Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Writings of Imprisoned Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo (Plus: Send a Letter to China on His Behalf)


Alert! The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its Nobel Prize for Peace to imprisoned Chinese dissident author Liu Xiaobo today:

2010 Nobel Peace Prize: Liu Xiaobo “for his long &non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” #nobelprize #nobelpeaceprizeless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

The committee’s justification for the award – which, one can’t help but feel, puts yesterday’s Nobel Prize in Literature for Mario Vargas Llosa somewhat in the shade – was aimed squarely at China’s totalitarian stance on free speech and other human rights:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

China’s new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

As might be expected, however, Xiaobo, who was jailed for 11 years (plus “two years’ deprivation of political rights“) for “inciting subversion of state power” in 2009, is unaware of his new status as a laureate:

Liu Xiaobo has not been informed about the Nobel Peace Prize #nobelpeaceprize #nobelprizeless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Xiaobo was President of the writers’ organisation, the Independent Chinese PEN Center, from 2003 to 2007. The United States’ branch of PEN has compiled a useful page outlining Xiaobo’s biography and the history of his trial, along with links to some of his writings, which we present here.


Greed’s Prisoner

                  for the dispossessed wife

a prisoner
presses into the crowd of your life
so cruel and full of greed
won’t even let you
buy a bouquet of flowers for yourself
a piece of chocolate, a pretty dress
he doesn’t give you
time, not a single minute
does he give you

the smoke in your cupped palm
he breathes in, breathes in, completely
even the ashes don’t belong to you, his body
in the prison of the Communist Party
so that the spirit-cell you built
without a door without a window
without a thread of a crack
locks you in solitude
to rot


The internet is God’s present to China

by Liu Xiaobo

Today there are more than 100 million internet users in China. The Chinese Government is ambivalent towards it. On the one hand, the internet is a tool to make money. On the other, the Communist dictatorship is afraid of freedom of expression.

The internet has brought about the awakening of ideas among the Chinese. This worries the Government, which has placed great importance on blocking the internet to exert ideological control.

In October 1999 I finished three years of jail and returned home. There was a computer there and it seemed that every visiting friend was telling me to use it. I tried a few times but felt that I could not write anything while facing a machine and insisted on writing with a fountain pen. Slowly, under the patient persuasion and guidance of my friends, I got familiar with it and cannot leave it now. As someone who writes for a living, and as someone who participated in the 1989 democracy movement, my gratitude towards the internet cannot be easily expressed.

Authoritarianism in the Light of the Olympic Flame

by Liu Xiaobo

In April 2007, Beijing announced its grand plan for the Olympic Torch Relay. The official theme, “harmonious journey,” was clearly meant as an indirect reference to the “harmonious society” advocated by President Hu Jintao soon after he assumed office in 2005. The relay plan will break many Olympic records, with the longest route, the broadest territory, the highest altitude (through the Tibetan Himalayas), and the largest number of participants. The torch will pass through 22 cities in five continents, as well as 113 domestic cities and regions throughout China. The route’s inclusion of Hong Kong, Taipei, and Macao is intended to symbolize the great “unity” of the Chinese ethnicity.

Words such as “the first,” “the best,” “the pride of Chinese around the world,” “harmony,” and “dream” frequently appeared in media reports and comments in mainland China regarding the torch relay. The official Beijing Olympic website states: “From March to August 2008, the world will focus on this route—the glorious Olympic torch will carry the spirit of the Olympics and the dream of the people around the globe, lightening the voyage of ancient civilizations and evolving into the brand new ‘harmonious journey.’”

PEN also recorded a video of Xiaobo, who used to teach at Columbia, discussing free speech in China:

YouTube Preview Image

Finally, PEN has written a letter on Xiaobo’s behalf in protest against the writers’ imprisonment, which others can sign:

Your Excellencies,

I am writing to protest the conviction and 11-year sentence handed to renowned writer and former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center Liu Xiaobo.

I understand that on December 8, 2008, police arrested Liu Xiaobo, searched his home, and confiscated computers and other materials. He was held at an undisclosed location for more than six months under “residential surveillance” before being formally arrested and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” on June 23, 2009. Liu’s case was finally sent to the prosecutor on December 8, 2009, a year to the day after his initial detention, and he was formally indicted on December 11. He was tried quickly in a closed-door hearing on December 23, 2009, and on December 25, was convicted of the charges. Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison with two years’ deprivation of political rights for 224 Chinese characters contained in six of his articles and Charter 08. He was not permitted to give a full defense.

Books by or about Xiaobo are somewhat hard to come by, but here’s one that apparently contains a sympathetic biography of the author:

Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo is an intellectual and human rights activist in China. He has served as President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center since 2003. On December 8, 2008, Liu was detained in response to his participation with Charter 08. He was formally arrested on June 23, 2009, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”He was tried on the same charges on December 23, 2009, and sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25.

Book details

Finally, you can also find links to dozens upon dozens of Xiaobo’s writings in Chinese, which Google Translate can help you get the gist of, at the Independent Chinese PEN Center:

The right of self-government

After World War II, with liberal democracy spread in the world, with the “human rights overriding sovereignty” principle accepted by the people to solve the ethnic demands for autonomy and independence of ethnic conflicts triggered by, more and more into a referendum on the legality of the authority The means of access, resident autonomy in most countries have gradually become the consensus of the world. This is the liberal values and institutional arrangements in the application of rights groups ─ ─ most of the same time respecting the need to respect and protection of minorities ─ ─ referendum embodies the principle of respect for the democratic majority, residents of autonomy reflects the principle of protection of minorities. Those still in use in the colonial era law of the jungle, for independence or autonomy for ethnic minorities to force subdue the government, more moral condemnation by the international community and the actual sanctions.


China, as might be imagined, did not hold back its fury after the announcement was made:

The announcement provoked a furious reaction from Chinese authorities, who warned that the decision would hurt relations with Norway.

“Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Awarding the peace prize to Liu “runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize”, the statement said.

Photo courtesy laihiu


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    October 8th, 2010 @12:52 #

    This is wonderful. He has been one of PEN International's main focus cases. I hope that this brings increased pressure on China. Much of the world does not like writers. We need to be vigilant. I am going to be reactivating South AFrican PEN's Writers in Prison Committee - our local version of the international committee that has been working on Liu Xiaobo's case. There are writers imprisoned in several African countries that we can campaign for. AS well as campaigning against the Protection of Information Bill - which looks set to imprison writers if it is passed. Wa Afrika's case, the Sunday Times journalist, was just a little catspaw in that direction. Please get in touch with me if you would like to be involved.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    October 8th, 2010 @12:59 #

    Count me in, Margie. There's a weird reverse logic to all this: as a writer, I wrestle with the sense of constantly talking to the hand, of producing words words words 99,99% of which will be roundly ignored. Yet the very fear and ruthlessness with which writers are hounded by many regimes suggests that there is real power in what we do, that we are in the company of truth-tellers. Which is a kind of comfort, I guess...

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 13th, 2010 @17:27 #

    Wow: "Chinese Communist party veterans defy censors with call for free speech":


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat