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Thread: China, Democracy, & Liu Xiaobo

  1. #1 China, Democracy, & Liu Xiaobo 
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    China, Democracy, & Liu Xiaobo

    Recently, I encountered certain interesting articles on Mr. Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. They were written by Cao Changqing, a Chinese scholar living in New York and an old time friend of Mr. Liu, and posted on Chinese forums. His articles have been controversial because his criticism of Mr. Liu, who has been praised by all quarters of the liberal intellectuals in China and abroad since the announcement of the prize for his pro-democratic activities and his petition to the Chinese government for political reform, leading to his imprisonment. I personally feel that Mr. Cao’s articles warrant further discussion in a wider circle and was considering translating them into English, but have been prevented from such an engagement due to lack of time, and now have settled for a rather brief introduction of Mr. Cao’s opinion.
    The central theme of Mr. Cao’s articles is not difficult to perceive if you look at the title of his first article: “The Torn-Apart Liu Xiobo”, in which Mr. Liu is said to suffer from personality split, or double personalities. Mr. Liu is said to have contradicted himself in a systematic and fundamental manner, which call into question of his true political conviction.
    In the summer of 1987, Mr. Liu announced the death of the Communist Party of China in a private gathering, and sang a funeral march for it. During the period immediately before the 1989 democratic movement, he resoundingly criticized the dissidents within the party, including Prof. Fang Lizhi, who fled US after crackdown, and Mr. Liu Bingyan, who eventually died in a self-imposed exile in the US. Mr. Liu also criticized the Chinese intellectuals for their eulogy of the General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who was nothing more than an enlighten emperor for him. He asked a rhetoric question: “Do we need Wei Jingsheng or Hu Yaobang?” Mr. Wei was arguably the pioneer in the late democratic movement in China by proposing “the Fifth Modernization” or democracy in the late 1970’s, and was thus sentenced for a long imprisonment. In his article “Mao, the Devil-King”, Mr. Liu concluded that within the framework of one-party dictatorship we could not find a force to counterbalance it. Thus, any hope for democracy must come from outside the party structure.
    After 1989, while still in prison for his participation in the Tian-An-Men protest, he denounced the student movement for “disrupting the process of the ruling party’s gradual progress and self-reform towards democracy, leading to overall reversal in the events in China”. Even Mr. Liu Bingyan, who had been criticized by Mr. Liu Xiaobo for his link to the party, could not tolerate this flip-flop any more and published an article denouncing Mr. Liu Xiaobo as “the apologist for the party and the status quo in China”.
    Has Mr. Liu changed his mind? Nope, Mr. Cao pointed out that Mr. Liu re-published his article “Mao, the Devil-King” in 2006, effectively reversing to his original stand. It appears that Mr. Liu’s political statement is depending on the time and the location. For example, in the year of 1989, he was a revolutionary in New York, but a collaborator in Beijing.
    As for his late petition to the party (the so-called “Charter of 2008”), Mr. Cao called it a masterpiece of mildness, compromise, and collaboration, which considers the matters from the ruler’s perspectives. Apparently, Mr. Liu is banking on the party’s new policy without answering the question of who has the right to amend the constitution. Does he have faith in the party’s capacity to reform itself? Or is he merely putting up a political show and try to profit from it?
    As a collaborating evidence for the personality split, Mr. Cao pointed out that Mr. Liu is trumpeting the line of nonviolence in recent times, which contradicts his enthusiastic support for the invasion of Iraq by G. W. Bush. Mr. Cao even speculates the Noble Prize Committee was probably unaware of his support for the right wing (per western definition) ideas in general and the Iraqi War in particular.
    Of course, Mr. Cao did not stop here. He further raised the issue of Mr. Liu’s personal integrity as he went through ups and downs of politics.
    Attention was drawn to the fact that Mr. Liu was one of the “four gentlemen” staging a hunger strike starting on the June 2, 1989 in Tian-An-Men Square, merely two days before the army moved in to the square. Before the hunger strike, the protest in the square was showing a sign of cooling down, and the student leaders were debating the merit of continuing the occupation of the square. The hunger strike changed everything, which might have triggered the crisis according to some analysts. The question is why he moved at this critical stage and so late in the protest, which seems to have unnecessarily prolonged the protest and increased the fatalities? And why only four of them participated in the activity? I was puzzled by these questions as the events unfolded 22 years ago. It became more clear when Mr. Cao pointed to certain statements of Mr. Liu, in which he confessed that the move was designed to create a political celebrity in order to realize his “superman dream”. When you put this together with his condemnation of radical student leaders in the protest, it sounds pretty hypocritical, indeed.
