Archive for ‘obituary’

Friday, July 14, 2017

Liu Xiaobo, 1955 – 2017

It won’t be long before Liu Xiaobo‘s first post-mortem biography will be published. But it won’t have the last word. There will be further biographies, and each of them will be contested. That’s because of the man himself, and because of his country. He was a man with a conscience, and his country has been a totalitarian dictatorship for nearly seven decades – if you count the KMT’s martial law in, it’s been a dictatorship for much longer than that.

Liu Xiaobo’s political lifespan lasted for three or four decades. That doesn’t count as long in China. The Communist Party’s propaganda works tirelessly to create and sustain the “People’s Republic’s” population’s imagination of a civilizational history of five or more millenia. And at the same time, the party needs to sustain the notion that the most recent seven decades had been the best in China’s history. Not only the past fourty, after the leadership’s decision to “reform and to open up”, but the past seven decades, including Maoism. CCP propaganda’s aim is to build an image of its rule where the pre- and post-1978 decades are one political unit, without substantial contradictions within.

In all likelihood, Liu Xiaobo had foreseen that trend. Many Chinese dissidents, no matter if opponents of China’s cultural restauration, or opponents of the KMT’s military dictatorship on Taiwan, saw a Chinese complacency at work, considering itself the center of the universe.

Cultural criticism is rarely a rewarding trade, but in China, it can be lethal, as shown in Liu Xiaobo’s case.

Liu’s last camp and prison term, which began in 2009 and ended with his relase on medical parole, with cancer in its final stage, had been based on the accusation that he had “incited subversion of state power”. But the Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court’s verdict – passed on Christmas day of 2009, probably to keep the level of international attention as low as possible –  only reflected the CCP’s fear of Liu, not the likely divide between the dissident and his people. A likely divide only, because in a totalitarian dictatorship, these things are more uncertain than in an open society. Hu Jia, himself a dissident who spent more than three years in prison from 2007 to 2011, noted during Liu’s dying days that only about one out of a hundred Beijingers knew who Liu Xiaobo was. Michael Bristow, the BBC’s China correspondent  in 2011, made a similar observation back then.

The 1980s mostly came across as a period of economic optimism, but accompanied by phenomena that were viewed negatively – particularly corruption, which was one of the factors that propelled the June-4 movement at its beginning.

Liu’s answer to what was frequently seen as China’s ailments was “westernization”. Stays in Western countries seem to have intensified his idea, just as Deng Xiaoping is said to have had his own cultural shock when visiting Singapore, in 1978.

But there lies a difference between the great statesman, and the great dissident. Singapore, a highly developed city state led by a family clan, is a model not only for authoritarian Chinese nationals – Taiwanese law-and-order-minded people tend to prefer Singapore as a holiday destination, rather than “messy” Hong Kong.

Liu Xiaobo’s model of development was Hong Kong of the 1980s. It was also the crown colony that provided the intellectual in his early thirties with some public resonance. In one of the interviews, given by Liu to a magazine named Kaifang at the time, Liu made statements that astonished the interviewer:

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.

Both the “insults” and Liu’s expressly stated pessimism probably made for a divide between him and many Chinese (as far as they got to know his story). Or, as Roland Soong, a blogger from Hong Kong, noted next to his translation of the 1988 interview, as of 2010, “I suggest that unless Charter 08 (or any other message) can connect with many people in other social strata, it will remain a mental exercise among ‘public intellectuals.'”

And nothing works in the modern middle kingdom, unless it comes with a festive up-with-people sound. (In that sense, China is globalizing indeed.)

When Soong translated the interview quoted from above, and added his assessment of the Charter 08, the global financial crisis had been wreaking havoc on Western economies for about two years, and at least one of the Charter’s demands had fallen from the tree since: #14 called for

Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

There wasn’t necessarily a conflict on this matter, between the party leadership and the authors of the Charter – time will show how the CCP is going to handle the remaining state sector of the economy. But among everyday Chinese people, this demand would hardly strike a chord. Besides, who can imagine a transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership “in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner”?

In the Charter’s preface, the authors wrote:

The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

It was a cautious description of the status quo: Liu and his co-authors understood that only a critical minority would side with them. And indeed, there was more to endure in the pipeline. The educational dictatorship China is now entering encourages anticipatory obedience rather than awareness, and it is likely to succeed. When you keep beating people up long enough – and provide them with a hopeful perspective for the future -, there is little that can help people of conscience to counter the propaganda.

This may be the main difference between Liu and his enemies (and many of his admirers, too): in the eyes of many, only hard power – no matter if you refer to it as “the people’s power” or as the “authorities” -, creates reality. If the realities are good, you don’t need to get involved. If they are evil, you can’t get involved. And when realities come in many shades of grey, you either needn’t or can’t get involved. The power of the powerless is no reality in these peoples’ world – unless they begin to tilt, so that re-orientation appears advisable.

That’s a stabilizing factor, so long as realities remain what they appear to be.  But appearances can be deceiving, often until the very last hour. Who of the Egyptians who ditched their longtime president in 2011, in colossal demonstrations, had known weeks before that he wanted to get rid of him? A mood had capsized. It wasn’t about awareness.

