"A Letter to the European People, I am here to urge your support of this year's Nobel Peace Prize being bestowed upon the founder of China's Charter 08, Liu Xiaobo. In spite of Liu Xiaobo's many friends and supporters, I came to know him quite late, and we first met personally only a few years ago. In the mid-1980s, when Liu Xiaobo rose to prominence within the literary world, I was a visiting research fellow at Oxford, and became familiar with his ideas through Chinese periodicals published overseas.
Contrary to the view held by many, what brought Liu such attention at the time wasn't merely the sharpness of his writing or his pointed critiques, but also how thorough he was in his thinking and how much more influential his criticisms were of mainstream ideology and dogma in China than those of other intellectuals. Throughout the student-led democracy movement of 1989, I had the opportunity to observe Liu Xiaobo. He had been lecturing abroad for quite some time, but when signs of suppression began to appear and others began making arrangements to flee overseas, Liu Xiaobo instead chose to discontinue his academic pursuits and return to Beijing to immerse himself in the struggle for democracy.
On the nights of June 3rd and 4th, I was in Tiananmen Square, not far from the Monument to the People's Heroes. Liu Xiaobo, along with three other intellectuals, was taking part in the student hunger strike; it was they, who, on the early morning of the 4th, convinced the students to peacefully evacuate the Square and begin discussion with the soldiers suppressing them, negotiating a smooth withdrawal.
I remember clearly the difficulty and pain Liu Xiaobo and his comrades-in-arms— raised as they had been with the most radical type of an education — experienced in reaching this decision, one which only later was understood to have saved the lives of several hundred students. Liu Xiaobo's involvement in the 1989 democracy movement illustrates his transformation from an eminent cultural critic to public intellectual concerned with social and political problems and human rights activist. His activities in 1989 can be seen as formative in the entirety of his following writings and other works, characterised by an unwavering bravery and refusal to back down in the face of danger and suppression, by the pursuit and defence of human rights, humanism, peace and other universal values and, finally, adherence to the practice of rational dialogue, compromise and non-violence. For many years, Liu Xiaobo has been the most representative figure and foremost organiser in mainland China's struggle for human rights and democracy. He has been at the forefront of protests made in support of writers and intellectuals imprisoned for their work, in appeals made for farmers and urban residents deprived of land and home, in advocating for protection of the religious and cultural rights of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, and in fostering constructive dialogue toward seeing peaceful co-existence between Han and all ethnic minorities.
In a series of protests aimed at upholding the fundamental rights of all Chinese citizens, Liu Xiaobo placed consistent emphasis on the fact that the rights and freedoms of all Chinese citizens are protected both by the Chinese constitution and in law, as well as a series of United Nations and international declarations and covenants signed by the Chinese government which safeguard human and civil rights.
Liu placed particular emphasis on seeing the Chinese government's obligation and responsibility to abide by its own constitution and laws as well as international covenants as commitments to both the Chinese people and the international community. In launching and signing Charter 08 in 2008, Liu Xiaobo's intent was to reaffirm, with the Chinese government already recognising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and having signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that these are the norms with regard to interaction between the Chinese people and the Chinese government: to be a qualified and responsible member of the international community would require China to adopt the universal values embodied within these two documents.
For this, Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned, his third arrest as a result of striving for freedom and democracy in China. On Christmas Day, 2009, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison. In his final statement to the court, Liu Xiaobo said that he had neither enemies nor hate; to those who kept him under surveillance and arrested him, to the police who interrogated him and to the public attorneys who prosecuted and judge who sentenced him, the message Liu Xiaobo felt it most important to convey was that despite their various roles leading to his imprisonment, he considered none of them his enemy. As a political theorist and public intellectual also concerned with social and political problems and the defence of human rights, as well as a signatory to Charter 08, I strongly feel the need to point out that in the judgement read by the court which sentenced Liu Xiaobo, evidence cited to prove Liu's guilt included his participation in Charter 08, that he collected signatures for it, and even the content of the Charter itself - naked provocation of the universal values held by humankind, common norms held by the international community, and especially of the Chinese people themselves. As I see it, the Nobel Peace Prize both embodies and represents the core values of civilised society: respect for life and faith, the sanctity of the individual and the right to express one's self. Given that Liu Xiaobo and many others signatories of Charter 08 have faced persecution and oppression merely for reaffirming these values, the blatant challenge they face behooves a response from the civilised world; to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize upon Liu Xiaobo is one of the strongest responses which could be sent.
This would, clearly and unambiguously, reaffirm the values held most dearly by humankind, serve as monumental support for the struggle for the freedom and democracy which China's 1.3 billion people lack, and would mark a major step in defence of world peace.
The Chinese authorities are able to destroy this country's constitution and trample upon its laws wantonly, which is why external voices, voices from the international community, are needed to make Chinese authorities pay heed. Bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize upon Liu Xiaobo would serve as indirect opposition to the current state of affairs, as well as a both authoritative and effective signal. Liu Xiaobo's ideas and actions, in my view, are entirely congruous to the actions and ideas held by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi; all have endeavoured to use tactics of non-violence in effecting gradual change, of persuasion and compromise in upholding human rights and in making the transition toward a peaceful society.
With protest movements now taking place all across China within every community and at every level, it is imperative we remain vigilant in preventing violent trends from taking hold. Awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize would have just such an effect: people struggling for human rights in China and around the world would find hope and strength in rational, non-violent resistance, and see anew the possibility of putting violence and authoritarian rule where they both belong - in the past and behind us all. Cordially tours,
(Published in partnership with Rue 89)