Parsing the death of Liu Xiaobo

Yesterday, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer at the age of 61. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but was in prison at the time. He also died while still serving his sentence.

Such a death is bound to spur the expected demonisation of China and Chinese responses. So let’s parse a number of statements made here, here, and here.

First, he was an activist for liberal or bourgeois democracy and an end to so-called “one party rule.” These comments make light of the fact that he was convicted for trying to overthrow the government (and socialist democracy) and replace it with a very different system. But this is actually what he did: attempt to overthrow the state. In most countries, this constitutes an act of treason.

Second, he is presented as having advocated, in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee “fundamental human rights in China.” What this means is European derived human rights, which typically play up political and civil rights of individuals and neglect the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights in which the collective right to economic wellbeing is basic. This approach is, not unexpectedly, conveniently ignored. The Nobel committee betrays its agenda here, advocating a form of European neo-colonialism.

Third, the corporate press typically speaks of “global condemnation.” But if you look closely, you can see the usual suspects: USA, UK, Taiwan, Germany. Hardly “global.”

Fourth, he was denied proper medical treatment. It is assumed with this comment that he should have been able to leave China for such treatment. The implied meaning is that China’s medical system is inadequate or – with the usual dog whistle – that he was denied treatment. What is not noted here is that a whole team of Chinese, US and German doctors were focused on the best treatment.

Fifth, the comparison is made with Carl von Ossietzky, who died in 1935 under the Nazi regime in Germany. This is a move first perfected in attacking the Soviet Union: the reductio ad Hitlerum. When all else fails, simply equate communism with fascism.

What is the Chinese position? I have already noted some of these implicitly. But the main point is that he had actually betrayed China and that his long-term effect will be negligible. The reason: none of China’s heroes and heroines were identified by foreign interests. Instead, “One’s position and value in history will be decided by whether one’s endeavors and persistence have value to the country’s development and historical trends.”

NB: A much sharper piece can be found hidden away in, of all places, the Guardian. Written by Barry Soutman and Yan Hairong, it reveals that Liu Xiaobo is not only ignored in China, but that he was a militant and reactionary colonialist, supporting United States attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, and stating that China needs 300 years of more of ‘Western’ colonialism to become thoroughly ‘westernised’. Statements like this, as well as observations that the Chinese are ‘wimpy, spineless and fucked-up [weisuo, ruanruo, caodan]’ certainly hasn’t won him any friends in China.




10 thoughts on “Parsing the death of Liu Xiaobo

    1. A couple more pieces from the Global Times. In the first, Liu Xioaguang, the brother of Liu Xiaobo, thanked the government for the excellent medical care and sensitive funeral – according to family wishes – The second is a more general piece on the the futility of ‘dissidents’ and the in-built animosity in some parts of the the world to socialism –

      That said, a recent global survey (from the US-based pew Centre) indicates that more countries in the world view China favourably than the USA –

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