Archive for October 13th, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Impious Sons: Eminent and Treasonous

I believe that the Nobel Committee in Oslo chose the right candidate this year – Liu Xiaobo. What I find somewhat disturbing is that criticism of Liu Xiaobo isn’t regularly covered in our media. That may be due to unawareness, to indifference (which would be understandable if there weren’t many Chinese nationals who take issue), to a misunderstanding, or an unwillingness to confront the possibility that the laureate may be too unharmonious even for the perception of many audiences outside China. But Liu Xiaobo himself advocates open debate.

What is frequently held against Liu by his critics – and possibly his persecutors, too -, are statements he made in an interview 22 years ago with Kaifang, a monthly magazine from Hong Kong:

Q. What developmental stage do you think Chinese society is in?
A. It has not yet emerged out of an agrarian society.

Q. Is there any need to take remedial classes in capitalism?
A. It is essential.

Q. So should China follow the usual path for an agrarian society?
A. Yes. But it has to modify its totalitarian regime because it is looking at a crisis. *)

Q. Can China make fundamental changes?
A. Impossible. Even if one or two rulers want to, there is still no way because the conditions are not there.

Q. Under what circumstances can China carry out a genuine historical transformation?
A. Three hundred years of colonialism. Hong Kong became like this after one hundred years of colonialism. China is so much larger, so obviously it will take three hundred years of colonialism. I am still doubtful whether three hundred years of colonialism will be enough to turn China into Hong Kong today.

Q. This is 100% “treason.”
A. I will cite one sentence from Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party: “Workers do not have motherlands. You cannot take away what they don’t have.” I care about neither patriotism nor treason. If you say that I betray my country, I will go along! I admit that I am an impious son who dug up his ancestors’ graves and I am proud of it. **)

Q. You are saying that you want China to take Hong Kong’s path?
A. But history will not give this opportunity to the Chinese people. The era of colonialism has gone by. Nobody is willing to bear the burden known as China.

Q. What can be done? Isn’t this too pessimistic?
A. There is no way out. I am pessimistic about humankind as a whole. But my pessimism is not escapism. I see before me one tragedy after another tragedy. But I will struggle and I will fight back. That is the reason why I like Nietzsche and I don’t like Schopenhauer.

In Chinese (according to an entry in a forum, and therefore not necessarily reliable):





问 : 那么,今天中国的路线还是顺着农业社会的惯性在走?












Obviously, it’s up to every individual if there would be a need to agree with Liu Xiaobo’s pessimism of 1988. As for my own patriotic feelings, I’ve heard several friends say that they’d wish the times of allied occupation back to West Germany. Would I run to the police to report them? Would the police care? Hardly so. Would I believe that they don’t love our country? I can’t tell if Liu Xiaobo loves his country or not – nor can his critics – but I do know that my German friends love their country.

If a Chinese court has actually ever used Mr Liu’s words as evidence to allegations of treason to either his country, or his government, it certainly wasn’t in 2009, when Liu was sentenced to his current 11-years term in jail. There, the Charter 08 was the issue, or, in the court’s own words, inciting subversion of state power (煽动颠覆国家政权).

I know that there are people who honestly take offense from what Liu said in 1988. And I can understand that (without agreeing with them), so long as they still insist on lawful procedures at the same time, rather than advocating revenge through the courts. But it puzzles me when a – supposedly Chinese – commenter on another blog calls Liu a “traitor” on the one hand, and then quotes Amartya Sen, an Indian national, with the following words:

The eminent Indian economist Amartya Sen, has estimated that “compared with China’s rapid increase in life expectancy in the Mao era, the capitalist experiment in India could be said to have caused an extra 4 million deaths a year since India’s independence…India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame, 1958-61’”.

How offended should Indian people feel when listening to Amartya Sen? To insult India was hardly Sen’s intention. To urge them to do better in reducing poverty and famine was – most problably – what motivated him to use Maoist China as a negative example. Sen, too, used tough language, and besides did injustice to those who died during the Great Leap Forward at the same time. But I don’t think he’s “unpatriotic”. He just doesn’t like the way certain people in power habitually abuse the concept.


*) 专制 may also be translated as authoritarian or despotic
**) 我无所谓爱国、叛国,你要说我叛国,我就叛国! (my translation would be “I don’t care about this so-called ‘loving the country’, or ‘trason’ [correction, 2010-10-13: ‘treason’] – if you want to call me a traitor, so then I’m a traitor!”)

“Barack Obama has committed another act of treason”, Infowars / Youtube, 2010

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