LIU XIAOBO OBIT
Guest: Perry Link
KG: He was a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s one party system. His beliefs landed him in prison and eventually they cost him his life. Earlier today Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo died from late stage liver cancer. He was 61 years old. Mr. Liu was widely known for his essays and poems but more significantly he was known for his activism. In 2009, he was sentenced to 11 years after penning a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08. He was granted medical parole last month after being diagnosed with cancer in late May. Perry Link edited Lou Jumbo’s books of essays called: No Enemies No Hatred. He was also a friend of Mr. Liu’s. We reached Perry Link in Riverside California.
LL: Mr. Link, first of all I am very sorry for your loss.
PERRY LINK: Yes it’s a sad day.
LL: How are you and other friends feeling about the death of Liu Xiaobo?
PL: We anticipated it because about 10 days ago we knew he had serious liver cancer so intellectually it isn’t a shock, but emotionally of course it is. When this happens that it hits hard and we’re a bit depressed.
LL: And there was also some suggestion, at least in the media, that there was going to be the attempt to bring him to the United States for treatment. So was there any optimism or hope on your part that he might live longer?
PL: Yes there was always that hope. A few days ago, a German and an American doctor saw him and the judge said it was still possible to bring him abroad and get the very best treatment that they could give, and they made that offer. The Chinese government rejected the possibility of his traveling. So it was just a matter of waiting.
LL: How did you feel about that, when the Chinese government refused that?
PL: Well that was to be expected. The Chinese government, for now two decades, has been focused on trying to throttle him. He has not said anything that the world has heard since his final statement at trial in the year 2009. And we all would love to hear what he has to say. The main goal of the Chinese government is to be sure that he cannot make that kind of speech.
LL: How did you first come to know Mr. Liu?
PL: I knew him by reputation because we both work in the field of modern Chinese literature. And in the 1980s, when he was still a graduate student, he became famous in our field for writing fiery denunciations of virtually every contemporary Chinese writer, including ones that were critical of the government. He was fiercely independent in his own thinking and he blamed anyone who wasn’t fiercely independent. And for that reason I thought he was a powerful interesting person but not necessarily a deep thinker. But then a few years ago, after he got his Nobel Prize, and Harvard University Press asked me to edit a collection of his works and I read a lot of his works and was really surprised at how deeply erudite he is. An amazingly broad range of topics, everything from ancient Chinese thinkers, Confucius and [unintelligible], to the condition of farmers in rural areas in China today and everything in between.
LL: Now you never met him in person, but in speaking with him on the phone, what was he like?
PL: He’s blunt to put it bluntly, but he doesn’t hold grudges. He never did. He’s just constitutionally honest, if I can put it that way.
LL: [Laughs] It is a good way to put it. He wrote a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 0,8 and you worked with him on that and you translated it. So, with that famous bluntness in mind, what was it like to work with him?
PL: That democracy manifesto, Charter 08, he didn’t begin. A number of his friends conceived it and drafted it and he joined in midstream. He became the overall editor and he volunteered to take responsibility for it. How was it with me, up until just the final days before the charter was released, he was calling me saying: “Add these words. Delete those words”, and so on. And I did, but after a while I thought: “No. I can’t do this” because about 300 people have already signed this document and there’s no way he can check all of these word changes with them. So, I told him I won’t make any more changes. And he was a bit blunt I think in not liking that he was miffed at me for a while, nothing serious of course, but he wanted the document to be something that the maximal range of Chinese people could sign.
PL: Liu Xia, many as activists are still asking the Chinese government to bring his wife Liu Xia, to the United States. Now that he has died, do you think there is any chance that will happen?
PL: Hard to predict these things. But now that he’s dead, the main fear that the government has that his intellect will spill forward, he is dead into eternity. And this relieves the pressure they feel on trying to bottle her up. But the other side of that coin, is that the only person who is able to see him, for all of the last seven years, was her. She was able to see him every month, on condition that she’d be quiet about what he said. Now if she comes out, and he’s dead, what’s to stop her from saying more about what he was thinking and the government in China wouldn’t want that.
LL: What legacy do you think Liu Xiaobo leaves behind?
PL: Chinese dissidents in the last couple of decades. All of them of course make the calculation that I am going to speak truth to power, even if it’s risky. This they have in common. But what stands out about him is he never filtered. And then of course he became famous when he got the Nobel Prize. So he with the Nobel Prize became arguably the most prominent Chinese dissident in the last couple of decades.
LL: Perhaps famous and perhaps prominent but his name has been suppressed in China for several years so that many young people don’t even know who he is. How hopeful are you that they will eventually get to know who he really was?
PL: Well I don’t know that because the suppression, as you know, has worked. And the ones who do know who he is keep it under wraps because it’s dangerous. The more interesting question to me is the long term legacy. If you compare him for a moment with China’s president Xi Jinping, they’re only two years apart in age. Both of them missed their educations during the Cultural Revolution, but Xi Jinping’s father was a colleague of Mao and Xi Jinping, from the beginning, used his years in the Cultural Revolution to begin building a resume that would lead him to learn the skullduggery and sycophancy that’s important in rising, whereas Liu Xiaobo learned the lesson that I have to think for myself. But I mean if you asked this question 200 years from now, who’s going to remember the thinking of Xi Jinping versus the thinking of Liu Xiaobo. There’s no comparison. You think of the other freedom fighters in the 20th century Nelson Mandela and [unintelligible] and Burma, all of them were sent to prison for speaking the truth and trying to improve their societies. And I do think Liu Xiaobo has that prospect for having his contribution to history be well known.
LL: Mr. Link, again, my sympathies on the loss of your friend. Thank you for speaking with me.
PL: My pleasure.
KG: That was Perry Link, a friend of Liu Xiaobo’s. We reached him in Riverside, California. Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo died today from late stage liver cancer. He was 61. And we’ve posted more about Mr. Liu on the as it happens website cbc.ca/aih.