sometimes opposing views ﬁnding solutions.
‘My own evaluation, and of course this is a guess, that strictly speaking, techically speaking, Liu Xiaobo did not offend against the laws of China.’
Funnily enough, Wei, I think Liu might have crossed the line into subversion under Chinese law, but I haven’t read any court proceedings. But again, it is only a guess.
I believe you are right about Hurricane Katrina, and I agree with you there.
The argument on ‘strength’ is perhaps our only outstanding issue: it may be a situation where we are both right. I agree with you that there are aspects of the People’s Republic that are not stable. The widening gap between rich and poor is actually deeply worrying. Maybe it is down to our judgements on whether the status quo will throw the whole nation into chaos that we differ here: we may have to leave it as a moot point for now.
Your point about individual rights is also valuable, because those rights cannot safely exist without an exchange of duties with the state; which will bring up another tangent.
I must say I like your closing statement in comment no. 12: ‘In fact I would add that the penchant of the US to go round subverting and invading nations that don’t toe the line, does in fact engender a well founded fear in China’s leaders of the true intent of the West towards China, and this in turn leads to a harsher line taken against people like Liu Xiaobo, who are perceived to be Western stooges.’ This is probably a very good summary of why that fear exists; one hopes that, again, through dialogue—and an awareness that the US is not as strong as it proclaims to be, like the impudent beach boy ﬂexing his muscles—that it can conclude that some of the fear is unfounded.
It is interesting to know the PRC was involved in the poll tax apology, not something I knew before.
I agree that it is great if countries do have dialogue on all sorts of things. Of course world civilisation can only benefit if various cultures and peoples are willing to sit down, hear others concerns, and experiences, and listen to suggestions for improvement. For what its worth, I have no problem with some notion of ‘universal’ values. The spirit and wording of these sorts of declarations sound fine to me, and indeed would to probably most people in the world.
The problem is much of the Western attitude towards China does not take the form of a respectful dialogue.
Instead it takes the form of one self-righteous, hypocritical party (the West), stridently lecturing the other parth (China) as if she is a wayward child. This of course is humiliating to the Chinese, and also counter-productive, and leads one to doubt the true sincerity of the West. In fact the agenda of the West is not even its own notion of ‘human rights’, (although I would agree that there are many sincere individuals in Western countries when it comes this issue), but more to use human rights as a cover to advance its own interests (and yes you are right ‘corporate’ interests) and hegemony over China.
An analogy would be Christianity. Nothing wrong with Christianity. But it was used as a cover for colonialism. As someone else said, the white man got the land, the coloured man the Bible.
When the New Zealand police overreacted in a huge way to the goings on down in the Ureweras a couple of years ago, did China demand an explanation from the NZ government into what was going on?
Does China very publicly lecture the New Zealand government on the Seabed and foreshore issue, in the way Western governments issue demands over Tibet?
And if China did these sorts of things, what would the reaction of New Zealanders be?
In fact, forget about the fact that China is ruled by the communist party. Even if China was a full Western style ‘democracy’ would New Zealanders take kindly to very strident, very public demands from the Chinese government in respect of New Zealand’s own internal affairs?
Of course not.
Anyway Jack, better get some sleep now.
You have made some really interesting points. It seems we have ended up agreeing on more things than disagreeing! This was surprising to me, having had a quick read of your other stuff.
thanks for the debate. Will drop by some other time.
Wei, good morning. It looks like we wound up with a very fruitful dialogue with, as you say, a lot more in agreement than disagreement. I agree with the majority of your points on comment no. 15.
The only recent incident of Chinese interference in recent times was a relatively minor one, when New Zealanders were up in arms over the treatment of Chinese–New Zealand journalist Nick Wang. If Kiwis were upset over that matter, then that answers your questions: if China strong-armed this country over legislation, the reaction would be far more extreme.
Interestingly, I agree with most Chinese over Tibet, especially looking back through history. I don’t know what the Dalai Lama’s been reading, but it’s not what the rest of us have.
Your points were very insightful, too, especially those about the precariousness of Chinese power. I think that could deserve a post on its own as it came up in conversation during my day as well, speciﬁcally about the Taiwan issue and ‘one country, two systems’. Thank you.