Friday, December 10, 2010

China--A Fragile SuperPower

One of the many wikileaks refers to China as a "fragile superpower"--and no where was this nation's vulnerability better demonstrated than in regard to their heavy handed refusal to let Liu Xiabo to receive his well deserved Nobel Peace prize and their threatening behavior towards countries to prevent them from attending the ceremony. (According to the LA Times, 19 countries boycotted the Nobel ceremony bowing to Chinese pressure). PEN America Center ( a group I recently joined for its bold stands in favor of intellectual freedom around the globe) provides the background,

"Liu Xiaobo was arrested on December 8, 2008, on the eve of the release of Charter 08, a groundbreaking declaration he co-authored calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. The document has gained over 10,000 signatures from citizens across China. Liu was held nearly incommunicado at an undisclosed location outside Beijing for over six months before he was formally charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” He was tried in a closed court on December 23, 2009, and on December 25, was convicted of the charge, based on Charter 08 and six essays he authored, and sentenced to 11 years in prison—the longest sentence ever given on this particular charge. Liu’s appeal was rejected in February, and on May 24, 2010, was transferred to Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province, hundreds of miles from his home in Beijing. His wife, Liu Xia, is only permitted to visit him once a month."

Liu came to public attention after he staged a hunger strike in 1989 in Tiananmen Square (again according to PEN) "in support of the student demonstrators and led calls for a truly broad-based, sustainable democratic movement. He was instrumental in preventing even further bloodshed in the Square by supporting and advancing a call for non-violence on the part of the students. He spent nearly two years in prison for his role, and another three years of “reeducation through labor” in 1996 for publicly questioning the role of the single-party system and calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In 2004, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut after the release of his essay criticizing the use of “subversion” charges used to silence journalists and activists, and he has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment in the years since."

His words on the meaning of going to prison in China today resonate ‘For an intellectual thirsty for freedom in a dictatorial country, prison is the very first threshold. Now I have stepped over the threshold, and freedom is near,’”  China has made Liu into even more famous by its heavy handed displays of force which as the Guardian reports has lead to "Scores – perhaps hundreds – of people have been placed under house arrest or surveillance, had communications cut off and been forced to leave the capital or prevented from travelling abroad. While such tactics are common before important events such as political meetings, it is rare for pressure to last so long and be applied so extensively. Amnesty International said it believed more than 250 people are affected" As Salil Shetty, secretary general of rights group Amnesty International stated China's behavior is quite odd, "The Chinese government should be celebrating this global recognition of a Chinese writer and activist," said . "Instead, the government's very public tantrum has generated even more critical attention inside and outside China -- and, ironically, emphasized the significance of Liu Xiaobo's message of respect for human rights,"

Those who rule China must realize this but seem determined to take actions designed to intimidate as if they  can't help themselves from following the Soviet Union's futile efforts to hold the lid on its own bankrupt system of totalitarian politics. The New York Times published a great extract from Liu's work, "Experiencing Death" to show the depth of the man's humanity that no society can ever completely crush and because of that, because their leaders know (like those in North Korea, Burma, Iran)  that they are on the losing side of the battle between freedom and oppression, they will always be the fragile whether they are superpowers or not;

I had imagined being there beneath sunlight

with the procession of martyrs

using just the one thin bone

to uphold a true conviction

And yet, the heavenly void

will not plate the sacrificed in gold

A pack of wolves well-fed full of corpses

celebrate in the warm noon air

aflood with joy

Faraway place

I’ve exiled my life to

this place without sun

to flee the era of Christ’s birth

I cannot face the blinding vision on the cross

From a wisp of smoke to a little heap of ash

I’ve drained the drink of the martyrs, sense spring’s

about to break into the brocade-brilliance of myriad flowers

Deep in the night, empty road

I’m biking home

I stop at a cigarette stand

A car follows me, crashes over my bicycle

some enormous brutes seize me

I’m handcuffed eyes covered mouth gagged

thrown into a prison van heading nowhere

A blink, a trembling instant passes

to a flash of awareness: I’m still alive

On Central Television News

my name’s changed to “arrested black hand”

though those nameless white bones of the dead

still stand in the forgetting

I lift up high up the self-invented lie

tell everyone how I’ve experienced death

so that “black hand” becomes a hero’s medal of honor

Even if I know

death’s a mysterious unknown

being alive, there’s no way to experience death

and once dead

cannot experience death again

yet I’m still

hovering within death

a hovering in drowning

Countless nights behind iron-barred windows

and the graves beneath starlight

have exposed my nightmares

Besides a lie

I own nothing

 This poem was translated by Jeffrey Yang from the Chinese.

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