Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s great human rights activists, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and a continual thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist regime passed away on Thursday. He had been suffering from terminal liver cancer, and had only attained medical parole shortly after the knowledge was made public. Even dying in a hospital, the state still recognized him as a highly dangerous prisoner. He was 61.
Liu was present at the fateful Tianmen Square protests, where he shielded his fellow revolutionaries from soldiers. During the worst retaliation for the protests, he guided many students to safety and negotiated their safe return home. His fearlessness and leadership would cost him his teaching job and reputation. He was also imprisoned for several years. It didn’t dissuade him, though.
In 2008, he helped conceive and write Charter 08, a manifesto calling for freedom of expression, human rights, more democratic elections, the privatization of state enterprises and land and economic liberalism. That groundbreaking document would cement his fate as a government prisoner for the rest of his life.
Already, comparisons are being drawn between Liu and Carl von Ossietzky of Germany. Ossietzky was highly critical of the Nazi regime, and eventually died from Tuberculosis in a hospital under government surveillance. After Ossietzky, Liu is the second Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to die in the captivity of the regime with which they clashed.
According to the Shenyang Bureau of Justice: “After multiple treatments, Liu Xiaobo’s condition continued to deteriorate. On July 10, he entered a state of rescue and intensive care, and on July 13, he died due to multiple organ failure after attempts to save him failed.”
Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, was kept under house arrest and intense scrutiny herself. She was forbidden from letting the world know of her husband’s condition or his inability to receive proper treatment. A short video message to a friend where Ms. Liu bitterly spoke of the lack of treatment options went viral. “Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemotherapy” she said.
Liu Xiaobo’s death is mourned by intellectuals, human rights activists, philosophers, and writers all around the world. His death is being labelled an atrocity by many as well as a reminder that China is still beneath a brutal and oppressive regime.
The Chinese government has been highly vocal and critical of Liu since his death, telling the world to stay out of China’s internal affairs. Now, many worry for the safety of Ms. Liu, who the government will likely want to keep under house arrest despite her lack of criminal activity.
In a darkly beautiful love poem to his wife, Liu wrote, “Love as intense as ice, love as remote as blackness. My praise is perhaps an unforgivable poison” It would be his final work.