On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for "incitement to subvert state power." His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement's Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Liu's trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.
Liu prepared a statement that he intended to read as part of his defense, as was his right under Chinese law, but he was denied the opportunity by the kangaroo court -- which also barred his wife and diplomatic observers from the courtroom. His statement has now been made public outside China, and has been elegantly translated into English by David Kelly, a China scholar at the University of Technology, Sydney (Australia). The entire statement is a must-read, simultaneously evocative of the gospel of Christ, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the poetry of Yeats. It is imbued with the hopeful patriotism of a dissident and the complex humanity of a man who has willingly taken on the risks of challenging an unyielding authoritarian state. His love for his country and for his wife are incredibly moving, but by far the most remarkable aspect of this text is his equanimity after two decades of persecution by the Chinese state. He thanks his jailers and even compliments them on improving their facilities since his prior incarceration. He expresses respect for the individuals involved in his prosecutions, but is relentless in his critique of the system that they operate within. It is an incredible combination of defiance and forgiveness:
Twenty years on, the innocent souls of June Fourth are yet to rest in peace, and I, who had been drawn into the path of dissidence by the passions of June Fourth, after leaving the Qincheng Prison in 1991 lost the right to speak openly in my own country, and could only do so through overseas media, and hence was monitored for many years; placed under surveillance (May 1995 – January 1996); educated through labour (October 1996 – October 1999s), and now once again am thrust into the dock by enemies in the regime. But I still want to tell the regime that deprives me of my freedom, I stand by the belief I expressed twenty years ago in my “June Second hunger strike declaration"— I have no enemies, and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies.
For hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation's spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy. I hope therefore to be able to transcend my personal vicissitudes in understanding the development of the state and changes in society, to counter the hostility of the regime with the best of intentions, and defuse hate with love.
[My] political beliefs are based on such convictions and personal experiences; I firmly believe that China’s political progress will never stop, and I’m full of optimistic expectations of freedom coming to China in the future, because no force can block the human desire for freedom. China will eventually become a country of the rule of law in which human rights are supreme. I’m also looking forward to such progress being reflected in the trial of this case, and look forward to the full court’s just verdict ——one that can stand the test of history.
Ask me what has been my most fortunate experience of the past two decades, and I’d say it was gaining the selfless love of my wife, Liu Xia. She cannot be present in the courtroom today, but I still want to tell you, my sweetheart, that I'm confident that your love for me will be as always. Over the years, in my non-free life, our love has contained bitterness imposed by the external environment, but is boundless in afterthought. I am sentenced to a visible prison while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough hobble my steps. I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.
Given your love, my sweetheart, I would face my forthcoming trial calmly, with no regrets about my choice and looking forward to tomorrow optimistically. I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where all citizens’ speeches are treated the same; where, different values, ideas, beliefs, political views... both compete with each other and coexist peacefully; where, majority and minority opinions will be given equal guarantees, in particular, political views different from those in power will be fully respected and protected; where, all political views will be spread in the sunlight for the people to choose; all citizens will be able to express their political views without fear, and will never be politically persecuted for voicing dissent; I hope to be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisition, and that after this no one else will ever be jailed for their speech.
Freedom of expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth. To block freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, to strangle humanity and to suppress the truth.
I do not feel guilty for following my constitutional right to freedom of expression, for fulfilling my social responsibility as a Chinese citizen. Even if accused of it, I would have no complaints. Thank you!
(The China Digital Times website has the full text here.)
It is almost painful to compare Liu's eloquent defense of freedom of expression to President Obama's awkward rhetoric on the same topic in Shanghai last fall -- "I am a big supporter of non-censorship" -- or to contrast Liu's defense of the universality of human rights with President Obama's insulting comment that "different countries have different traditions." Someday Chinese history will honor Liu Xiaobo as his country's Vaclav Havel or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. For now, it would be nice to see the United States and other free nations show at least as much concern for Liu, and the principles he is in jail for defending, as is routinely given to the sensitive feelings of China's dictators. To start with, Liu's statement should be required reading for everyone in the U.S. government who is working on China policy, and for those cynical "experts" who are calling for the U.S. to soft-pedal issues of principle in order to preserve the facade of cooperation with Beijing.