A manipulated and intimidated public tends to be unpredictable, and that can turn factors around that were originally meant to add to “stability”.

China’s leaders feared Liu Xiaobo. They feared him to the extent that they wouldn’t let him leave the country, as long as he could still speak a word. But in all likelihood, they fear China’s widespread, politically tinged, religious sects even more, which have a tradition at least as long as Chinese scholarship. Falun Gong is only one of its latest manifestations.

By suppressing public intellectuals not only before 1978, but after that, too, they provided space for nervous moodiness. The Communists themselves want to “guide” (i. e. control) public awareness, without leaving anything to chance.

But chance is inevitable. Totalitarian routine may be able to cope for some time, but is likely to fail in the long run, with disastrous consequences.

In that light, the CCP missed opportunities to reform and modernize the country. But then, the party’s totalitarian skeleton made sure that they could only see the risks, and no opportunities, in an opening society.

What remains from Charter 08 – for now – is the courage shown by its authors nine years ago, and by the citizens who affirmed it with their signatures.

Each of them paid a price, to varying degrees, and often, their families and loved ones did so, too: like Liu Xia, who had hoped that her husband would not get involved in drafting the Charter, but who would never dissociate herself from him.

Nobody is obligated to show the same degree of courage, unless solidarity or conscience prescribe it. In most cases, making such demands on oneself would be excessive. But those who hate the Lius for their courage – and for lacking this courage themselves – should understand that their hatred is wrong. One may keep still as a citizen – but there is an inevitable human duty to understand the difference between right and wrong. By denying our tolerance toward despotism and by repressing awareness of our own acquiescence, we deny ourselves even the small steps into the right direction, that could be taken without much trouble, or economic hardship.

May Liu Xiaobo never be forgotten – and may Liu Xia find comfort and recovery.

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Updates/Related

再生:致刘晓波, Woeser, July 13, 2017
Rebirth, Woeser/Boyden, July 16, 2017
Wiedergeburt, Woeser/Forster, July 27, 2017
The abuse hasn’t stopped, Wu Gan, July 25, 2017

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Obituary: Chu Ke-liang, 1946 – 2017

A comedian’s life doesn’t have to be fun – Taiwan’s entertainer Hsieh Hsin-ta (謝新達), better known as Chu Ke-liang (豬哥亮), had seen tough times before successfully returning to the stage in his later years. According to a Taipei Times article in 2009, he had ruined his finances in the 1990s, incurring debts by gambling heavily. Hiding from his creditors, and a family feud, defined that decade.

This video is from the Chu Ke-liang’s Karaoke Show (or Cabaret Show) which was popular in the 1980s. The maître du show appears towards the end of the 6th minute.

The View from Taiwan quotes from a “Facebook” post:

On one end he was the affirmation of the KMT colonialist stereotype of Taiwanese as vulgar, low class, silly, impish and absurd. He was the validation of Waisheng class supremacy, not unlike the way African Americans have been depicted as caricatures to reinforce White supremacy in classic American film–the minstrel. Zhu Ge-liang was the caricature of Taiwaneseness to satisfy the desires of a Waisheng elite.

On the other end, Zhu was loved by Taiwanese audiences for creating Taiwanese space in media at a time when the Waisheng aesthetic was still (and is still) the predominant image. He was, in a way, a rejection of that Waisheng aesthetic.

[…]

Chu was born in Kaohsiung in 1946. He died after a long battle against cancer, aged 70. Reportedly, he may eventually be buried in Keelung.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A few Thoughts about Castro

Fidel Castro, in the course of about half a century, became an icon for people who would have liked to challenge America’s leading global role. And he was hated by many Americans. When I asked an otherwise friendly American friend (by letter, back then) in the early 1990s why the embargo was still in place, I got a long and angry answer, as if I had I had trespassed. And when I made some not-too-critical, but not really reverent remarks about Castro the other day, I got an angry answer, too. What you get in a conversation about Castro really depends on your interlocutor (and, of course, on your diplomatic skills).

What is frequently ignored however, is the Cuban people. It is true that fear, intimidation and human rights violations has helped to keep the Cuban Communist Party in power. so have state and party propaganda. Decades of getting the same stories told over and over and over again, in school, the media, and  arguably by Grandpa at home, won’t fail to leave  traces on most human harddisks.

Few political leaders of the 20th and – so far – 21st century trigger as strong emotions as Fidel Castro does. Castro is idolized, and demonized. And more frequently than not, peoples’ reactions to his memory depend on where they belong, or who they side with: America, China, or Russia, for example.

It would take biographic research to judge Castro and his rule. It would require reading one or two biographies, at least. The information that daily mass media offer won’t provide insights into how Cuba has endured, or profitted from, Castro rule since early 1959.

But you wouldn’t run into too many people without clear-cut opinions about Castro.

That’s why countries and civilizations can be surprising to outsiders (and even to insiders). Things happen, and they may appear to be unlogical or bizarre. But they happen for reasons – good or bad -, and the driving forces behind them aren’t necessarily idiocy.