    What Mr. Cao is trying to convey here is that Mr. Liu simply plays politics as a game. Here, Mar. Cao did not forget to bring in collaborating evidences.
    Mr. Liu signed a statement of repentance in the prison for his protest in 1989, which won him an early release. The worst thing is that he, together with another hunger striker Mr. Zhou, proposed - without the request from the regime - to testify that there was no death in the square, which was accepted, carried out, and broadcasted to the public. By so doing, he effectively became a collaborator of the regime. As soon as he was out of the jail, he told his friends that he won the game by signing the repentance. Then, he confessed a deep regret for the “sincere lie” he had told. However, he did not hesitate to issue a “Final Statement” in which he praised the “progress” in human rights in China, “reduced persecution” of the dissidents, and the “humane” treatment of the prisoners when he faced the judge the second time for his activities. Is this just another “sincere lie”? Did Mr. Liu truly regret his first lie? If he did, why he got into another one? You would not be able to understand Mr. Liu’s inner world without answering these questions.
    The motivation of Mr. Liu’s return to China was also questioned. He believed that there was a greater opportunity in China for himself to realize his dream than there is in the west. The reason is simple: “In the mainland (China), you can easily become famous and successful. … Your opponents have very low IQ.” This also helped to improve his financial situation. Before his recent arrest, he was depicted to frequent restaurants in Beijing with his friends, given the support from overseas and the fees for his articles – his life was far better than any other Chinese writers in the west. Mr. Liu even pitied Mr. Cao when the former found out that the latter had to share an apartment with another family during his trip to New York in 1993. Mr. Liu is known to have said that he would return to wherever he can live a comfortable life. Mr. Cao believes that this explains why he insists upon returning to China in 1993.
    Reading Mr. Cao’s articles, you cannot help but to come to the conclusion that Mr. Liu is an opportunist per excellence. It seems he was able to shift his positions according to the environment, and took advantage of it. Such is the game theory of Mr. Cao.
    In practical sense, the contradiction between the two paths, from within and without the party, has been overstated, although this does not invalidate Mr. Cao’s criticism of Mr. Liu’s self-contradiction. If the Soviet history is of any guild, the two paths are effectively one and the same. As the USSR collapsed, the party was banned. But who was in charge? It was not Andrew Sakharov; instead, it was the old party boss of Moscow, who passed his baton to the former head of KGB. Apparently, China is going down the path of the Soviet Union despite of its economic reform. The issue becomes clearer if we put it in historical perspectives.
    What happened in the twentieth century in both countries is that the old totalitarian regime (the Tsar and the Manchu emperor’s regimes, respectively) collapsed, and then rebounded at least twice: the first time featured a dictator type of leaders (Stalin and Mao, ruling 29 years and 27 years, respectively), followed by a reform period (the Khrushchev period of 11 years and the Hu Yaobang-Zhao Ziyang period of 13 years), the second time was led by technocrats (the so-called “post-totalitarian periods” of Brezhnev and Jiang-Hu, the former ruled for 27 years, the latter has lasted 22 years so far), followed by another reform period (the Gorbachev period of 6 years in the USSR). The boom in the post-totalitarian period of the USSR was characterized by military build-ups, and became economically unsustainable. In comparison, the boom in contemporary China is characterized by GDP explosion but is becoming unsustainable due to social polarization, resource depletion, and environmental destruction.
    I need to emphasize that the communist rules is not an independent historical phenomenon. The old totalitarian regimes collapsed and rebounded very much like the way the stock market does. Hence, the communist regimes are no more than echoes of the old time. Similar phenomena took place all over the world: the restoration of the Britain and France, Nazism in Germany, fascism in Italy and Spain, militarism in Japan, communism in Russia and China, etc. All these “-isms” are to be considered historical equivalences, functioning as the reaction of the old social and cultural conditions towards the new idea of liberty and equality. Different cultures reacted differently, producing different “-isms”. Formation of new society is only possible as we pass these chaotic transitional periods. The roles played by individuals and the party organizations are limited regardless of their outward appearances.
