Sunday, October 10, 2010

Liu Xiaobo's Detractors

It is never interesting if there is only one voice on a subject, especially a hot one.  The hot topic at the moment, needless to say, is the awarding to Liu Xiaobo of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Outside China, acclamations can be heard everywhere, in mainstream media and on Twitter. 

The interesting question: is anyone saying anything different?  (The Chinese government doesn't count, and its blocking of the news and discussion is plain stupid given the 1.39 million Chinese students studying abroad and emailing constantly to their families and friends, which makes the blocking hardly effective.)

There is one tiny voice in the mainstream media that discusses the Nobel Peace Prize's possible negative consequences for the future. Interested readers might want to read Granite Studio's comment (update: and Peking Duck's).

What I find most curious is the emergence of Liu Xiabo's detractors from two opposite camps, with views that are not necessarily what I would expect.

On one side, some unhappy overseas Chinese in online forums  have dug up an interview Liu Xiaobo did with a Hong Kong publication 22 years ago, in which Liu said the only way for China to make fundamental changes is to be a colony (of the West) for  at least 300 years.   "Hong Kong took one hundred years to become the way it is today, " Liu reportedly said, "China is so big, of course it needs three hundred years as a colony to be like Hong Kong.  I even doubt if three hundred years are enough."

It is not surprising that this quote would piss off many Chinese, especially those with strong nationalist sentiments.  However Liu said this in 1988, a year before the June 4th massacre, at which time mainland Chinese intellectuals' resentment toward the government ran much higher than it does today.  I myself may not view the West as highly as Liu did, but even though I disagree with this opinion, I can certainly understand where the talk came from – I was around then and said radical things as well.  It is also hard to know if Liu really meant what he said; it could have simply been an emotional expression.  In the same interview, he said "I very much thank the Cultural Revolution. I was a child then, I could do whatever I wanted to.  Parents were gone doing the revolution.  Schools ceased classes.  I was able to temporarily get rid of educational procedures, and do what I wanted to do, to play, to fight, I lived happily."  Does this mean he had a positive assessment of the CR?  No. If you read through the context, that's just his way of talking, and can't reasonably be held against him.  Similarly, he also said if his English were good enough, he would have nothing to do with China, as if he didn't care about the country, but his actions prove otherwise.  His persistent and courageous fight for China's democratic future is certainly a stronger demonstration of allegiance than those spoken words.

A report from BBC on the four intellectuals who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen hunger strike is helpful in understanding Liu's more radical position than his three comrades.   Personally, I find Hou Dejian's view resonate more: "If China's democracy and rule of law can be achieved without shedding blood and without [mass] movements on the street, that is my first wish.  Even if this means it might happen more slowly, I'd be willing to let it happen a little more slowly."  But Hou has quit, while Liu keeps fighting.  I suspect some degree of radicalism is necessary to sustain a fighter's spirit, not to forget there's also plenty of rationality in Liu's actions. Regardless of our differences, I admire Liu's unyielding effort; China's political reform needs the constant push from brave people like him.

On the other side, the famous dissident Wei Jingsheng, who was also a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, reportedly said that many other Chinese are better qualified than Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, because Liu is too moderate as a democracy activist and is more willing to cooperate with the Chinese government.  (What a contrasting image to Liu's talk above, which apparently is still not radical enough to Wei. Does Wei think the existence of the Nobel Peace Prize is for the most extreme activists?)  This opinion is not new, as a number of dissidents, besides Wei, have said similar things by openly writing to the Nobel Prize Committee twice in opposition to Liu's nomination.  If these protests reflect internal struggles within the disintegrating community of the so-called "overseas Chinese democracy movement," one might want to ask why the two open letters and Wei Jingsheng's above speech are all posted on a Falun Gong website.  Readers of my blog might remember that, in my article "China: Revolution or Reform? - A Summary of the "Charter 08" Dispute," I noted FLG's 180-degree turn from supporting to opposing "Charter 08."  Given Liu Xiaobo's active involvement in Charter 08, I'm not surprised by FLG's position today against him, though it is still a mystery to me as to what was the exact cause of that dramatic change.

