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Activists Remember Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, Four Years After His Death

March in memory of Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong - credit: 美国之音海彦拍摄, VOA Chinese
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Emily Chan | Radio Free Asia

Chinese dissidents remember Liu as a persistent advocate for democracy who was always ready to help those in need.

Four years after the death in prison of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, dissidents have vowed to keep the spirit of his activism alive in spite of ever-widening controls on public speech under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

At the time of his death at the age of 61 of late-stage liver cancer, Liu had been serving an 11-year jail term for “incitement to subvert state power,” linked to his online writings promoting democracy and constitutional government.

“People who are a staunch part of the opposition [to the CCP], including dissidents, human rights lawyers, and youth groups, always talk about Liu Xiaobo with respect, because of his spirit and his persistence,” Beijing-based veteran rights activist Hu Jia told RFA.

“There are still a lot of people around who have absorbed his influence; maybe they are reading his books and understanding his experiences, or they may wonder whether they too would be willing to make such a sacrifice; whether we would have the courage to do the same,” Hu said.

“There are also many people who just hold onto his memory quietly, and on their own,” he said.

Hu said Liu had been an open-minded intellectual with a keen eye for the suffering of others.

“He was particularly sensitive to the sufferings of others, and used his power to help them,” he said. “He would use money he was given to help the family members of prisoners of conscience, but without telling anyone he was doing so.”

“He definitely had an influence on me, because of his thinking and the way he interacted with other’s” Hu said.

Leader, pioneer

Rights activist Ye Du remembers Liu as a good teacher and helpful friend.

“Liu Xiaobo became the leader and pioneer of the democratic movement in China,” Ye told RFA. “He demonstrated to us the heights that the pioneers and the victims of the democratic movement can reach.”

“We may never be able to attain the heights he did, but he showed us that it is possible to make China into a democratic country through our sacrifices, if we have the commitment to do so,” he said.

“That is what the spirit of Liu Xiaobo means, what it means to us latecomers [to the movement], and the reason we are still able to keep going, even through the darkest times,” Ye said.

Liu was once quoted as making light of his time served as a prisoner of conscience, saying that most of China is similar to a prison anyway, so being “released” was simply a matter of moving from “the little prison to the big prison.”

Liu Xiaobo empty chair at the Nobel prize ceremony – credit: Ken Opprann, The Nobel prize foundation

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said it had held a vigil for Liu at a shoreline, as his ashes were scattered at sea on the orders of the CCP.

“The fourth anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death: the sea is the place to mourn you, #LiuXiaobo,” the group said via its Twitter account.

“This year in Hong Kong [we] walked the Liu Xiaobo Footpath, and wrote some messages of mourning from citizens on floating lanterns, sending them out to sea in blessing,” it said, linking to a YouTube clip of the ceremony.

Holding a banner that read “In Memory of Liu Xiaobo” activists entered the water to place the lanterns in waters next to the Hui Po Path in Clearwater Bay, which shares his name.

Charter 08

Liu’s best-known work as co-author was Charter 08, a document that was signed by more than 300 prominent scholars, writers, and rights activists around the country.

In the document, the former literature professor called for concerned Chinese citizens to rally to bring about change, citing an increasing loss of control by the Communist Party and heightened hostility between the authorities and ordinary people.

Liu’s late diagnosis, and the refusal of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to allow him to go overseas on medical parole, sparked widespread international anger.

Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” in a decision that infuriated Beijing, which said he had broken Chinese law. During the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, he was represented by an empty chair.

Beijing cut off trade ties with Norway in the wake of the award, and placed Liu’s wife, the poet and photographer Liu Xia, under house arrest for eight years from the date the award was announced.

Liu Xia, who has been living in Germany since 2018, has suffered from severe mental health problems as a result of her treatment at the hands of the authorities.

Liu said in 2019 that she and Liu Xiaobo had little chance to speak to each other in the weeks before his death, and that she was having trouble accepting his loss.

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