CHENNAI, India, 16 July 2017
To the “relief” of the Chinese government and its leadership, Chinese Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo has passed away. With the ruthlessness that the present government of China is known for, the Nobel laureate was quickly given a sea burial, probably to ensure that there would be nothing for the world to remember about him. Even his wife Liu Xia could not participate in the funeral and see the coffin containing Liu’s body. She is said to be very unwell but no one really knows.
The Chinese government has been angry with Liu Xiaobo since he was daring enough to show his courage of conviction and love for free China. He wrote a petition, known as “Charter 08”, that called for sweeping political reforms in China, and liberty and freedom to the people. The petition was signed by 350 Chinese intellectuals and Liu was accused of being the prime mover. The fate of the other Chinese intellectuals who signed the petition is not clear.
Liu was jailed in 2009, after the Chinese government accused him of ‘inciting subversion of state power — a charge that only a dictatorial leadership would make. He remained in jail for 11 years until his death. Obviously, the Chinese government waited for his death, as it was not bold enough to cause his death in any other way, fearing adverse global opinion and due to its anxiety to protect its “forward-looking image”.
When the Nobel laureate was suffering from liver cancer and multiple organ failure, he was given a medical parole, but was not freed in spite of his severe health condition. This indicates more than anything else the extent to which the Chinese leadership would go to suppress dissidents and opposition.
Not only did Liu have to suffer for holding on to his views on the need for liberty and freedom in China, his wife has been under effective house arrest since 2010, though she was not charged with any crime.
It is sad that even as China has achieved spectacular growth in economic, industrial, and scientific advancements, such developments have not been matched by the development of a civilised attitude and progressive outlook. This makes one conclude that economic growth and prosperity need not go hand-in-hand with cultural and social progress.
The first glimpse of China’s aggressive and unethical attitude was seen when it ruthlessly occupied the helpless Tibet, drove hundreds of Tibetans out of Tibet, suppressed freedom and destroyed Tibetan traditions to a considerable extent. Even after several decades, the torch of liberty for Tibet is yet to be seen, as it remains under the ruthless Chinese government.
It is ironic that the US and several countries in Western Europe, who pride themselves as vibrant democracies and claim that they value and cherish freedom of expression, did nothing to make China see reason and release the Nobel laureate. They were more concerned about the economic and trade opportunities with China and readily ignored the repressive jail term for Liu. Their double standards are crystal clear.
There should be thousands of citizens in China who feel extremely sad about the death of Liu Xiaobo but do not have the freedom to pay tribute to him eulogizing his call for rule of law, democracy, and freedom of expression in China.
It is gratifying that there have been some protests in Hong Kong, where several thousand people were reported to have held an evening vigil for Liu and went for a silent march, hailing Liu as the people’s hero.
One can be sure that governments in the US and other countries will not take any steps to honour Liu and make the world remember him by building a memorial for him. They know that the Chinese government would not like this, and they would not like to displease the Chinese government so long as it remains as an attractive place for trade and investment.
Certainly there must be millions of people around the world who want the memory of Liu to be kept alive and his call for freedom and liberty in China remembered for all time to come. Such people should join together and organize a forum to construct a memorial for Liu Xiaobo in any part of the world that would remain as a Memorial for Liberty.
The Statue of liberty in the US has not been enough to persuade the US government to effectively render its voice for the cause of freedom that Xiaobo stood for. One hopes that a Memorial for Liberty built for Liu would ensure that the aspiration for freedom for people around the world would remain in focus for all time to come.
The Chinese government is bound to learn its lessons sooner or later, and hopefully, sooner rather than later. The Memorial for Liu would help ensure that this could happen.
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.
More articles by NS Venkataraman on Tibet Sun.