So that's what is curious, the fact that Liu Xiaobo, as a democracy activist, is simultaneously viewed by elements of the dissident camp as too cooperative with the government, and as extremely unpatriotic by other Chinese.  His sometimes radical words and often more rational behavior make him an ever interesting character to study.

Update (10/11): An analysis by Globe Voices's Andy Lee (h/t The China Beat for the link) sheds light on Liu Xiaobo's transformation before and after the 1989 student movement, which is relevant to the discussion here:
In an essay reprinted in the website China in Perspective, Cheng Yinghong, a Chinese scholar, described this shift in Liu’s ideological orientation as from romanticism to empiricism; in style as from arrogance to humility:


[Andy Lee's translation:] In Liu Xiaobo’s eyes, if repression on the individual and human nature in the 1980s was due to cultural or transcendental reasons, then today’s repression is due to more empirical reasons such as the country’s political system. Therefore, though the targets have changed, his sympathy and humanity have not. And this is what links the two Liu Xiaobo’s together.


bobby fletcher said...

I believe there's another reason Liu Xiaobo does not deserve the Nobel - he conducted domestic political activity under foreign sponsorship, something illegal in most countries. In US code FARA outlaws such activity.

The fact Liu has received nearly a million dollars from the US government, via the NED, is a matter of public record. Liu's conviction on subversion of state authority is also based on accepted right by the state to preserve sovereign independence.

The Chinese court verdict on Liu, page 4 section 1 and 2 clearly established Liu's foreign agent status thru evidence of financial sponsorhip: Liu had no significant income other than payment from abroad for his political commentary (including abolition of China's constitutin in Charter 08), and his wife withdrew foreign remittance from their Bank of China account.

Would someone on the take form China advocating abolition of the US Constitution ever be considered for Nobel? Not a chance.

pug ster said...

Good post Xujun. The "Anti-China" groups are becoming more fragmented than ever because of their frustration that they could not crack into China's influence.

Take the Anti-China Tibetan groups for example. They could not convince China to bring their influence into China thru talks. So some splinter group whom advocate violence and probably caused the bloody protests in 3/08, but then the Dalai Lama decided to go back to talks with China instead.

Another incident happened earlier this year in Hong Kong when 5 pro-democracy legislators resigned over issues of direct elections and forced by-elections by other pro-democracy groups did not join their cause.

Perhaps the Chinese governments' pervasiveness and able to adapt is keeping these Anti-China groups at bay.

poiuy said...

What I am amazed at is that even Liu is such a moderate (did not advocate a multi-party system), he is being persecuted to such extend by the CCP. Liu was given a choice to leave China in exile. He rejected that, while other democratic fighters have chosen to leave, and most quit the fight. And for this, he deserves the award.

ecodelta said...

Discussing the tastes, flavor, colors, culinary/literary preferences, fashion look, vibrations, aroma, whatever... about this person.. about this particular Scandinavian issue, is just... beating around the bushes; i.e avoiding the main point.

And the main point, we know, is Why has the Chinese powers that be have go to such lengths to prevent this issue to be reported and openly discussed in their own country.

FOARP said...

@Bobby Fletcher (AKA Charles Liu, the same guy who uncritically re-published death threats against Liu on Fool's Mountain which you can read here: )

Actually, if you bother to read Liu's conviction, you'll see that receiving funds from overseas did not form part of his conviction. The 'crime' which he was convicted of was writing articles critical of the state and publishing them on the internet. His funding had nothing to do with it.

Pete said...

"Bobby Fletcher" (Charles Liu) posted exactly the same comment on my blog when I wrote about Liu Xiaobo in January.

Xujun Eberlein said...

@bobby fletcher: your argument is too old and it's getting tiring. Frankly, I don't care where Liu Xiaobo gets his money from.

@pug ster: Is this really you? Your English is so good now it doesn't look like from the same pug_ ster as before. In any case, it might help to make the discussion more productive if you don't over-simplify by categorizing people into only "Pro-China" and "Anti-China."

@poiuy: Agreed. Perhaps the "Peace" Prize should be renamed to reflect that reality more clearly.

@ecodelta: You know, I'd expected someone would say something to this effect. However, I'm not you, and as a writer, the character of a public figure is more interesting to me than his/her political significance. And I doubt most people would agree with what you think is the main point.

