Liu Xiaobo, Drifting With the Tide

Westerners worldwide will wake up tomorrow with gifts under their Christmas trees. Liu Xia will wake up tomorrow — for her, December 26th — with the knowledge that Christmas brought her an empty home for the next eleven years. On December 25th, Liu Xiaobo (Liu Xia’s husband) was sentenced to eleven years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power,” or in other words, writing this.

Liu probably foresaw this outcome when he was writing the document in question — called Charter 08 — for he wrote within it, “we should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.” Liu will also be denied his political rights for an additional two years after his release in 2020. One suspects the dark irony of this is not lost on him, though it may be lost on his captors.

Liu’s conviction was a foregone conclusion — having indicted him, it would have been internationally embarrassing for him to be found innocent — but his sentence was not. While his crime can be punished with up to fifteen years in prison, he could have been sentenced more lightly. Eleven years is a slap in the face to the other co-signers of Charter 08, and a warning shot across their bow. Liu’s lawyers plan to appeal, but there isn’t a lot of optimism about Liu’s prospects for an early release.

The government has also taken steps to stop people from discussing the case online, reportedly ordering all Chinese search engines to block the search term “11 years”. Nevertheless, netizens are discussing the issue and showing their support. They are even — as is their wont in times like these — using puns to express implicit support for Liu Xiaobo:

For example, there are many posts in this forum that include or consist solely of the phrase: “随波逐刘”. This is a pun on the Chinese expression “随波逐流” which literally means “follow the waves, pursue the flow”, or figuratively: “drifting with the tide.” But flow (流 liu2) sounds like Liu Xiaobo’s surname (刘 Liu2) and the Chinese word for “waves” (波 bo1) is also part of Liu Xiaobo’s given name. So, when written as “随波逐刘”, it might be loosely translated as “Follow Xiaobo, Pursue Liu” or “Drift with Liu Xiaobo”.

One netizen writes:

In the West, today is the day of the coming of Christ, and we are pacing outside heaven’s gate, unsure of whether we should go in, whether we can go in. If there is a God, I don’t understand why you never extend your favor to the the deeply distressed people of the earth…

Where is the hope, where is the window? I can’t see it, can’t hear it.
Eleven years later, at the crossroads of fate, I choose to ‘drift with Liu Xiaobo’ [随波逐刘]

Shortly after that post was made, the forum was closed. Attempting to load it prompts this message:

Sorry, in accordance with the relevant legal regulations and policies, this forum has been temporarily closed.

Twitter, though, is unblockable, in the sense that it is already blocked but a growing community of netizens uses it anyway. Expressions of support have also been growing there, where users have added yellow ribbons to their pictures in solidarity with Liu Xiaobo, and have begun tagging tweets with #freeliuxiaobo. Other tweets on the subject can be found by searching for the judge’s first name.Facebook groups and the like also exist, and are likely to grow in membership in the coming days.

That the case is a travesty of justice is undeniable. It may not be unconstitutional, though. The Chinese Constitution states:

Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.
Article 35

Unfortunately, it also states:

Citizens of the People’s Republic of China, in exercising their freedoms and rights, may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society or of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.
Article 51

It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the security, honour and interests of the motherland; they must not commit acts detrimental to the security, honour and interests of the motherland.
Article 54

In any event, the results of the case are deeply discouraging. The tactical announcement of the verdict on Christmas — the time when foreigners are least likely to be paying attention — proves that the government is at least a bit shameful about it, too, or at least fearful of international meddling. There will still be meddling, of course — US officials have already denounced the verdict and called for Liu Xiaobo’s freedom — but the Chinese government has never before buckled under this kind of pressure, and is not likely to start now. And the outcry will certainly be muted by the impending holiday in the West.

For those interested in the outcrying — and know that I count myself among you — I urge a modicum of caution. Let us recall that it was not China that arrested and sentenced Liu Xiaobo, but people, and that it is not China that we oppose, but the cowardly actions of these people. Whatever systemic evils exist, they exist because people put them there, and we must not judge or condemn en masse, else we risk violating justice just as Liu Xiaobo’s captors have.

Let us also remember that beyond the political posturing, there are smaller tragedies here. This Christmas, we think of Liu Xia in her home, alone. She has barely seen her husband for a year, and will see him less, if at all, in the next eleven. China has robbed itself of a patriot, but it has also robbed a man of eleven years of freedom, and a wife of her husband. Liu Xia may not be the biggest story here, but she more than anyone — perhaps more than Liu himself — will bear the weight of this eleven year sentence.

(Many of the links in this story came from the China Digital Times, which is also probably your best source for up-to-the-minute information on the case).

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