To understand Castro’s rise to power, and the reasons as to why the Cuban Communist Party has been able to cement its dictatorship to this days, we would need to walk the Cuban streets of the 1940s and 1950s, not those of the 2010s.

Research – scientific or journalistic – needs to take us there.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Obituary: Ryu Mi-yong, 1921 – 2016

Ryu Mi-yong, chairwoman of the North Korean “Chondoist Chongu Party”, died of lung cancer on Wednesday, November 23, aged 95, according to North Korean newsagency KCNA (no permalink).

Thanks to the profound trust and love of the great leaders she could make a dramatic U turn in her life and enjoyed a worthwhile life after permanently settling in the DPRK together with her husband Choe Tok Sin,

writes KCNA, referring to the couple’s defection from South to North Korea in 1986. Reportedly, they had moved to the United States, or fled there, ten years prior to their defection. Her husband, late Choe Duck-shin (or Choe Deok-sin, or Choi Duk Shin), had been the Park regime’s foreign minister from 1961 to 1963. From 1963 to 1967, he served as South Korea’s Ambassador to West Germany.

And if KCNA portrays her correctly, like many converts, Ryu Mi-yong was tougher than the rest:

She revered Marshal Kim Jong Un as God of the nation and the sun of salvation of the world and the people and worked heart and soul to bring earlier a new day of unity of all Koreans and country’s reunification till the last moments of her life.

直到生命的最后一刻,敬仰金正恩元帅为民族的上天、救世济民的太阳,为早日迎来全民族的团结和统一的未来献出了一切。

The “party” she chaired apparently draws on a Korean religious movement called Cheondoism.

According to Yonhap Newsagency, South Korea’s reunification ministry, on November 19 granted Ryu’s second son a travel permit to the North, for humanitarian reasons, given that his mother had been terminally ill.

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Updates/Related

“Chondoism, translated into reality”, Pyongyang Times, Sept 29, 2016

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Friday, October 14, 2016

秋天

 

猫在干草里

耐心地等了老鼠

树叶寂然落

 

Cat waiting in hay
patiently for foolish rat
Tree leaves dropping dead

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lin Rong-san, 1939 – 2015

Lin Rong-san (林榮三), publisher of the Liberty Times (自由時報, a Chinese-language paper) and the Taipei Times (an English-langugage paper), died on Saturday afternoon local time, according to Radio Taiwan International (RTI).  He was 76 years old (or 77 years old, by Chinese standard).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Helmut Schmidt, 1918 – 2015

Deutsche Geisterstunde

The show continues, on the other side of the cupboard

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 1950 – 2015

The New York Times carried an article on Tuesday, describing the aftermath of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche‘s (Tibetan: བསྟན་འཛིན་བདེ་ལེགས་; Chinese: 丹增德勒仁波切) death in a prison in Chongqing. Tenzin Delek had been in prison since 2002/2003, and there’s a Wikipedia entry about his background and story. The authorities reportedly turned down a request by Tenzin Delek’s sister to preserve the body for 15 days as demanded by Tibetan Buddhist tradition. An autopsy, or any chance of one, isn’t mentioned in the reports.

Amnesty International published a report on Tenzin Deleg’s case in September 2003, less than a year after his arrest, citing doubts that detention and trial had been up to standard.

According to a Reuters report, on July 16, Sichuan Province’s propaganda department said it was unaware of the case, and an official who picked up the telephone at the provincial police department said she had not heard of the case.

Three days later, on July 19, the BBC‘s Mandarin service quoted Xinhua newsagency as saying that Tenzin Delek had died of a heart attack:

Because Tenzin Delek frequently refused medical treatment or medication, he died from heart disease.

丹增德勒是因为在狱中经常拒绝就医或者吃药,患心脏病而死亡。

The BBC also quoted Tenzin Delek’s sister (Chinese name: Zhuoga or 卓嘎) as saying that the authorities had not given her an explanation about the cause of her brother’s death, which had added to her doubts.

According to Xinhua, as quoted by the BBC, a prison warden had found Tenzin Delek on July 12, and that the prisoner had stopped breathing during an afternoon nap. According to the Xinhua report, he died in an intensive care unit, an hour after having been found.

Reacting to a call from Washington to investigate Tenzin Delek’s death, Huanqiu Shibao reportedly wrote that America should forget about dragging another “criminal” out of prison, and described Washington’s attention to human rights issues as a method to maintain self-confidence while facing China’s rise.

The actual wording of the Huanqiu article can be found here.

The New York Times article mentioned at the beginning of this post also reported that Tenzin Delek’s sister and niece were taken away from a restaurant in Chengdu by police officers on Friday, and hadn’t been seen since (i. e. not by July 21). It doesn’t become clear to me if this is the same sister in both cases. The name of the 52-year-old arrested sister (Dolkar Lhamo) sounds different from the one mentioned earlier in the article.

Tsering Woeser has collected a number of articles concerning Tenzin Delek this month.

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Updates/Related

» 王力雄:丹增德勒求“法”记, Woeser, July 26, 2015

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