@FOARP: Good point.

@Pete: Hi Pete, nice to see you here! Thanks for reading my blog.

bobby fletcher said...

Xujun, I expected Forarp to stare at "page 4 section 1 & 2" foreign financing evidence and lie about the disposition of Liu's conviction.

But as I didn't think your blog is about that.

When you say you don't care, by extension you are also saying you don't care about rule of law that reasonably forbids foreign sponsorship of domestic political activity.

At a very critical time, what important lesson do the Chinese learn from us? That we don't really believe what we harp about and put them down for.

That, is why there are Chinese like pug, and American like me, who reject your brand of ideology.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Well, now he gets money from Norway. You want to add more years to his sentence for that?

bobby fletcher said...

How about giving the Nobel Peace Praize to someone actually has "work for fraternity between nations", instead of a convicted foreign agent?

Xujun Eberlein said...

The first part of what you said is a different argument that doesn't justify the imprisonment of Liu. The second part is a patent nonsense. If you don't have anything new to say, perhaps you should go comment elsewhere.

Anonymous said...


You may not care about the NED funding, but I am certain that many others, especially Americans and Chinese, would. Why is this information not relevant?

I applaud bloggers who censor vulgar comments, personal attacks, attempts to hijack the debate, etc. But I am baffled at why you dismiss his comment out of hand. Is there a limit to how many blogs you can post an idea to? If that is the case, FOARP is hardly one to be throwing the first stone, serial poster/ much stirrer that he is. Further, how can his argument be "old"? The prize was only just awarded days ago.

Just my opinion. Claims to a "sensible perspective" aside, it seems kind of petulant to narrow the scope of discussion given the wildly diverging views on Liu Xiaobo.

I'm a fan of your, and I have been since your first couple of posts, but you are out-of-pocket here. If there is a flaw in B Fletcher's reasoning, or if he has his facts wrong, I am certainly curious to see what it is.


Xujun Eberlein said...

This "bobby fletcher" posts the same thing in many places. There is no evidence suggesting he is reading before he copies his own comments over. I spend a great deal of brain on what I write, of course I am "petulant" when people behave like that paste to my blog. There are other forums better suited to "he said she said" arguments.

S.K. Cheung said...

Hi, first time here on PKD's recommendation. Nice post. It is ironic that some find Liu too radical while others find him not radical enough. To me, that means that he's closer to the middle of the road than to the extreme, which is probably not a bad place to be. Sometimes, the true believers care about making a point moreso than they care about making a legitimate point, which might explain the use of 22 year old quotes.

I've heard that Charles Liu uses a different handle. But this is the first time I've seen it in the flesh. Always makes me wonder why people feel the need to post under different names. And a Chinese guy using a Caucasian name, no less. But the writing style, and the content, are dead giveaways.

To anonymous:
how is the funding information relevant?
Liu didn't win the Nobel because of his NED funding. The other candidates weren't passed over because they didn't get NED funding. So insofar as Liu winning the Nobel, what does NED funding have to do with it?

WHere in the Nobel peace prize criteria does it exclude foreign funding? If being convicted by the regime of the day is grounds to lose a Nobel, I guess the lady from Burma/Myanmar and Nelson Mandela should return theirs, among others.

cephaloless said...

The evidence of payment from a foreign source in Liu's case does not mean he is convicted of anything relating to suspicion of acting for a foreign agent. What does matter is the charge: subversion of the government and overthrowing socialism (PRC criminal code 105). They called it a serious violation so they applied criminal code 105 section 2 which calls for greater than 5 year jail time.
If they threw in something like criminal code 106 then it would actually matter.

PRC criminal code in the raw:

BTW, love that comeback about getting money from Norway.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Good points, S.K. and cephaloless.

Btw, Anon/James, to answer your question, the funding source argument is old because it has been around for nearly two years now, maybe longer. If you have been reading my blog, you might have noticed it around the time of the Charter 08 discussions.

Anonymous said...

Arrogance all over the place. It is old, so it is irrelevant. Nice logic. The 'human right etc.' argument has been even older I believe, does that make it less relevant too?

S.K. Cheung said...

