Why I Nominated Liu Xiaobo

On January 29, 2010, Kwame Anthony Appiah, the president of the global literary and human rights NGO PEN, sent this letter nominating Liu Xiaobo for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Republished here with permission.

Dear Members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee:

I am writing as the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University and as President of PEN American Center to nominate Dr. Liu Xiaobo of China for the Nobel Peace Prize.

You are no doubt familiar with Liu Xiaobo’s immediate circumstances. On December 25, 2009, when the Chinese government believed that the world would not be paying attention, a Beijing court sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison and an additional two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power.” This so-called incitement, the verdict made clear, consisted of seven phrases—a total of 224 Chinese characters—that he had written over the last three years. I have attached a list of these phrases, which appeared in six essays and in Charter 08, a declaration modeled on Vaclav Havel’s Charter 77 that calls for political reform and greater human rights in China and has been signed, at considerable risk, by more than 10,000 Chinese citizens.

You are also surely familiar with Liu Xiaobo’s long history as one of the leading proponents of peaceful democratic reform in the People’s Republic of China. A poet and a literary critic, Liu served as a professor at Beijing Normal University and was a leading voice and an influential presence during the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989; indeed, his insistence on non-violence and democratic process are widely credited with preventing far more catastrophic bloodshed during the subsequent crackdown.

Along with my duties as a professor at Princeton University, I am also currently serving as President of PEN American Center, as I mentioned at the start; and in submitting this nomination of Liu Xiaobo I am particularly proud to note that Liu Xiaobo is not only a colleague of mine in the world of letters, but also, more particularly, a PEN colleague. Liu has been a leading figure in the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), our sister center, whose 250 members are doing courageous, on-the-ground advocacy work for freedom of expression in China despite constant pressure from Chinese authorities. Liu served as President of ICPC from 2003 to 2007, held seat a on its Board until late 2009, and is currently serving as Honorary President. Since ICPC was formed in 2001, it has emerged as a leading source of information about threats to writers and journalists and an important voice for freedom of expression in China, and it has come under increased pressure for its activities. Its meetings have been interrupted and canceled by authorities, its officers and members are regularly subject to intimidation and surveillance, and many have been detained and questioned about the center’s activities. Liu Xiaobo is one of six PEN members currently in prison in China.

In addition to Liu’s distinguished and principled leadership in the area of human and political rights and freedom of expression, there are many reasons why I believe Liu Xiaobo merits selection as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient.

Liu’s writings express the aspirations of a growing number of China’s citizens; the ideas he has articulated in his allegedly subversive writings, ideas that are commonplace in free societies around the world, are shared by a significant cross section of Chinese society. Charter 08, for example, is a testament to an expanding movement for peaceful political reform in China. This document, which Liu co-authored, is a remarkable attempt both to engage China's leadership and to speak to the Chinese public about where China is and needs to go. It is novel in its breadth and in its list of signers—not only dissidents and human rights lawyers, but also prominent political scientists, economists, writers, artists, grassroots activists, farmers, and even government officials. More than 10,000 Chinese citizens have endorsed the document despite the fact that almost all of the original 300 signers have since been detained or harassed. In doing so they, too, exhibited exceptional courage and conviction. One of them, for example, a teacher in Yunnan province, reported that police contacted her three times asking her to renounce the Charter and proclaim the signer was some other person with the same name. She refused. To stand up for Liu Xiaobo is to stand with a growing number of men and women like her in China; to stand with all those who advocate for peaceful change in the world’s most populous nation.

In fact, Liu Xiaobo is the kind of figure governments suppress at their peril. While he was a young university professor, Liu was a major protagonist in the final days of the Tiananmen Square protests, and, as I have already said, he is widely credited with preventing far greater bloodshed when government troops moved into the square. Liu admonished the students to make their own movement more democratic; he disarmed a group of workers who appeared with guns to protect the student demonstrators (there is stirring news footage of him seizing a rifle and smashing it at a Tiananmen rally shortly before the crackdown); and he helped persuade students to evacuate the square in the final hours. Deeply committed to non-violence and democracy, Liu has been able both to articulate and to channel the frustrations of the Chinese people for more than two decades. Stifling such a voice does nothing to address those frustrations, which one way or another will eventually find expression. China has, indeed, moved increasingly towards democracy and freedom in the last few decades.

The numbers of those imprisoned in China for exercising their right to free expression guaranteed to them by international human rights law was once in the thousands, if not tens of thousands: today we can identify only a few score such prisoners in the name of free expression. There are voices within the regime, we know, urging greater respect for free expression. China wants—and needs—to be heard in the community of nations. I—and all of my PEN colleagues—believe in a cosmopolitan conversation in which we hear from every nation. But the world must let China’s rulers know that we can only listen respectfully if they offer to their own citizens the fundamental freedoms we all claim from our governments. This is the right moment for the world to show those in China who do not understand that history is on freedom’s side that all the world’s friends of peace and democracy are watching. No signal of this would be more powerful than the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Over the years, the Nobel Committee has had a distinguished record of recognizing and honoring just such voices at just such critical moments. Liu Xiaobo stands in the company of Andrei Sakharov, Shirin Ebadi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, brave proponents of civil and political rights who have stood up to systematic repression in their own countries and practiced principled, non-violent resistance to bad laws and policies. In fact, the year before my countryman Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he wrote in his seminal letter from a Birmingham jail, “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” Ten days after Liu Xiaobo was sentenced, he was able to release a statement through his lawyers. In it, he echoed Dr. King when he declared, “For an intellectual thirsty for freedom in a dictatorial country, prison is the very first threshold. Now I have stepped over the threshold, and freedom is near.”

