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When the Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, an empty chair took his place on stage in Oslo. That's because Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for what the Chinese government deemed incitement to subvert state power.
And after the Nobel ceremony, if you searched for the phrase "empty chair" on the Internet in China, you'd find nothing. Chinese censors had banned it. That gives some sense of how threatening this voice had become.
LIU XIAOBO: (Foreign language spoken)
BLOCK: That's Liu Xiaobo in 2006, urging writers around the world to support Chinese writers so they can change China from what he calls a totalitarian state into a free nation.
Well, if that voice has been silenced, Liu's words have not. A collection of his essays and poems has just been published. And editor Perry Link joins me to talk about the book. It's called "No Enemies, No Hatred."
Professor Link, welcome to the program.
PERRY LINK: My pleasure.
BLOCK: Let's talk about that title. It comes from the final statement that Liu Xiaobo read at his trial, in 2009. What was his message to the court?
LINK: He was very taken by nonviolent philosophies of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King - and Vaclav Havel was a hero of his. And he wanted to make the point that the crux of the matter is not bad people; it's a bad system that China is dealing with.
So he went out of his way, in this statement, to say that all of the police that arrested me, and the prosecutors who prosecuted me, and the judges who sit before me today, are not my personal enemies. It's the system that traps them and me, that we have to attend to.
BLOCK: He also does pitch that message forward. And let's take a listen. We have a reading of some of the last words in that statement that he read in court.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) I hope that I will be the last victim in China's long record of treating words as crimes. Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature, and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature, and to suppress truth.
BLOCK: Those words from Liu Xiaobo. What's known, Perry Link, about the conditions in the prison where he's being held?
LINK: Very little. The last report that I have that I think is credible, is from the China Human Rights Defenders - and this was from more than a year ago - who said that he is in a cell with five others. He has to eat the prison food. The other five are allowed to use their own funds to buy better food, but he is not. All six of them are allowed out in the courtyard one hour a day, for exercise. But all of the above is not confirmed. It's my best guess - and the real answer is, we don't know.
BLOCK: Now, in 1989, Liu Xiaobo was among the leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. He actually went back to Beijing from the United States, to join in those protests. But he escaped the massacre. And it sounds like - in a lot of these essays - he is plagued with survival guilt. Let's listen to a section of an essay that he wrote about this, in 2003.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) I was a participant in the 1989 movement and observed how, in that dark night and early dawn, it was sliced by bayonets, pierced by bullets, and crushed by tanks. The glinting tips of the bayonets still stab in the recesses of my memory. As one of the survivors, I see before my eyes two things: the souls of those who died for a free China; and the violence, the lies and the bribery of the killers. And I am haunted by the grave responsibility of being still alive.
I do my best to make every word from my pen a cry from the heart for the souls of the dead. I use my memory of their graves to combat the Chinese government's pressure to erase memory. My searing desire to atone for having survived helps me resist the temptations to join the world of lies.
BLOCK: Professor Link, how much do you think those ghosts from Tiananmen still shadow Liu Xiaobo, more than 20 years after that massacre?
LINK: Haunted, I think, is the right word. One part of this guilt is that he's very, very hard on himself. At the massacre - after it, he nego - first, he negotiated a way out for the students who were remaining in the square. And that compromise, for which others have criticized him, probably saved a few dozen, if not a few hundred, lives.
But then, he escaped to the diplomatic quarter and took refuge in the home of a foreign friend and later, felt terribly guilty about that because later, he learned that other - as he calls them, ordinary - Chinese stayed on the streets, tried to rescue the wounded and sometimes paid, themselves, with their lives, for doing so. So he's been very, very hard on himself for that point.
BLOCK: Hmm. You know, as I read through these essays, I kept wondering what the boundary is of what is considered acceptable dissident speech in China. Because these essays are often very tough, but they didn't all get him into trouble. What do you think it is that crossed the line with the authorities? What did they cite?
LINK: Well, at the trial, they listed the Charter 08, which was a pro-democracy manifesto published in December 2008, for which he was a main organizer. The Charter 08 is very broad in the themes that it addresses - about democracy, about the economy, about education, about the environment.
The crucial part of Charter 08, in the view of the authorities in Beijing, was its call for an end to one-party rule. Liu Xiaobo does not call for an end to the Communist Party. His view is that yes, you can compete with others. But the crucial point is that you need to compete with others, and other parties should be allowed to exist and operate. And the Communist Party of China can't swallow that.
BLOCK: Liu Xiaobo writes in one of these essays that China has a problem; that it doesn't have a moral leader. He mentions Vaclav Havel from the Czech Revolution, that China doesn't have a figure like that. Do you think he is that figure, in some sense? How is he seen by the Chinese public?
LINK: He could be that kind of figure but isn't yet, just because he isn't that well-known in China. The reason he's not well-known is that the government has been assiduous about repressing his works. And that, by the way, shows that the government authorities themselves are as clear as anybody on the fact that if Charter 08 and his other essays got out, they would have a tremendous positive reception.
Before he won the Nobel Prize, his blogs that came back to China on the Internet, probably had readership of about 10 to 50,000 - somewhere in there. When the Nobel Prize came, that news inevitably did leak out on the Chinese Internet, and spread widely. And suddenly, websites that had to do with him were pummeled by inquiries from inside China - about who is this man, and how can we read more of him?
He still isn't known as widely in China as he could be and therefore, isn't quite a Vaclav Havel in that same sense.
BLOCK: And assuming that Liu Xiaobo does serve his complete, 11-year sentence, he'll be out of jail when?
LINK: In June of 2020.
BLOCK: Professor Link, thanks very much for talking with us.
LINK: My pleasure.
BLOCK: That's Professor Perry Link. He teaches at the University of California, Riverside. And he edited the collection of essays from Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, titled "No Enemies, No Hatred."
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