Liu Xiaobo on Civil Rights and Ideology

Information came from various sources (NYT, WaPo, BBC, RFA, RSF) about the status of certain leading independent intellectuals.  The information was conflicting with respect to the number of individuals affected (Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie, Zhang Zuhua, Jiao Guobiao) as well as the nature of the action (disappeared? arrested? detained? or the proverbial "summoned to assist in an investigation").  

The latest news is that three (Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie, Zhang Zuhua) were taken in for questioning and then released about 12 hours later.

The following is my translation of Liu Xiaobo's interview that was just published in the December 19, 2004 issue of Yazhou Zhoukan, right before these actions.

Liu Xiaobo, the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was interviewed in Beijing early December by Yazhou Zhoukan.  Concerning the current political situation in China, he said:  "In Chinese society today, from the viewpoint of either the civil society or officialdom (and especially officialdom), the signals that have been released after the ascension of Hu Jintao are very complex.  You cannot say that they are totally positive nor can you say that they are totally negative.  On one hand, official suppression continues and ideological control has increased.  On the other hand, the authorities have certainly done a number of things that they have never done before, such as the Liu Di case, the Du Daobin case, reversing the Nanfeng Metropolitan News verdict, the release of Cheng Yizong, the Sun Daiwu sentence of 3 years plus 4 years of suspended sentence, the insertion of human rights into the constitution, the abolition of the detention/expulsion system as well as the current attempt to reform the petition system.  Based upon all this, you cannot make any simple rightist versus leftist judgment.  Generally speaking, the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao regime is an improvement over the Jiang Zemin era in a certain political sense, but there are other signs of retrogression."

Is the political progress due to the Communist system itself?

I still hold a viewpoint different from how foreign media observe the Chinese situation.  They all look upwards and believe that it is the officials who change policies.  But look at the partial reforms that came from the Sun Zigang case through the entire reform of the detention/repatriation system to the change in the AIDS policy.  In practice, the pressure from civil society kept building up until they got to a certain point that there were strong responses and reactions from around the world, and this is what caused the authorities to make changes.  The new leaders are also leveraging public opinion.  Without the support of public opinion, when they make changes, there will be much more resistance from inside the hierarchy.  When officials object, the new leaders can force their way through on the basis of they are following the will of the people.

You are saying that this is still basically the power of public opinion?

The logic of reform in China appears superficially to depend on official leadership.  In reality, the true impetus comes from the hidden strength of civil society.  This strength is ordinarily dispersed, but it may coalesce together over a specific issue in a powerful display due to the pented-up pressure built over a long time.  This is how official decisions get influenced.  For example, the detention/repatriation system had been known to be problematic since the 1990's, but it took the beating death of university student Sun Zigang to bring the issue into focus and then the changes came.

Why does the petition system need to be reformed?  This is because there are so many rights  problems at the base level, and they show that the petition system is now ineffective.  When the petitioners come to Beijing, they have to apply for permission if they want to demonstrate in public.  But this happens only because the petitioners cannot accomplish their objectives and they are therefore forced to use street politics in the form of demonstrations.

The failure of the petition system is also reflected by the two huge mass incidents in Chongqing and Hanyuan (Sichuan).  In the case of Hanyuan, the displaced citizens had petitioned numerous times from the municipal to the provincial to the central government level without effect, and they ended up with a massive public display.  Only then did the authorities recognized the seriousness of the particular problem as well as the need to reform the petition system.  

In truth, the petition system was always just a 'show.'  The petition department only collects information and it has no authority to initiate or alter policy.  All local matters that are presented to the central government can be resolved only by sending a work group down into the local area.  If every single petition requires such a work group, then there is no way that the central government has those kinds of human resources.

Why are certain intellectuals banned by the Central Propaganda Department still making appearances in the media?

The cultural and media markets are not monopolized by the authorities.  They can place certain people on the 'black list.'  But the various media and publishers seldom work together as one.  When someone is fired from one place, he or she may be hired elsewhere.  For example, Liu Junning was discharged by the Chinese Social Sciences Academy, but the Cultural Department Art Research Institute hired him.  At the Chinese Social Sciences Academy, Liu could not attain the position of Full Researcher (equivalent to a Full Professor), but he is now a Full Researcher at the Cultural Department.  Zhang Yihuo who wrote <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> also worked at the Cultural Department Art Research Institute, and the environment is relatively decent there.  When the Propaganda Department wanted to speak to her, the Cultural Department refused on her behalf and said they can speak to her themselves.  Given the relationship between the Cultural Department and Zhang Yihuo, it is hard to imagine what they need to talk about.

