“Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party.”
( July 21, 2017, Hong Kong SAR, Sri Lanka Guardian) When I heard that Liu Xiaobo had died, I quickly posted the news on Facebook. So many online friends shared their condolences. One message among them struck me as particularly incisive and worthy of our consideration — this friend said that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei (康有为), and spilled his blood like Tan Sitong (谭嗣同).”
Of course, to say that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei” is not to say that Liu advocated for constitutional monarchy, but rather that his political position and basic viewpoint were actually quite moderate, just as were those of Kang Youwei in his day. Liu Xiaobo never called for revolution, to the point that he maintained “I have no enemies.” But like Tan Sitong, Liu came to a violent end: persecuted to death for the sake of advancing reform. Sometimes, history does repeat itself.
But Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party. No matter how moderate the view, no matter how much goodwill its proponents convey, to the CCP he is an “enemy of the state” and must be eliminated as soon as possible. Within and without the system, from former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) to the dissident Liu Xiaobo, it has always been thus.
What does this tell us? It tells us that all those who abide in the hope that the CCP will initiate political reform, all those who believe that the CCP will move toward democracy once a certain stage of economic development has been reached, all those who wait on the chance that Xi Jinping will turn out to be an enlightened autocrat—are all wrong, naive, even ignorant. Liu Xiaobo’s death has proven this once again.
This point has profound implications as to whether China’s future transition will bode well for its neighbors and for the world. If China’s ruling party is willing to permit moderate opposition, the transition may be smooth and peaceful; but if the CCP cannot even admit moderate opposition like Liu Xiaobo’s, then the only option is to break away from the moderates, and for hatred to accumulate in society.
If the path to reform is cut off, China will be left with opposition between state and society, and the only way out will be bloody revolution. We certainly don’t want this, but once it happens, China will inevitably plunge into chaos, and that internal chaos will impact neighboring countries and the whole world. This is the profound fear that Liu Xiaobo’s death has given us.
No doubt Liu Xiaobo’s horrific end is the result of the CCP’s total lack of humanity. But as New York University Law Professor Jerome Cohen has pointed out, Western countries are increasingly indifferent to human rights in China, so much so that they have nearly abandoned the issue. This conniving and appeasement is also to blame. Liu Xiaobo’s death will reverberate throughout the international community, emboldening the call to reckon with its policy towards the human rights of the Chinese people. The tragic death of a Nobel Peace laureate, we hope, will prompt those parties and politicians who have cozied back up to China to rethink their relationship.
In other words, Liu Xiaobo’s passing could become a turning point in China’s rise: the CCP, which continues to buy global support with the image of rapid economic growth, must bear the burden of Liu Xiaobo’s death for a long time to come. It will deal a blow to that image and an immense setback for the CCP’s arrogance. We will be glad to see this change, but the price we paid for it was Liu Xiaobo’s life. It is a tragedy of our time.
With his life, with his final breath, Liu Xiaobo gave us this truth—the CPP is the new Nazi Party. I hope this will make the world think.
Wang Dan (王丹) is a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, and was one of the most visible student leaders during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and has been teaching in Taiwan until recently.