    Regarding his “Charter”, there are little original ideas. He essentially copied the common knowledge of the western systems. Unfortunately, he has not proved that these ideas are the best for China, and will work as anticipated. In addition, Mr. Liu might not have as much faith in the western political system as it seems to be. In his letter to his friend Mr. Hu Ping, he wrote: “In the American elections you only got ballots but no morality.” His limited understanding of how a modern society functions simply rule out the possibility that he will be able to provide a meaningful blueprint for future of China. He probably also understand this point. Therefore, the drafting and the publication of the Charter involved a degree of political showmanship. Nevertheless, the prize came in a handy time to boost the morale of the dissidents in China, thus it is to be welcome.
    Objectively speaking, Mr. Wei deserves the prize more than any one else, as Mr. Cao had pointed out. Mr. Wei not only was the first in the post-Mao China to call for democracy, he also displays a greater courage when facing the official prosecutors. In the court, Mr. Wei never repented what he had done, because he had prepared himself for a death sentence. He was given a 15-year term, confined in isolation for almost six years, then sent to a labor camp in the remote Qinghai. In the jail, he continued to write down his true beliefs on the toilet tissues. He continued his human right activities after he served the sentence in full, and received another sentence of 14 years as a result. Three years after the second sentence, he was exiled to the US by shipping him straight from the jail to the airport. The achievement and contribution of Mr. Wei were conveniently neglected because the Sino-US relation was in the honeymoon period in early 1980’s, and the cold war was still going on. Naturally, the west was reluctant to upset the Chinese leader by awarding the prize to Mr. Wei. But then who said that you have to win Nobel Prize to be a great historical figure?
    Going back to Mr. Cao’s articles, many of the critical responses to them accuse him for participating in the so-called “in-fighting” among the Chinese dissidents and undermining the credibility of Mr. Liu, considered by many as the leader and the pilot light of the Chinese dissidents, and perhaps even the embodiment of democracy in China. In my opinion, Mr. Cao’s article shall not damage the credibility of Mr. Liu if it has no merit at all. On the other hand, the issues raised in the articles should be known and debated if it is real. Indeed, if we were not allowed to criticize the eminent figures in the pro-democratic movement, we might as well dispense with such a movement altogether, since it would then betray liberalism by embracing and imitating the communist regime in its biggest evil, and the only difference between Mr. Liu’s political agenda and that of the communist government would be nothing more than one-party system vs. a multi-party system. In my opinion, the so-called “multi-party system” is a variation of political oligopoly. Maybe we could try the genuine Athenian democracy. The Swiss has adopted certain element of it, why not the Chinese?


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  3. #2  
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    In the article, I mentioned that communism is nothing more than a reaction of the old social and cultural conditions towards the new idea of liberty and equality. The phenomenon is similar to what happen after the market crash. To visualize the idea, I have plotted the downward movement of Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1929-1932 and the Japanese property index from 1990-2003. The similarity of the two curves is easy to discern: there are multiple major peaks in the downward movement, and the values of these peaks tend to become lower. The historical course in Russia and China display some similarities to the market crash if we consider the more totalitarian period as the peak, and the reform period as the bottom, assuming that we could assign different values to different period regarding the various degrees of totalitarianism. Here, the starting point of the reigns of Stalin and Mao are lined up, and the time scale remains unchanged, because these two men played a critical rule in the historical course. If we count from the end of the monarchy, there are three bottoms and two peaks in the Russian history, while China has seen two bottoms and two peaks. If this interpretation has any validity, China is in the late part of the second peak and approaching a new transition. Time will tell.
    http://scienceforums.com/index.php?a...attach_id=2346


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  4. #3  
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    I predicted Liu's Noble Peace Prize in Febuary 2010 (see below).

    Now you can wait for my next prediction to come true.
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