Are you on the black list?

Of course I am.  The authorities have ordered the media not to publish the works of these people and the publishers are not to print their books.  Some media have not seen this black list and some media know about this list but could not care less.  <<Xinjing News>> of Beijing made the decision not to publish these people, but <<China Reform>>, <<Legal Morning News>> and <<Eastern Observer Weekly>> kept publishing.  Many book publishers say that these people's books are prohibited and therefore they cannot do anything.  Meanwhile, the drafts are passed around and there is bound to be some obscure publishing house in a remote province that will publish them.  Books like <<Hidden Rules>>, <<The Principle of Bloody Wages>> and <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> were banned after they appeared in print, but meanwhile you can walk into a bookstore and see them displayed prominently as bestsellers.  It is the same thing with television guests.  Maybe this television station won't invite someone, but another television station will do so.  And if official conferences won't issue invitations for them to deliver speeches, they still keep speaking at the conferences for civilian enterprises and organizations.


(New York Times)  China Detains 3 Who Criticized Government.  By Joseph Kahn.  December 14, 2004.

The Chinese police on Monday afternoon detained three leading intellectuals who have been critical of the government, apparently stepping up a campaign to silence public dissent.

Yu Jie and Liu Xiaobo, literary figures, and Zhang Zuhua, a political theorist, were detained in raids at their homes, relatives and friends said. Mr. Yu's relatives were handed a warrant that said he was suspected of "participating in activities harmful to the state," said his wife, Liu Min.

The detentions were the latest in a string of arrests and official harassment of journalists, writers and scholars who have spoken out against government policies or written articles or essays that officials have deemed damaging.

Since President Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as China's military chief in September, leaving Mr. Hu in full command of China's government, ruling party and army, analysts say the political environment has become more repressive. The scope for discussing sensitive topics in the state-run media has decreased, they said, while the authorities appear intent on punishing people who violate unwritten rules about the limits on free speech.

The crackdown could signal an effort by Mr. Hu to dispel hopes - already greatly diminished - that he would usher in a period of relative political relaxation when he consolidated power. Instead, there are signs that he is seeking to manage state affairs in a more hands-on and less permissive style than that associated with Mr. Jiang, who in his later years focused on carrying out broad economic changes while allowing a degree of media openness.

Political analysts said Mr. Hu had made clear that he intended to restore discipline to China's increasingly diverse news media while at least temporarily restricting the space available for leading intellectuals to voice freely their views about politics, economics and media management.

Editors say the Propaganda Department has received a fresh mandate to micromanage daily news coverage and to ban coverage of an increasingly long list of sensitive issues, including broad topics like China's growing social inequality.

Mr. Yu and Mr. Liu have been outspoken critics for many years. Mr. Liu was accused of serving as an organizer of the Chinese democracy movement in 1989, which ended in the violent crackdown on dissent in June of that year. He spent several years in prison in the 1990's.

Three years ago, the two founded a Chinese chapter of the PEN organization, which defended writers, poets and journalists persecuted by the government. The men wrote a series of articles this fall supporting Shi Tao, a poet and journalist based in Hunan. Mr. Shi was arrested recently and accused of leaking state secrets, apparently while working as a reporter in Shanghai.

PEN, which operates without official support, convened an award ceremony in late October to honor Zhang Yihe, the author of a memoir about the repressive "antirightist" political campaign in the late 1950's. The book was banned, but pirated copies circulated widely.

Zhang Zuhua, the political theorist, is an associate of Mr. Yu and Mr. Liu who attended the award ceremony, friends said. It is unclear what any of the men did to prompt their detention, or whether they will be charged.

Liu Min, Mr. Yu's wife, said in a brief telephone conversation on Monday evening that her apartment building was surrounded by uniformed policemen, suggesting a large-scale operation. The telephone line to her home was cut in the middle of a conversation with a reporter.

The detentions appear to be part of a pattern.

Jiao Guobiao, a journalism professor at Beijing University who wrote a scathing criticism of the Propaganda Department earlier this year, was stripped of his teaching responsibilities recently. Wang Guangze, an editor at the state-run 21st Century Business Herald, was fired after returning from a speaking engagement in the United States last month. There, he had discussed how the Internet was affecting China's politics.

In September, the authorities also arrested Zhao Yan, a well-known local journalist who worked as an employee of the New York Times bureau in Beijing, on charges of providing state secrets to foreigners. Some of Mr. Zhao's friends say they believe that State Security officials are seeking to tie Mr. Zhao to an article published in The Times that reported an offer by Mr. Jiang to retire two weeks before the leadership change was announced.

