Thursday, December 10, 2020

An "Empty Chair" For Peace

Ten years ago, an empty chair held the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the great Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. In 2010, Liu was in prison in China for his persistent advocacy for fundamental human rights and human dignity. 

The Chinese Communist PartyState denounced the award, put Liu’s wife under house arrest, and effectively prevented any of his friends or associates from traveling to Oslo to receive the award on his behalf. Thus, an “empty chair” has become the symbol of his resistance to the PartyState’s suffocation of the human person. Liu remained in prison until two weeks before his death in 2017. For many months, doctors from all over the world had made offers to travel to China to treat his liver cancer. The world's most advanced hospitals were prepared to airlift the suffering Nobel laureate from the Chinese prison hospital to their own state-of-the-art facilities. Nearly all these offers were stonewalled by the government until it was too late to make a difference. We'll never know if better care could have helped him, or if negligence hastened his death. In any case, China's rulers saw no cause for mourning. They made sure Liu Xiaobo's ashes were scattered over the sea, so that there would be no grave - no place where he could be remembered and honored.

Perhaps their small minds didn't realize that they had already made the empty chair into an "icon" of China's first millennial hero. His courage has not been forgotten. The memory of his dedication and his suffering has not been erased.

The PartyState-controlled Chinese Internet search engine Weibo still censors “Liu Xiaobo” and the term “empty chair.” Now the same PartyState is plotting the fate of Hong Kong’s jailed young activists whose “crime” is their protest against Beijing’s suppression of their city’s guaranteed freedoms.

What kind of people are these men (and the ones at the top are all men) who rule one-fifth of the human race with their obsessive, controlling paranoia? How much longer before their political house-of-cards collapses under its own enormous weight? And what (who?) will take its place?

China needs more great souls like Liu Xiaobo. The unfolding history of the 21st century needs them.

I had a Facebook post on that day, ten years ago (reproduced below). Now, I remember Liu with even more respect, honor, and gratitude. I have learned more about his land, its history, and its people. I have also been moved deeply by what I have read of his writings during the course of my ongoing East Asian studies project. His integrity in the search for truth and for China's authentic path in the emerging new epoch will bear fruit. Really, it doesn't depend on the "outrage" or the global political maneuvering of the "free nations." Liu himself ultimately recognized that the West has its own need for regeneration, and is in no condition to provide solutions for China.

In this respect Liu Xiaobo is not unlike another great dissident, another absentee Nobel Prize winner who fought against a repressive regime - one that no longer exists. They both knew the irrepressible value of truth. As that other famous dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, said: "One word of truth outweighs the whole world."