【 South Morning Post 】   Post Date: 4/29/2020
Review | The Journey of Liu Xiaobo reveals how Chinese dissident went from ‘dark horse’ to Nobel laureate
Author: Ajay Singh
Friends and colleagues recall the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and a fearless champion of human rights and democracy in China
The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate
edited by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman with Yu Zhang and others
Potomac Books
 
4.5/5 stars
 
Towards the end of a book launch held in Taipei in July 2017, bestselling Chinese author and demo­cracy advocate Yu Jie invoked a quote that was also the title of his latest work: “Take out a rib and use it as a torch.” Socrates had used these words, the author told the gathering, but Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had practised them throughout his life.
 
“Liu Xiaobo was someone who used his rib as a torch to light the darkness of China after the June 4 massacre,” said Yu, alluding to Liu’s non-violent activism and prolific writing following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Moments later, Yu received a text message, informing him that Liu had died.
 
Yu describes the loss of his best friend and winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in an emotionally charged article included in The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate, a marvellous collection of 70 essays and reflections – and a few poems – by the late dissident’s friends, acquaintances and academic colleagues.
 
Liu died of liver cancer at the age of 61 while serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power”. He had been granted medical parole just weeks earlier, with less than three years left of his prison term. 
 
His friends believe Chinese authorities intentionally allowed his disease to fester for too long, apparently because they feared the influence of a dissident who had been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious prizes – Liu was the first Chinese citizen to win a Nobel Prize of any kind while still living in China.
 
The authorities ignored fervent appeals from his friends, family and admirers to allow Liu to travel overseas for treat­ment, prompting commentators to draw com­parisons with the persecution of Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist and writer who won the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize while in a Nazi concentration camp and died in a hospital a year and a half after being freed. (In contrast, Liu breathed his last in police custody.)
 
 
Liu spent the last 28 years of his life mostly in and out of prison, earning the moniker “the Nelson Mandela of China”. Chinese authorities labelled him a behind-the-scenes “black hand” of the 1989 “counter-revolutionary riot”, writes Teng Biao, a United States-based Chinese scholar and human rights lawyer in an elegiac essay titled “Liu Xiaobo’s Death as an Event of Human Spirit”.
 
Teng gained his initial understanding of Liu’s political views from just a few words of official propaganda aimed at rewriting the history of China’s pro-democracy movement. “That ‘counter-revolutionary riot’ was later called the ‘turmoil’, then the ‘political disturbance’ and then, in the end, it became a sensitive word,” he writes, adding: “‘Liu Xiaobo’ became a restricted area. His body disappeared again and again inside iron walls. His writing was heavily blocked by the Red Wall.”
 
Liu, who came from a scholarly family and taught Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University, was one of the main drafters and co-authors of Charter 08. A 2008 manifesto in the style of Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77, it called for political reform, human rights protection and gradual implementation of a constitutional democracy in China.
 
Initially sponsored by 303 intellectuals, activists and human rights defenders nationwide, the document gained more than 13,000 signatures as of 2017 – and it was clearly the reason why Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison. 
 
Key Words: Liu Xiaobo
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