"The steps the authorities have taken are not by coincidence," said an editor at a major state-run newspaper who asked not to be identified. "This is a new era, but right now we're moving backward."


(Associated Press)  Chinese Dissidents Released by Police.  By Audra Ang.  December 14, 2004.

Two Chinese activists whose writings frequently criticized the ruling Communist Party were released Tuesday after being detained overnight by police in what appears to be the latest in official efforts to tighten control over public dissent.

Yu Jie and Liu Xiaobo said they were taken from their Beijing homes on Monday evening and questioned about essays they had written.

Liu Qing, president of the New York-based group Human Rights in China, said police told him the pair were detained for "jeopardizing national security."

Liu Xiaobo said a group of police officers arrived at about 5 p.m. and took him to a nearby police station where they questioned him for nine hours before releasing him.

"I wasn't beaten or anything," Liu said in a telephone interview. "They asked me about the essays I had written."

Yu said he was detained at 6 p.m. on Monday and questioned through the night. He said he was let go at about 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

"They just kept asking me about my overseas essays, which they said were against the government and against the law," Yu said when called at his home.

Both calls were disconnected within seconds, often a sign that authorities are monitoring telephone lines.

At least five officers searched Liu's home before taking him and his wife away, said Liu Qing, who is no relation to Liu Xiaobo. It was not immediately clear whether she was released.

Telephone calls to Beijing's police headquarters were not answered.

Ren Wanding, a democracy activist, said another intellectual, former Communist Youth League official Zhang Zuhua, had also been detained, but did not have any details on his case. Liu Qing said he had no information about Zhang.

The Chinese government regularly uses vaguely worded anti-subversion laws to detain citizens who challenge its monopoly on power -- whether in essays posted on the Internet or through public demonstrations.

Those who are released are usually closely monitored, with their telephones tapped and their movements watched.

"Ever since (President) Hu Jintao came into power, the government has become more strict and more repressive," said Liu Qing. "Prison sentences for people questioning the government have become much longer."

Liu Xiaobo is well-known for his essays criticizing the government for charging Internet dissidents with subversion. He is chairman of the Chinese chapter of International PEN, a group which defends writers which are harassed, imprisoned or killed for their views.

A literary critic and author, Liu returned to China from abroad at the height of the student-led democracy protests that swept Beijing and other Chinese cities in 1989. He led a hunger strike among intellectuals in support of the students and later served 18 months in prison for his activities.

Yu, a former student at the prestigious Peking University, was dismissed from his job because he wrote articles criticizing the government. He gained prominence by posting his works on the Internet and is also a member of the Chinese International PEN chapter.

This year, Liu, Yu and Zhang were among dozens of activists who signed a letter urging the Chinese government to concede it made mistakes in crushing the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

Liu was also briefly detained in June, ahead of the 15-year anniversary of the bloody crackdown. 


(PeaceHall)  Translations of post-release interviews of Liu Xiaobo and Yu Jie by Epoch Times.  December 15, 2004.

Liu Xiabo

Last evening around 6 pm, a dozen people entered my home.  They produced an order.  They searched the place, they took photos and videos of the scene and they took my computer away.  They took me down the station and asked me about essays that I have written.  They showed me about 5 or 6 essays.  At around 230 am, they took me back home.  During this time, my home telephone was being monitored.

This sort of summons regularly occurs.  I get one periodically.  Over the past 15 years, I have all sorts of relationships with the public security bureau.  I have been detained, I have undergone labor reform, I have been summoned often, but this time it was different.  This is the first time that my home was searched since I got out of jail in 1999.  That is why I was surprised.

I hope that this sort of thing does not happen again.  But who can tell?

Yu Jie

Between 6pm last night and 8am this morning, they interrogated me continuously.  Several teams of interrogators were rotated.  I did not suffer any physical abuse, but they made verbal threats.  I was somewhat psychologically prepared, but I didn't think that they would still use this sort of crude approach.  They showed up at my home before dinner, and dragged me away in front of my father-in-law and mother-in-law.  This was traumatic for the old folks.

They showed me essays that I had published on overseas magazines and websites, especially the websites, forums, Epoch Times, Observer.  They had print-outs.  They wanted me to identify those articles as mine and they wanted me to sign them.  I did not think that there was anything to hide, so I signed them.  There were between 20 to 30 essays, more than half of which were downloaded from Epoch Times.  They thought that these essays attacked the Communist Party and the government as well as the leadership -- Jiang, Hu and Wen -- and therefore violated Chinese law.  I insisted that these activities were exercises of the people's freedom of speech as guaranteed under the constitution.  They asked me in detail about what I recently did on my trips to the United States and France, including my speeches.  They said that some of these overseas human rights advocates have broken the law.  Finally, they made copies of all the documents on my computer.

