'In Memory of a Great Patriot, Liu Xiaobo'

A commentary by Bao Tong
2017-07-14
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Former top government aide Bao Tong is shown in a file photo.
Former top government aide Bao Tong is shown in a file photo.
AFP

By the end of the 1986 student movement in Anhui, Nanjing, Shanghai and Beijing, I had heard of Liu Xiaobo, though I had never met him.

He tried to visit me twice in 2007, but was stopped both times by police, who wouldn't let him in [to visit me under house arrest], and he had to leave again.

Later, in 2007 and 2008, I met Liu Xiaobo, and we quickly became good friends.

Liu Xiaobo's specialism was the theory of literature and art, and he had studied the theories of [Russian literary theorists] Dobrolyubov, Belinsky and Chernyshevsky in university, but didn't find them satisfying.

He liked to live a relaxed and carefree life, meeting up with people, talking to them. In terms of his temperament, he was no politician. Chatting with him usually meant trivia, anything and everything, history through the ages. There was almost no political stuff at all. But whenever we would meet up to drink tea and talk together, the people around us would always be listening in.

Once we got to know each other, we would meet to drink tea once a month, although we couldn't always make it every time for a variety of reasons. He knew that I would practice tai chi in Yuyuantan Park every morning, and sometimes he would seek me out there if there was something on his mind.

On one occasion, in 2008, he came to the park to say that a few friends were drafting Charter 08, and that he was hoping we could discuss it. From that time on, we met more than once a month.

Charter 08 wasn't entirely drafted by Liu Xiaobo, but he presided over it, and we discussed it together. He listened very carefully, and in great detail, to different opinions. He also argued, but not in a stubborn way. He would always choose his ideas on merit, and he wanted it written in a way that recognized as many people's contribution as
possible.

Liu Xiaobo was a very gentle man who never went to extremes, and was never subjective. His later statement, titled "I have no enemies," was a true reflection of the man.

When he was drafting Charter 08, he also asked for my advice, but my opinion was simple, taking up only one sentence: the simpler, clearer and more moderate you can make it, the better. Besides that, I had no other opinion. Out of several friends who were busy discussing Charter 08, he was the busiest.

Liu Xiaobo was smart, and he knew that things had to stay within the law, so as to attract more participants, and to meet with less resistance.

The contents of the Charter are almost all to be found in the Chinese constitution. We just asked that their implementation be taken seriously. There was nothing new there.

Under normal circumstances, this would be acceptable to the authorities, and there would be no reason to refuse us.

For example, the idea that all the power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people. Or that the people have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and assembly, freedom of demonstrations, all of which are expressly included in the constitution, and which the government should guarantee.

Two things might meet with less acceptance, however. The first was the nationalization of the armed forces, and the second was the setting up of a federal system of government.

We thought about leaving those things out, but the consensus was that we had to leave them in, because they were patriotic. It was our responsibility to say them, as patriots.

As for the army, without nationalization, it might be privatized, or co-opted by partisan forces or warlords. That must not be allowed to happen, so the army should be nationalized, as it had been between 1937 and 1946. This had been the consistent position of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and we should uphold it.

As for federalism, it was to be the foundation of democracy. China is so big, that it lends itself to centralization or federalism. Ever since the emperors, all subjective power has been associated with centralization. So a federal system would actually be a remedy for the country's symptoms.

The successful experience of the United States has shown us conclusively that if there is no federal system, if there is no local autonomy, the people would never be able to implement their power. The history of the Communist Party of China advocated provincial self-government,

When he was in Hunan, Mao Zedong even suggested Hunan should be independent, although that was really too extreme. The federal system is not the same thing, the United States is a federal system, and that's why it can't be broken up.

Liu Xiaobo chose to take this route in a very thoughtful way: these ideas were all based on lawful, peaceful and non-violent principles: moderate rather than radical, well founded, and with a realistic legal and historical basis.

At that time we were all much more optimistic, because China was said to be cultivating a "harmonious society." We already had the constitution, which, while it may not have been perfect, had some good things in it. A lot of people seemed to support them, and we thought there should be very little resistance to putting those good things into practice, because there was no good reason to oppose it. I, and everyone else, were full of hope.

Liu Xia always listens quietly. She laughs and smiles brightly. But she has a melancholy temperament. She is a poet, and a painter, who likes to take photographs. The tone of her work is melancholy and sad, yet it sees the world with compassion.

When Charter 08 was published, the authorities detained Liu Xiaobo and sent him to prison. I don't know if Liu Xia had any sense that this might happen. It certainly took me by surprise.

Why was Liu Xiaobo found guilty of what were very serious charges, and sentenced to jail? To this day, I still can't see how patriotism and wanting to protect the rule of law can be a crime.

There was a professor at Tsinghua University called Hu Angang, who said the Communist Party's Politburo standing committee system was a collective presidency. When this remark appeared in the Global Times newspaper, nobody in China said a word of criticism. It seemed to be a genuine consensus.

The 16th and 17th Party Congresses seemed to abide by this principle, with each member of the Politburo standing committee sticking to their own turf.

When Liu Xiaobo was formally arrested, Zhou Yongkang was minister of state security. So the only way I can make sense of it is this: that the arrest and sentencing of Liu Xiaobo was an act of mischief wrought by this corrupt official. But I belief that the truth will one day become clearer.

Liu Xiaobo went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which was well-deserved. Liu Xiaobo trod the path of least resistance and most sense. His ultimate goal was one that nobody dared to oppose openly.

If China really did set out on the path to democracy, the people of China, and the whole world, would benefit from the presence of a truly responsible great power, and could play a hugely positive role in the development of civilization as a whole.

In memory of a great patriot, Liu Xiaobo.

July 13, 2017

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is under continual surveillance and frequent house arrest at his home in Beijing.

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