Mourn Liu Xiaobo, Free Liu Xia

Against the Current, No. 190, September/October 2017

Au Loong-Yu

WE HOLD THE Chinese Communist Party government responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s premature death. No one should be thrown into prison, let alone left to rot there, simply for exercising the right to free speech. The CCP even went so far as to intervene in Liu’s family’s arrangements for his funeral, scattering Liu’s ashes into the sea without the genuine consent of Liu’s wife, Liu Xia.

It is even more outrageous to see the regime continuing to hold Liu Xia under house arrest, just to make sure that Liu’s legacy cannot be visible.

Anyone who still thinks that the CCP government somehow carries some degree of a “socialist legacy,” as certain “new leftists” do, should think again. What we have now in Beijing is one of the most barbaric far right regimes in the world. It is this regime which should be tried by the people.

Comparing Cases

One only needs to compare how the Kuomintang in the 1930s (the ruling Chinese nationalist party at the time, led by Chiang Kai Shek — ed.) treated its most well-known and daring opponent with the conduct of the present-day CCP.

In 1932 the KMT tracked down and arrested Chen Duxiu, the one-time head of the CCP. By then the party had already abandoned the cities for rural guerilla warfare. Although Chen had been expelled from the party, he was still seen as a serious threat to the KMT.

Chiang Kai Shek initially wanted to send Chen to the military court for trial so as to freely deal with his opponent. But the news spread and a national initiative to support Chen Duxiu deveped. These included KMT celebrities such as Soong Ching Ling, Bai Wenwei, Cai Yuanpei and others.

Chiang Kai-shek had no choice but to send Chen to civilian court. Cai Yuanpei immediately found a famous “public intellectual,” Zhang Shizhao (later an obedient scholar under Mao), to be Chen’s lawyer.

In court, the prosecutor accused Chen of “advocating the idea of ‘down with the Kuomintang’ hence amounting to overthrowing the Republic of China.” Zhang Shizhao stood up and said that Chen Duxiu was no longer a member of the Communist Party. He had formed his own group, the Left Oppositionist, which had nothing to do with the CCP’s guerilla warfare. Therefore he was effectively helpful to the Kuomintang.

Chen Duxiu immediately stood up and declared, “Zhang’s defense only represents his own personal view. As to my political view one should only rely on my documents!” Then he outlined his own defense, openly admitting that he remained a revolutionary — even though this might have led to a severe sentence, including the death penalty.

China Then and Now

What is worth noting here is that in contrast to the KMT era of the 1930s, today all CPP party leaders and members have either stood behind the top leadership in condemning Liu Xiaobo or remained silent. In the 1930s quite a few prominent KMT leaders openly came to Chen’s aid and helped him secure a fair trial.

In contrast to the CCP’s kangaroo’s court, the KMT had to arrange an open trial for Chen. Because of this, the court hearing and cross-examination was fully reported in the newspapers. These were owned not by the party, but independently. In fact, some were run by public intellectuals who sincerely believed in free speech.

In contrast, there is not a single newspaper in today’s China that is independent. That is why, while Chen’s indictment against the KMT was fully covered by the press, Liu Xiaobo’s public statement declaring that the CCP “is not his enemy” is still censored in CCP China.

Actually, the KMT also treated Chen in prison better than the CCP’s ill treatment of Liu. Although thousands of revolutionaries died in KMT prisons, at least it treated Chen well. He was able to meet his wife regularly in private and for long enough to exceed the official time limit.

In the end, when Chen was released in 1937 he was able to immediately throw himself into the struggle against the Japanese invasion and openly criticized the KMT’s half-hearted defensive war. On the other hand, Liu died in custody and his wife remains practically a prisoner.

The KMT in the 1930s was actually quickly evolving into a fascist regime. It was not anything close to a “benevolent absolutism.” But comparing how it treated Chen with how the CCP has treated Liu and many others, one can still tell the difference. Sadly, there are progressive people in the world today who believe otherwise.

Assessing Liu Xiaobo

That said, it is also a bit of an exaggeration when someone declares that Liu is a great democratic thinker. He is a martyr and as such a man of great moral courage, and will so be remembered. But Liu was not great as a democratic thinker.

Politically he repeatedly exhibited naïveté and self-contradiction. It is to his credit that he promoted liberal democratic ideas, and these led to his imprisonment and death. But he was also a strong advocate of the privatization of state owned enterprises and farm land. One may wonder how democratic this would be.

Liu was known as an advocate of nonviolence, but actually the picture is more complicated. He wholeheartedly supported Bush’s war against Iraq in 2003 and condemned the United Nations for not endorsing the U.S.-UK’s war, praising the duo as “representing the regime of freedom and benevolence.” That Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace prize is comparable to an effort to square the circle.

But let us not be too harsh towards Liu now. Liu himself never claimed to be a “great thinker” nor did he intervene to make the Norwegian Nobel Committee give him the prize. That is the responsibility of those who wish to use Liu.

Right now we should continue to focus on demanding Beijing free Liu Xia. We should consider launching an international boycott of Chinese bureaucratic capital so as to press the CCP to respect basic human rights — especially to release Liu Xia. Let us mourn Liu Xiaobo and stand by Liu Xia.

September-October 2017, ATC 190