Democracy Dies in Darkness

WorldViews | Perspective

Don’t gawk at pictures of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo on his deathbed. Read his words.

By Emily Rauhala

July 11, 2017 at 12:26 AM

Liu Xiaobo speaks during a June 2008 interview before his detention in Beijing. (AP)

Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer and dissident, brims with humanity.

A veteran of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, he spent much of his adult life in captivity, a prisoner of the state he sought to change. Through labor camp and prison, harassment and surveillance, he kept writing. He wrote eloquent calls for change. He wrote letters and poems to his wife.

When Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, he was in the early years of an 11-year sentence for advocating, in writing, democratic reform and human rights. The night of the Nobel ceremony, an empty chair stood in his place and a Norwegian actress read from a statement he prepared ahead of his 2009 trial.

"I have no enemies and no hatred," it read.

Now Liu is dying. Sixty-one years old and still in custody, China's only Nobel Peace Prize laureate is enduring late-stage liver cancer under the watchful eyes of security personnel and cameras.

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Doctors say terminally-ill activist Liu Xiaobo is now in critical condition. His lawyer accuses Beijing of hastening the Nobel laureate's death by refusing to allow his transfer to a hospital abroad. (Reuters)

A video that popped up online last week showed Liu exercising in prison and being poked and prodded by doctors. The footage appeared to have been filmed without his knowledge. Since he is a prisoner, it was almost certainly filmed without his consent.

Over the weekend, Chinese authorities allowed two foreign doctors — one American, one German — to visit Liu. Local doctors had said he was not well enough to be transferred abroad for treatment; the foreign doctors disagreed.

Not long after, another video emerged. A short clip that circulated Monday showed men in lab coats surrounding Liu, who lay emaciated and immobile in his hospital bed. The video runs just long enough for the German doctor to be heard thanking Chinese authorities for letting him visit.

In a statement published Monday, German authorities blasted their Chinese counterparts for filming a private medical consultation against their wishes and then handing the footage to the Communist Party-controlled press. "It seems security organs are steering the process, not medical experts," their statement read.

And that's just it. With each terse update on Liu's liver function and each leaked clip, the people who have held Liu captive for so long seek to stage-manage his death. They want to turn Liu Xiaobo the brilliant writer and fierce critic, Liu Xiaobo the husband and friend, into something distant and clinical, something less.

Liu understands that words live. "I hope to be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisition, and that after this no one else will ever be jailed for their speech," he wrote in the 2009 statement that was read in Norway before the empty chair.

"Freedom of expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth. To block freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, to strangle humanity and to suppress the truth."

So, instead of looking at pictures of Liu Xiaobo in hospital, read him. Read "June Fourth Elegies," a book of poetry, and Charter '08, the political manifesto that got him thrown in jail. Read what was read in Oslo the night he won the Nobel Peace Prize and what he wrote his wife.

His is the message worth hearing.

No enemies, no hatred.

Luna Lin reported from Beijing.


Emily Rauhala is a China Correspondent for the Post. She was previously a Beijing-based correspondent for TIME, and an editor at the magazine's Hong Kong office.

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