Liu Xiaobo's pro-Western bias blinds him to China's real needs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am

Most commentaries on Liu Xiaobo say more about the writers than about Liu. Tony Hung ('Balance and fairness missing', October 14) is no doubt right that it is unfair to pick on Liu's comment made decades ago about the need to colonise China for 300 years by a Western power to achieve freedom. If asked today, Liu would probably not repeat it.

Nor did he probably believe it literally when he first made the statement. However, that infamous statement actually reflects his long-held and deeply felt belief in the superiority of Western culture, science and especially political systems. This is paired with his general disregard, bordering on utter contempt, for all or most of traditional and modern Chinese culture, values and practices.

His model is that China should be just like a modern Western society. His literary hero is Nietzsche; his co-authored Charter 08 was modelled on Charter 77 in communist Czechoslovakia (no wonder Vaclav Havel is Liu's biggest fan), containing the usual calls for the rule of law, freedom of speech and multi-party democracy. If Liu were a Westerner, he would fall squarely into the camps of neo-liberalism (in economics) and neo-conservatism (in politics).

After the global financial crisis and the George W. Bush years, I think we can safely say both 'isms' are in disrepute even in many Western quarters. Liu's uncritical acceptance of what he takes to be Western culture and practices is perfectly matched by his critical rejection of most things Chinese.

There are limits to how far we can reject the culture and country into which we are born. Liu's deeply held beliefs about the West are what make him the darling of the Western media and punditry, and why many Chinese intellectuals feel ambivalent - and critical - about him. Yes, it is morally wrong and politically stupid to jail him. Everyone agrees on that, so there is no real debate or controversy there.

But it is also intellectually ignorant or disingenuous to portray him as China's guiding light. Yes, freedom is a universal value in the sense that once we have been properly fed and clothed, most or all reasonable people would value conditions of being free. But one can argue that the need to properly feed and clothe people is equally - or more - important, and may be prior to formal political freedom which, in itself, carries enormous financial and social costs. Not all developing countries can achieve political freedom in one go.

Some universal values, reduced to single-word slogans like freedom and democracy, are perfectly vacuous. Professor Walter Hutchens ('Slander against winner of Nobel Peace Prize', October 14) dares Liu's critics to argue against multiparty democracy, political checks and balances, and freedom of speech. Such political notions can take different forms other than the ones that currently exist in the US or Britain. Most Westerners have forgotten their own history of how they achieve these goals. To answer his challenge, as Chinese citizens and patriots, we should argue against Liu.

Lee Oi-yan, Pok Fu Lam