Chinese Prisoner’s Death Holds a Message for Americans and China

Liu Xiaobo, China’s most prominent dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner died this week. His death holds a message for Americans and for China.

Bob Fu a leader in the student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Christian pastor and founder of an underground church in China and former Chinese prisoner, remembers Liu’s life and the legacy that he has left behind.

 Read President George W. Bush’s statement 

What is Liu Xiaobo’s legacy?

His legacy will be remembered as a fearless democracy advocate and leader. He was known as a literary critic in 1980 before becoming involved in the democracy and freedom movement in China. In 1989, during the student movement at Tiananmen Square he joined the protests and was able to persuade the military to back-off from the center of the square and not kill all the protestors. Of course, the military still killed Chinese citizens and students, but he was able to avert part of the massacre.

He was imprisoned in 1989 for 21 months and again from 1995 to 1996 and 1996 to 1999 for his involvement in democracy. The last time he was arrested was in 2008 after he and other Chinese activists released Charter 08, modeled after the Czech Charter 77 [a 1977 document signed by dissidents calling on the communist regime in Czechoslovakia to respect fundamental human rights]. On Dec. 25, 2009, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Two weeks ago he was released from prison on medical parole and authorities announced he had late liver cancer. By the time of his release and the conditions he was treated in, it clearly showed the neglect the Chinese Government had for his medical treatment and treatment as a human. I personally feel, by the way he died and the Chinese government’s rejection of the pleas of Western democratic countries to help him seek better treatment will be very hard for other democracy advocates to follow the way he proposed a peaceful transformation. I think people’s dreams and ideals were broken.

What does Liu Xiaobo’s story say about the current political climate in China?

The hard line reaction by the Chinese regime really shows a major dynamic change in the Chinese government attitude toward the environment of human rights and religious freedoms. In the past five or four years since President Xi Jinping took power, it has been universally recognized that the level foundation of human rights and human freedom have been the worse since the end of the “cultural revolution” in the late 1970s.

China’s so called economic rise has embolden the regime. And, major democracies have helped nurture the giant tiger, which is now too big and too cruel to control. The tiger can now bite back. It’s not just Chinese dissidents in prison, there are many American citizens and residents of other countries as well.

Why should Americans know about Liu Xiaobo and why his life work matters to us?

If we are intimidated by the Chinese regime, then we ourselves become an accomplice and treason to this dictatorship. I think we will harvest more regret and bitterness in the near future.

The real problem is the trade and business deals with China and this is now the moment of truth. We should wake up as a country and not give a brutal dictator like China a pass.

What should Americans do?

The business community needs to bear responsibility. Especially when making deals with China. You don’t need to be a human rights advocate to make a difference in China. If businesses want to set up a factory in China or make a major deal you should have the names of prisoner conscience on you and the religious prisoners. You should ask China to consider releasing these individuals as part of your business terms. Little by little this will make an impact.

Government should have paradigm shift and have a wake-up call for strategic China policy change. We are now only seeking temporary financial gains and I think that will produce more tragedy. The government needs to make the Chinese regime know that we are serious. One thing I praised President George W. Bush for was he regularly and consciously met with a number of prisoners of conscience and human rights lawyers in the white house. That sent a very strong signal and I think that should be done constituently, systematically and coherently.