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Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo’s death will not lessen the desire of Chinese for greater participation in politics

The authorities may believe that economic development is the solution to China’s challenges, but there may be other ways that need discussion and debate, and shutting people out by silencing them is no solution

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 1:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 3:58pm

Liu Xiaobo’s death is a tragedy, for China and the world. Courageously he fought for the rights and freedoms of others, sacrificing his own liberties along the way. To Beijing, he was a criminal, but to supporters and admirers, he was a hero. As much as the authorities would wish his beliefs would fade with his passing, there will be no diminishing of the desire of Chinese for greater participation in politics.

Watch: Candlelight march for Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong

Beijing found Liu’s idealistic views intolerable. Even as he lay under guard in a Shenyang hospital dying of liver cancer, he was considered a threat. His release from prison too late for proper treatment, an apparent refusal to allow him to go overseas for the best help and the use of foreign doctors to send a message that everything possible was being done, was damaging to the nation’s image. That the academic and writer, 61, China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was the first recipient to die in custody since German pacifist and Nazi critic Carl von Ossietzky in 1938, is now a matter of lasting shame.

For the world, the circumstances of his death are as noteworthy as the empty chair at the 2010 Nobel ceremony that represented his imprisonment and the house arrest of his wife, Liu Xia. For co-authoring the pro-democracy manifesto Charter 08, which called on the Communist Party to honour the constitution, he was charged with subversion and jailed for 11 years, a sentence he was still serving when he died. It was his third spell in prison; he had done time for supporting the pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and again in 1995 for campaigning for political reform. The persecution did not silence him or shake his beliefs.

To Beijing, Liu and those who share his push for Western-style democracy are a direct threat to one-party rule. It has always been wary of Western influence, a view derived from the humiliation inflicted by European colonialism during the Qing dynasty. Open debate is similarly seen as disruptive; the thinking is that it leads to disputes and then chaos, a persistent fear of Chinese leaders through the centuries.

China stages ‘hasty’ cremation of Liu Xiaobo and has his ashes scattered at sea

Authorities believe economic development is the solution to China’s challenges. There may be other ways, though, necessitating discussion and debate. Shutting people out by silencing them is no solution. An American academic put it succinctly: “A China full of Liu Xiaobos would be ungovernable; a China without Liu Xiaobos would be unbearable”

But issues as important as human rights and political reform cannot be pinned on only a handful of heroes like Liu; China, with 1.4 billion people, is too complex for that.

Even though Beijing’s censorship meant he was little known on the mainland, he will have a long-lasting impact.