To Anonymous:
I agree that age alone may not make it irrelevant. But a lack of relevance would surely make it irrelevant. I described why I think the NED business is irrelevant wrt Liu winning the Nobel. Maybe you can tell us why you think it is relevant.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Anon, please don't pervert the concept. If you are the same Anon, I was merely responding to your question "how can his argument be "old"?" There was no mention of irrelevancy in my words. When others addressed the issue, they obviously didn't care that it was old. Since no one made a connection between "old" and "irrelevant," whose logic are you talking about?

Now let me repeat, I'm simply tired of these two kinds of visitors: either one person pretending to be many by using multiple handles, or a group of people that pretends to be expressing an individual opinion. I prefer not to deal with dishonest visitors like that. Frankly, whatever opinions those visitors have, they are irrelevant to me, regardless of old or new. Forgive my impoliteness to such, will you?

wwww said...

I read this on the web:
What would have been liu’s fate if china had a better developed legal system like the west?

1. Liu was once asked about how China should progress: “(It would take) 300 years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would take 300 years of colonialism for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough.”

Imperialism/colonialism was a Holocaust for the Chinese people. In Europe and Canada, those who deny the Holocaust, or praise the Holocaust, would also be sentenced to jail. In fact right now there are dozens of academics languishing in jail, simply for questioning the official Holocaust account.see the Zundel trial

So are you saying Europeans can jail those who offend their own historical sensitivities, but the Chinese cannot, because of its defective law code? We had had historical experience much more bitter and traumatic than that of all Europe combined. His sentence was lenient.

2. The fact Liu’s organization has received nearly a million dollars from the US government, via the NED, is a matter of public record. The National Endowment for Democracy is an organization that has been closely associated with spreading civil discord across many developing nations for the benefit of the American agenda. In the west, it would have been considered as conducting domestic political activity under foreign sponsorship, something illegal in most countries. In US code FARA outlaws such activity.

Xujun Eberlein said...

WWWW, just that you know, it is really inappropriate to copy and paste an entire article of someone else's on my blog's comment page. Also, I've twitted that article long before you showed up here. I've deleted your copy-and-paste post, instead here is a link to that article:

S.K. Cheung said...

To "wwww":
hey, can I call you Charles Liu? You write like him, and your point #2 seems to borrow heavily from one "bobby fletcher". That guy left the first comment on this thread, and his first two paragraphs have striking similarities to your #2. I guess one difference is that Charles likes to play up his American-ness, whereas you seem to speak as a Chinese.

In any event, if his foreign funding is the crux of the matter, why do you think he was charged only AFTER he wrote Charter 08, when, as you say, this funding is "a matter of public record"? And as FOARP has already pointed out, his "funding" did not form the basis of his conviction. Looks like the CCP is trailing you on this one.

wuming said...


Here is my very unexceptional opinion on the matter:

On Liu Xiaobo, he belongs to more or less the same generation as I. The sentiments he expressed have been expressed by many of my generation at different stages of our lives. However, I thought that most of us have "moved on" and passed the stage where ideology is the dominant motif. Either Liu Xiaobo is courageous or he is stuck in his youth, most likely he is both. China needs people like him, China can not afford more than a handful of people like him.

On Chinese government's treatment of Liu Xiaobo, I am just as ambivalent. For better or for worse, the current regime will not be able to control the country if it is pulled back into the fray of ideological struggle. Yes, everyone in China is busy getting rich and give little thought to ideological matters. On the other hand, many are already rich enough, perhaps they are looking for an ideological or political outlet? Viewed from this perspective you will understand why Chinese regime refuse to take the step by making this seemingly harmless relaxation on political speech.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Hi Wuming, good to see you here. I believe your opinion is indeed a common one among overseas Chinese, and I really appreciate that you speak out. I have my own ambivalence as well, and I share it in the new post. Would love to hear your perspective again.

Xujun Eberlein said...

"Bobby Fletcher": In good will, let's assume that this comment of yours is a new and individual one, and I'll try to respond. But if I find in the future that you copy-paste things that have already been tiredly argued, I won't hesitate to delete them. Be forewarned. (I'm still unsure who the "wwww" that bombed my blog is.)

