By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Committee has sent a blessing from afar to China. It is a heartwarming message of support for Mr. Liu, one we hope he has been able to hear even from his prison cell, and for all of us who support him and his goals.
Mr. Liu’s aim in drafting the Charter 08 manifesto was to promote human rights, and his way was through nonviolent struggle. “Rights for all, through peaceful means”: This is the purpose of Charter 08 and we believe it is the only way to a modern and civilized society in China.
The centennial of China’s 1911 Revolution is approaching. This revolution, fought to bring an end to the imperial Qing Dynasty, resulted in the founding of the Republic of China and later the People’s Republic of China. For both state entities, legitimacy has rested on the idea of a “republic,” the only form of government universally accepted by all Chinese.
The early revolutionaries often misguidedly chose the path of violence for social change. Mao Zedong elevated violent revolution to the level of a universal truth: “The seizure of power by armed force, settling an issue by act of war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds well universally, for China and for all other countries.” This supreme order changed the fate of China.
Having been a subject of both Chinese republics, I can use my own experience as testimony that the People’s Republic of China is even further removed from the ideals of a republic than the Republic of China was before our so-called “liberation.”
Under the C.C.P., elections provide only one candidate, and the executive, legislative and judiciary branches all submit to the party. Social institutions and industries are mere instruments and extensions of the party. All media organizations must toe a defined party line. Though freedom of thought, religion, expression, assembly and the right to protest and hold demonstrations are unequivocally protected by the Constitution, in reality, imprisonment for religious and political beliefs is commonplace.
This is the Chinese model and the Chinese system. If this can be called a republic, it is not the kind of republic that is universally recognized, but rather a “republic with Chinese characteristics.”
Liu Xiaobo and I got to know each other under the party-state’s constant surveillance. He and his wife, Liu Xia, twice attempted to visit me at my home; once about 10 years ago, and once in the fall of 2007. In both instances they were blocked by police officers supposedly exercising “rule of law.” Since the authorities blocked these two citizens from being guests in my home, the three of us went to a tea house.
The police allowed this — in all their magnanimity — and sat surrounding us. Going out for tea once or twice a month became a habit, and we continued to do so for more than a year. Then, in 2008, Mr. Liu was “legally” taken away. As he could no longer come for tea, Liu Xia came alone. After Oct. 8th of this year, when the announcement came that Mr. Liu had been awarded the Nobel prize, Liu Xia and I have been forbidden to have tea together, “according to the law.” In fact, our personal freedom has been taken away by an authority that is constantly “improving” the art of governance according to “rules” that have never been revealed to anyone.
But I really hate bringing up such trivial matters when, compared to the era when some 40 million people were starved to death, we seem indeed to be living in the best of times for human rights under the People’s Republic of China, even though this is a republic without an elected government or the proper institutions of a republic.
The drafters of Charter 08 have learned that violence cannot build a modern civilized society. In order for the idea of basic rights to take root in China, we must take the path of reason and peace. There is no other way.
We do not agree with “power from the barrel of a gun,” blessed by Mao as a universal truth. We are willing to observe the principles of peaceful, nonviolent and legitimate struggle for a very simple reason: Using uncivilized means cannot achieve civilized ends.
Indeed, our belief is not the belief of all. Some citizens believe they need only pay lip service to opposing special privileges, while actually maintaining these privileges for those “made of special material.” We believe, on the contrary, that we must take action to abolish these privileges, to realize Article 33 of the Constitution: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China are equal before the law.”
We promote basic rights for all Chinese: rich or poor, Han or other ethnicity, official or common citizen. A society is never homogenous. By nature, there will be distinct interest groups. There may be a few “men made of special material,” but there are definitely many common men. Whether strong or weak, all citizens must have their basic rights respected.
Mao created “Six Standards,” Deng Xiaoping established “Four Cardinal Principles,” and their successor announced “Three Represents.” These ideologies that come in sixes, fours or threes may be right or wrong, and naturally there will be people who agree, disagree or are vehemently opposed. There will always be those who are left, right or neutral. All should have equal rights.
Farmers forced off their land, and urban residents forced from their homes should be given their basic rights. Victims of past injustices and those subjected to “reform through labor” (laogai) by the police through extra-judicial means should be given their basic rights. People suspected of being in “prostitution or criminal gangs” should be given their basic rights. Party members under internal investigation for corruption should be allowed their basic rights. Convicted prisoners should also have their rights respected: There should be no disappearances, torture or unlawful accusations. Even the “Gang of Four” should have been allowed the same rights, including the right to petition and reveal open or secret directives from Mao to show the extent of their responsibilities. Judges and prosecutors should not be allowed to prohibit a person from defending himself in court in their attempt to maintain the party’s glorious image.
Some people have accused Mr. Liu and the rest of us who have signed Charter 08 of “subverting the People’s Republic of China.” But what is a republic? A republic is a form of government that puts the political rights of its citizens above all others, as defined in the Constitution. This is also the purpose of Charter 08. We are resolved to protect the republic, not to subvert her.
There are indeed people who have subverted the People’s Republic of China, and two quite famously. The first was Mao, who boasted of being “bound by no laws or heavenly constraints.” Another was Deng, who initiated and led the Tiananmen crackdown. “All power belongs to the people” — the guarantee of rights for over a billion people — was made entirely meaningless. No one in their right mind can count the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Massacre as products of republicanism. The People’s Republic of China has long ago been subverted by Mao and Deng, denying others any chance of subverting her.
Mr. Liu was convicted for attempting to save the republic after its principles and ideals had been stripped away. That is all.
Some people have thereby deemed the act of saving the republic “subverting the Communist Party.” However, the party charter states that “the Communist Party must conduct its activities within the boundaries of the Constitution and the law.” How could it be deemed “subversion” to demand that the Communist Party honestly and concretely realize its own charter?
Mr. Liu has been branded “an enemy of the state.” Even so, at his trial he declared: “I have no enemies.” What could he have meant by this? He was declaring that he totally rejects the antiquated thinking of Mao and Deng that divides the country into “people” versus “enemies.” Mr. Liu is declaring that “all citizens of the People’s Republic of China are equal before the law.”
What Mr. Liu represents is not hatred, but the hope of realizing rights for all through peaceful means. Even though we are currently living under clouds of hostility, I still believe that those who have suffered and all Chinese people will eventually see a brighter day of rights and peace.
Only a country that protects the rights of all its citizens can be trusted to be truly responsible for the protection of world peace.
Bao Tong, a former member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and one of the original signers of Charter 08. This article was originally written as a preface to a collection of essays by Liu Xiaobo.