I did not break any laws.  I am just exercising a citizen's right to freedom of speech.  The government cannot even tolerate a simple intellectual expressing his opinions.  I am very sorry to see that using words to express thoughts should be considered criminal.

The Chinese Communists have started to apply pressure to people who only write.  We have never engaged in any political activities.  Their most recent policies, including those of the Central Propaganda Department, were learned from Cuba and North Korea for controlling ideology.  I do not have an optimistic view of future developments.  Right now, news opinion and ideology are very much stuck in place, or even retroregressive. 

Intellectuals like us only express thoughts through our writings for peaceful, rational and gradual reform.  If the Communists have any sense, they would have absorbed or at last tolerated our viewpoints.  It is really stupid of them to use these terrorist tactics to eliminate all possibility of reform.  I have no hope left for the Communists.

I thank the media, individuals and friends inside and outside of China (whether I know them or not) who cared about us.  I felt very warm to hear about your concern.  I believe that most people can tell among good, evil and justice, and history will issue an final assessment.  I will continue to follow my chosen path and I will do the things that I feel are right without being intimidated by the difficulties.


(The Australian)  Winter of China's discontents.  By Catherine Armitage.  December 20, 2004.

"WHO knows what might happen? said one of China's most famous dissidents, tucking into a plate of preserved green eggs at a suburban Beijing restaurant last week.

As evening commuters scurried past outside with heads bowed to the cold, we were discussing the political climate in the Chinese capital.

Media and intellectual circles were crackling with speculation of a crackdown, and I asked Liu Xiaobo, the former literary academic accused of being an organiser in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, whether he was planning any fresh moves in the democracy campaign he has doggedly pursued since then, despite being twice jailed.

Within days of our dinner meeting, the lanky and loquacious Liu was taken from his home for interrogation by the national security police.

His vague answer at our restaurant meeting acquired an eerie significance. Throughout last Monday night Liu was held for questioning. Two other prominent activists and associates of his, writer Yu Jie and political theorist Zhang Zhuhua, were picked up at the same time. 

Liu is always closely watched, but this was the first time in five years the police had entered his home to confiscate his desktop computer and laptop.

Now he is confined to his residential compound with a beefed-up security contingent guarding the gate. "I really can't figure it out," he said during a brief telephone conversation after his release, in which the line was repeatedly cut. "Maybe they just want to deter us."

Dissident writer Wang Yi, quoted on an overseas website, was less perplexed. Liu and Yu lead a Chinese chapter of the Pen organisation that has often defended writers, journalists and poets persecuted by the government.

The campaigns last year to free jailed cyber dissidents such as Liu Di (the Steel Mouse) and Du Daobin enjoyed popular support and some success, but recent efforts to support detained New York Times researcher Zhao Yan and Hunan-based poet Shi Tao failed to gain popular traction, leaving the group vulnerable.

Wang said they had overlooked the resurgence of conservative forces, and underestimated the "ferocity and stupidity" of the Chinese Communist Party.

Petitions in recent weeks urging the Chinese leadership to look to the root cause of a surge in mass protests, and calling for better workers' rights following a coalmine accident that killed 166 miners, might have fuelled the official anger.

The first winter snow fell in the capital on Thursday, matching the chill that has descended since President Hu Jintao succeeded Jiang Zemin as head of the Chinese military, gaining complete control of the nation.

Early hopes that Hu might be a liberal-minded reformer are all but dead. The detentions of the dissidents were the latest in a wave of arrests and intimidation of journalists, writers and academics. On free speech at least, it is now being said Hu walks a harder line than Jiang.

Zhao, who is an activist for farmers' rights, was detained soon after Jiang's retirement. He was accused of leaking state secrets, after The New York Times reported the ex-president's offer to resign two weeks before the move was officially announced.

And in September, the popular Yita Hutu bulletin board service at Beijing University, regarded as China's most politically provocative online site, was shut down. All online discussion of its demise was filtered and banned.

The sacked editor of one of China's most progressive newspapers, the Southern Metropolis Daily, was jailed for six months and then expelled from the Communist Party in September.

This was reportedly an act of official retaliation for the paper's aggressive reporting, including an investigative story about a young college graduate who was beaten to death in police custody that sparked national outrage and brought changes to the laws on detention.

