Chinese intellectuals and netizens are grieving the death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who died Sunday at the age of 75.
The news of Havel’s death reached Beijing about 7 p.m. local time on Sunday, and many people braved the cold in the Chinese capital to pay visits of condolence to the Czech embassy.
“After a while, an official from the embassy came out and received flowers from us, expressing thankfulness,” said An Ti, a senior media worker in Beijing.
An said netizens widely shared the embassy’s email address, inviting fellow well-wishers to send online condolences.
“Havel advocates the ‘living in the truth’ attitude against totalitarian regimes, but not in a cynical manner or through indulging in illusion. I have personally benefited most from this teaching,” said An Ti.
“I try to live in the truth and as a normal person. Only when you lead a normal life can your confrontation against the regime last longer,” An added.
Havel was a playwright and jailed thrice for his dissident activities, spending five years in total behind bars. He eventually led the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and served as president of the independent Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.
“Havel has completely fulfilled the responsibilities and tasks he was destined for. He was a statesman and activist, but he ended his life in the capacity of a writer. That is particularly glorious,” said Bei Ling, a Chinese activist and writer in exile who is also a personal friend of Havel.
“In his later days Havel paid considerable attention to the human rights conditions in China,” Bei said.
In the 1970s, Havel cowrote the influential Charter 77, an anti-Communist declaration. This document inspired Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and others to draft a similar platform titled “Charter 08” in 2008, urging political reform.
Until the very end of his life, Havel was moved by the anti-Communist cause in China.
In January 2010, Havel attempted to deliver a letter to the Chinese Embassy in Prague, calling for the release of dissident Liu Xiaobo. He also nominated Liu as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Liu received the honor while jailed in 2010.
Havel was a prolific writer and some of his books have been published in China, though with great difficulty. Beijing-based scholar Cui Weiping translated Havel’s works and released them in a book titled The Anthology of Havel.
“People should not be fooled by superficial phenomena in a society and must try to find out what lies beneath the surface. Havel impressed me most in this way,” said Cui in an interview on Monday.
“Only those who know the truth can benefit from courage,” Cui said.
Original reporting by Xin Yu from Hong Kong for Mandarin. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Ping Chen.