A book detailing how human rights and personal freedoms were already being eroded as early the 17th century under China's imperial rulers has been published online.
Its author, Ling Cangzhou, was one of the earliest signatories to Charter 08, a controversial document calling for sweeping political change in China, which contributed to the jailing of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Ling has been held under close surveillance since Liu's award, presented in his absence at a ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10, was announced in October. He has also been banned from leaving China.
His latest book, titled Dragon Blood, Wolf Smoke, covers a vast swath of Chinese history, from unification under the Qin dynasty in 256 B.C. to the fall of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
It sets out to show the reader a history of tyrannical rulers and cruel governments, for whom the Chinese people are a resource to be deployed, and the damage done to the national spirit by this history of cruelty.
"We won't get any rejuvenation of our values until we place the dignity and happiness of the human person at the heart of a cultural revival," Ling writes.
'Stained with blood'
He adds that he conceived the book as a response to a current of imperial nostalgia which runs alongside modern Chinese nationalism in today's society.
"A lot of people in contemporary China right now have a dream that China can return to the glory of the Han and Tang dynasties," he writes in the book.
"I am telling them that in reality those dynasties were stained with blood and behaved in a despicable manner."
Ling argues that the cultural renewal movements of the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644), of which the Fushe is best known, which had enjoyed true freedom of association.
But he adds that they were the last gasp of air for freedom of association in imperial China.
"After these fading rays, imperial freedoms fell into a long, dark night," Ling writes.
Cruel and barbarous
"In ancient times, they said hell had 18 levels. Chinese history has been played out all along on the 17th level of hell, that of cruel dictatorships and barbarous conquests."
Hu Ping, U.S.-based editor of the online magazine Beijing Spring, said the concept of "universal values" now espoused by today's rights activists isn't new to China, however.
"There is a lot of harmony with traditional Chinese culture," Hu said. "Our ancestors wanted these things too."
Dragon Blood, Wolf Smoke is published by the Workers' Publishing House, and is available in Chinese from the company website.
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.