Wang Guangze, an editor at the state-run 21st Century Business Herald, was fired on November 23 after a visit to the US, where he gave a speech referring to how an outcry on the internet sometimes forced a government response.

Media sources say the Central Propaganda Department is micro-managing the news on sensitive issues with renewed vigour.

Liu now scrapes a living writing articles on political reform in China, but because of an official ban on his work he has not been able to get anything published on the mainland since 1989.

According to the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters without Borders, six other commentators joined Liu last month in this involuntary literary exile, with their works banned from appearing in the state media.

They included Yu Jie, fellow writer Wang Yi, veteran party critic Li Rui and Beijing University journalism professor Jiao Guobiao, who called for the abolition of the propaganda department in a lacerating open letter published earlier this year.

All six were named on a list of "Fifty Public Intellectuals" published in a liftout by the outspoken Southern Weekend newspaper in October.

It was a provocative grouping of people who had challenged the Chinese establishment across a spectrum of issues from AIDS to the environment and architectural heritage to constitutional rights.

The list included Cui Jian, known as the grandfather of Chinese rock and roll; Gao Yaojie, the retired obstetrician who blew the whistle on the AIDS villages of Henan, and "hooligan writer" Wang Shuo.

An accompanying editorial said the market economy had marginalised independent thinkers who were now the rarest of rareties, but China desperately needed them to take an independent stand.

The list was soon a hot topic of debate among China's netizens, but on November 23 the party delivered its verdict.

In a shrill editorial, Shanghai's radical Liberation Daily, the paper credited with cultivating the Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong in the 1960s and 1970s, attacked "public intellectuals" for driving a wedge between intellectuals, the party and the people.

Their "arrogant elitism ... totally negates the dominant historical role of the masses", the paper said.

Such people became media personalities and spurned scholarly research, standing around with movie, pop and sports stars, the editorial railed. But history proved that "only when intellectuals walk together with the Communist Party, become a part of the working class, and one with the masses, can they fully manifest their own talents and have a lofty position in history and society".

Ten days later the official party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, reprinted the diatribe in full a signal to all that the push against dissident intellectuals was now a national campaign, launched in just the same way as a Cultural Revolution purge.

"It is a very frightening thing to do. It puts a lot of people on edge, and it is meant to," said David Kelly, China specialist and senior research fellow at the East Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore.

To Liu, who has seen it all before, it is "still a normal stage in the momentum of the ruling of the party".

The naive hopes that always accompany the arrival of fresh faces in the leadership are held by people who forget it is the leaders who have most to lose from political reform. "Hu is the largest beneficiary of the power transfer . . . He will have no urge to change it," Liu said.

In September, at the same closed party meeting where Jiang's retirement was announced, Hu gave a speech in which he attacked China's domestic media for advocating Western-style democracy, human rights and media freedom, according to a leaked report in Hong Kong.

Though unconfirmed, the report is consistent with an earlier publicised speech in which Hu warned that "indiscriminately copying Western political systems is a blind alley for China".

True, Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao identify their administration with the interests of ordinary people, emphasising economic and social policies for the several hundred million rural peasants left behind by the economic boom.

But there are no signs of movement on the types of political reform much debated in the 1980s but largely taboo since 1989, such as separating the Communist Party from the government apparatus and getting representation for civic groups.

The latest campaign came as a surprise to many because after Beijing surgeon Jiang Yanyong blew the lid off the SARS crisis, the Government had all but admitted it needed whistleblowers.

"In a way they are claiming back the territory they gave over SARS," Kelly said. While Hu was "by no means a cuddly character", his hand might have been forced in the current campaign, he believed. It was plausible that "rogue elements" in the politburo were calling the shots in the propaganda department, and Hu would go along with this provided it did not clash with other agendas.

But an all-out Tiananmen-style purge is highly unlikely, most analysts agree. With individuals' growing economic independence from the state and the awareness of individual rights that has accompanied the rise of the market economy, the risk of a popular backlash is too great.

Nor will the party, unable to prevent the spread of news despite its best efforts to stifle anti-government traffic on the internet and mobile phone messaging systems, risk creating martyrs.

But it is shaping up as the only career path left for Professor Jiao of Beijing University, whose searing criticism calling for greater press freedom and abolition of the propaganda department was a sensation among the internet followers in March.

Since then, Jiao has been unable to get anything published, including academic work. And in September he was banned from teaching classes, losing two-thirds of his income.

If his job was not restored, Jiao said, he would spend the next 10 years fighting the propaganda department. "I think I will become a petitioner, or an accuser."