Now, if you really have read my post, you should have noticed two things: First, I certainly didn't make the "simplification of Liu's detractor into mere two camps." Nowhere have I said there are only two camps; I chose to highlight the two camps in this discussion because their opposite nature fascinates me. (And it is getting rather tiring that I have to explain my motivation for my topic choices.)

Second, my post isn't about whether Liu deserves the prize or not, nor is it about who deserves more. We all know the political nature of the Nobel Peace Prize (last year's winner is a good example), and this has become the topic of never-ending and futile discussions that I would rather not get involved in. I do want to point out one thing: to attack Liu Xiaobo because he won the Prize has the same pointlessness as attacking Obama because he won it. It is neither man's fault that they won.

In light of what Richard says, "So many are seeing Liu strictly in black and white," I hope discussions about Liu would not be simple-mindedly bashing or praising, and when criticizing him or praising him, I hope we can put Liu's words into historical context. I certainly don't think his support of the Iraq war is laudable, but this judgment now is rather ‘事后诸葛亮’ (20-20 hindsight). Right before the war, and when it had just started, numerous Americans (perhaps the majority?) supported it, yet many would change their position after finding out that they had been misled. I have also written about my own confusion at the time in an essay. I don't know if you've had more foresight than I did, or if you truly oppose all wars including those involving China. If not, perhaps a less extreme attitude toward Liu would be more convincing.

As I mentioned in my post, Liu sometimes tended to talk more radically than I would have liked, even though the instances were often circumstantial. But I've also read Chinese articles with portraits of him after the June 4th massacre that contradict this radical impression. From public record, Liu has said things I disagree with, and things I agree with, neither diminishes his value as a thinker in my eye. I'll tell you what resonates with me the most: it is his message from the speech "I have no enemies" that, relinquishing the enemy mentality "has been the basic premise that has enabled Reform and Opening Up to continue to this very day." Unfortunately the government of China, though has made progress in many respects, continues to treat writers and intellectuals with dissident thoughts as enemies, a practice for which you have issued your support, but one which I will always condemn.
("I have no enemies": see

Xujun Eberlein said...

Apparently, bobby flecher deleted his new comment while I was still typing my response. I hope the above response does not confuse other readers.

Anonymous said...

I agree with bobby, Xiaobo deserves his jail term in both Chinese and western standards. Apparently Xiaobo knows it and he loves it as it's the only way to get the $1m. Whether it's good for China or Chinese people is irrelevant here.

xujun, looks like you suspect a lot on everything(many id by one person, many person by one id, etc.,etc.). Isn't time for you to suspect if your own argument is valid? No doubt foreign sponsorship is part of the evidence as bobby clearly pointed out "page 4 section 1 & 2", why you keep being blind on that?

S.K. Cheung said...

To anonymous:
If you have a basis for questioning the validity of someone else's argument (Xujun's, for instance), I think it behooves you to provide said basis. Asking her to question the validity of her own argument seems extremely weak. If she felt her own argument to be invalid, she probably wouldn't have made it. So to expect her to question that validity without first giving her a reason to do so is lazy on your part. Make a compelling argument, and she might. But the onus is on you...and it would appear that so far, you have not met that burden.

As FOARP points out, while the foreign funding bit is included in the written judgment, it doesn't form the basis of the conviction. It wouldn't be the first time that Charles/bobby has taken stuff out of context.

Xujun Eberlein said...

@Anon: "he loves it as it's the only way to get the $1m" -- what a laughable thing for you to say. If you are not blind, you should see the opposite: the only way to create such a $1m winner is for the government to imprison him. The determinant is on the government side.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Administrative note: Here's something rather interesting - I only recently noticed that, a comment from "bobby fletcher" on this post, and one that I responded to but found it disappeared afterward (I thought he deleted it himself), had actually been removed by as a spam. Apparently "bobby fletcher" has posted the same text in way too many places, thus triggering an anti-spam program.

Anonymous said...

The magazine and Hong Kong media had asked Liu several times in the last 15 years to clarify his statement on China needing to be colonialized by whites for 300 years.

Liu has refused to add any clarification.

So we have to draw our own conclusions. One conclusion is that he still believe that that thought. Two is that he is a stubborn man who refused to correct a past ranting.