Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The value of a thinker is not about what problems he solves, but what kind of problems or questions he presents, because a new question means a new start and new development.
--Liu Xiaobo, translated introduction to Hallucination of Metaphysics

Today is the birthday of Chinese philospher and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. In 2008, Liu helped write a document known as Charter 08, an exhortation to the people of China to bring true democracy and respect for human rights to their nation’s governance. For taking part in this declaration, Chinese authorities arrested Liu. On Christmas 2009 they sentenced him to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” To me he is a natural evocation of the Confucian virtue of Yi (Righteousness).
On December 10, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." The photo above shows Liu's image projected across the Nobel ceremonial hall. The last time the Nobel Committee had to give an award in absentia was in 1935, when Adolf Hitler prevented Count Carl von Ossietzky from attending. Count von Ossietzky was imprisoned in a concentration camp.
Rather than write about Liu, I wanted to let him speak in his own words. Here, then, is a portion of Charter 08, which I think speaks volumes about Liu, about the virtues, and about Yi:

“At this historical juncture that will decide the future destiny of China, it is necessary to reflect on the modernization process of the past hundred and some years and reaffirm the following concepts:
“Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, to strike, and to march and demonstrate are all the concrete expressions of freedom. Where freedom does not flourish, there is no modern civilization to speak of.
“Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by a state; they are inherent rights enjoyed by every person. Guaranteeing human rights is both the most important objective of a government and the foundation of the Legitimacy of its public authority; it is also the intrinsic requirement of the policy of “putting people first.” China’s successive political disasters have all been closely related to the disregard for human rights by the ruling establishment. People are the mainstay of a nation; a nation serves its people; government exists for the people.
“Equality: The Integrity, Dignity, and Freedom of every individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic circumstances, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief, are equal. The principles of equality before the law for each and every person and equality in social, economic, cultural, and political rights of all citizens must be implemented.
“Republicanism: Republicanism is “joint governing by all, peaceful coexistence,” that is, the separation of powers for checks and balances and the balance of interests...
“Democracy: The most fundamental meaning is that Sovereignty resides in the people and the government elected by the people... [D]emocracy is the modern public instrument for creating a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
“Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of guaranteeing basic freedoms and rights of citizens as defined by the constitution through legal provisions and the rule of law... In China, the era of imperial power is long gone, never to return; in the world at large, the authoritarian system is on the wane; citizens ought to become the true masters of their states...
“[O]f all the great nations of the world today, China alone still clings to an authoritarian way of life and has, as a result, created an unbroken chain of human rights disasters and social crises, held back the development of the Chinese people, and hindered the progress of human civilization. This situation must change! We cannot put off political democratization reforms any longer.
“Therefore, in the civic spirit of daring to take action, we are issuing Charter 08. We hope that all Chinese citizens who share this sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether officials or common people and regardless of social background, will put aside our differences to seek common ground and come to take an active part in this citizens’ movement, to promote the great transformation of Chinese society together, so that we can soon establish a free, democratic, and constitutional nation, fulfilling the aspirations and dreams that our countrymen have been pursuing tirelessly for more than a hundred years.
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The organization PEN is sponsoring a letter writing campaign and petition to free Liu Xiaobo. Consider joining in this effort today as a way to bring to mind the hard road of Righteousness, of Yi, traveled by those who bring Courage to the quest for Justice.

May we see the gates of Yi, and perhaps make a home there.

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