When I woke up that morning and saw the news that Li Boguang had died on Twitter, I didn’t actually believe it. I didn’t want to retweet it before I had confirmed it myself. Maybe it wasn’t the Li Boguang I knew. But as one report confirmed the last, I was forced to believe that this most unwelcome news was true.
Then, scenes from the past began to float through my mind, one after another.
The first time I met with Boguang was in mid-December 2003. At that time, I was in Beijing and I had just received the judgment in a lawsuit against Beijing Subway. While I was in town, I had arranged to meet friends both old and new outside the east gate of Peking University, among them Boguang, a doctor of law who at that time had yet to qualify as an attorney. We hit it off immediately.
It soon became clear to me that Boguang wasn’t just an excellent scholar of high intelligence, but that he had conducted in-depth research into the process of recalling officials using existing laws. He had spent much time reflecting on the human spirit and its values, and was very insightful on the topic. He had a strong sense of social responsibility; there was nothing superficial about it.
In 2004, he was arrested and detained for 37 days because of a rights case he was defending in Fu’an, Fujian province. He was later released on bail under pressure from all sides. This experience gave him more awareness, and set him thinking even more about the obstacles preventing China from becoming more democratic, and becoming part of the civilized world.
He thought the key was a lack of faith, because the people of most democracies in the world are Christians, and believers in Christ can think about institution building from the perspective of how to prevent the evil that is in human nature. Therefore, if China was going to achieve a true democratic balance between the three powers, Christianity would have to take root in the hearts of the Chinese people. Without it, the spread of democratic ideas and the building of democratic systems would never happen.
In 2005, he spoke out on my behalf when I was under house arrest for exposing the violence of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party’s family planning policies. After that, there was less and less contact between us.
During my imprisonment by the Chinese Communist Party, I heard the news on Radio Free Asia that he and his good friend Li Heping had met with President George W. Bush at the White House ... so I knew he was still working hard for progress in China.
A few years later, in 2015, when my family had escaped the clutches of the Communist Party and come to the United States, we met again at a party in Washington.
On Jan. 31 last year, we met again at a celebration of 15 years of the Duihua Foundation, held at the Library of Congress, where he made a passionate speech. He showed no sign of illness whatsoever. I never thought in a million years that that meeting in Washington would be our last. It is a sad and unbearable thought.
[Late human rights lawyer] Li Subin and Li Boguang were two friends of mine who died one after the other. I once spent a few days studying traditional Chinese medicine, and I couldn’t help thinking of the various causes of malignant tumors … and about the relationship between the manner of their death and the difficult situation they were in: between their circumstances and their rights protection work.
Given their knowledge and talents, and with ample food and clothing, would they have died so young if they could have lived a life without so much risk and suffering?
Li Boguang’s death was sudden and suspicious. He was even able to fly to Washington to attend a prayer breakfast at the beginning of last month. Now we are separated by life and death.
I heard that he suffered from ascites and cirrhosis of the liver, and that he died when his liver split open. But eyewitnesses said that his family never mentioned that he vomited blood, nor did they report any abdominal swelling prior to his death, to the extent that he couldn’t even lie down.
All they said, simply, was that he felt as if his stomach had gotten fatter. I find it hard to believe this explanation. I am still highly suspicious of it as a cause of death.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has been a law scholar in the United States since his daring midnight flight from his heavily guarded hometown in Shandong's Yinan county in 2012 ended years of incarceration, official harassment and house arrest.