It is likely that the Chinese government will want to argue, as indeed it already has, that their treatment of Liu Xiaobo is an internal matter, and that international awards and advocacy on his behalf amount to meddling in China’s internal affairs. But in fact, as PEN American Center noted in a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao following Liu’s conviction, the treatment he has endured is by definition an international matter, just as all violations of human rights are matters of legitimate concern to the whole world. By detaining Liu Xiaobo for more than a year, and then by convicting and sentencing him to 11 years in prison in clear violation of his most fundamental, internationally-recognized rights, the People’s Republic of China itself has guaranteed that his case is not and cannot be a purely internal affair. China’s citizens should be concerned that Liu Xiaobo was denied rights enshrined in the Chinese constitution; all of us have a right to express our concern that he was denied rights guaranteed in international treaties to which China is a signatory.

Human rights are the legitimate concern of all human beings. That principle was established firmly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Liu Xiaobo is one of some 45 writers currently imprisoned in China in violation of Article 19 of the UDHR and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and honoring him with the Nobel Peace Prize would be a powerful way to underscore the fact that the rights that are enshrined in international human rights law—values that China has acknowledged and endorsed—are the non-negotiable entitlements of every man and woman.

This is a message that the Chinese government needs to hear, more urgently than ever. If Liu Xiaobo’s case demonstrates anything, it is that Chinese authorities are now operating with a sense of impunity, convinced that they can stifle dissent and control the flow of information and ideas in their country without significant domestic or international repercussions. In the long run, of course, they will be proven wrong. But in the short term, there is every reason to worry about how many others will be silenced or suppressed if the world fails to make clear it stands with Liu Xiaobo. Just two weeks ago, I learned that Zhao Shiying, the Secretary General of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, had been detained, quite possibly because he has been a vocal critic of his government’s treatment of Liu Xiaobo. That he was released two weeks later gives me hope that the Chinese authorities are aware that the world is watching.

If China can jail Liu Xiaobo without repercussions, it isn’t just dissident voices inside China that are vulnerable. A feature of China's ascendancy on the world stage has been its implicit agreement with rights-abusing regimes in other nations that it will turn a blind eye to even the most blatant human rights violations in exchange for preferred commercial relations. The courageous men and women who are challenging tyranny in these countries are looking to the governments and leading non-governmental institutions in free countries for assurances that their fate, and the fate of their countries, depends on something more than the bottom line. To fail to challenge the Chinese government on Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment is to concede this argument internationally, at enormous peril to peaceful advocates of progress and change not just in China but all around the world. Awarding Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, by contrast, would both honor Dr. Liu’s unique and indispensable contributions to the movement for greater civil, political, and human rights in China and serve as sustenance and inspiration to present and future rights activists in China and in every nation.

While I decided, after consultation with my colleagues at PEN, to write in support of Liu Xiaobo’s nomination some time ago, I am delighted to see that a number of leading intellectuals from other countries, including some eminent Nobel Laureates, have done so already.

I am attaching a few materials that I hope will prove helpful in evaluating this nomination: letters on Liu’s behalf from PEN American Center to President Obama and President Hu Jintao, and a letter in support of this nomination endorsed by some of my most eminent colleagues in the United States. I hope these are helpful. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to commend Liu Xiaobo to you, and I look forward, as always, to your decision.



Kwame Anthony Appiah


I Have No Enemies

Read 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo's final statement, issued just two days before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Christmas Day, 2009.

The following statement was originally published by the Hong Kong-based NGO Human Rights in China, based on a translation by J. Latourelle, and is reprinted here with permission. The original Chinese text is here.

December 23, 2009

In the course of my life, for more than half a century, June 1989 was the major turning point. Up to that point, I was a member of the first class to enter university when college entrance examinations were reinstated following the Cultural Revolution (Class of ’77). From BA to MA and on to PhD, my academic career was all smooth sailing. Upon receiving my degrees, I stayed on to teach at Beijing Normal University. As a teacher, I was well received by the students. At the same time, I was a public intellectual, writing articles and books that created quite a stir during the 1980s, frequently receiving invitations to give talks around the country, and going abroad as a visiting scholar upon invitation from Europe and America. What I demanded of myself was this: whether as a person or as a writer, I would lead a life of honesty, responsibility, and dignity. After that, because I had returned from the U.S. to take part in the 1989 Movement, I was thrown into prison for “the crime of counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” I also lost my beloved lectern and could no longer publish essays or give talks in China. Merely for publishing different political views and taking part in a peaceful democracy movement, a teacher lost his lectern, a writer lost his right to publish, and a public intellectual lost the opportunity to give talks publicly. This is a tragedy, both for me personally and for a China that has already seen thirty years of Reform and Opening Up.

When I think about it, my most dramatic experiences after June Fourth have been, surprisingly, associated with courts: My two opportunities to address the public have both been provided by trial sessions at the Beijing Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, once in January 1991, and again today. Although the crimes I have been charged with on the two occasions are different in name, their real substance is basically the same—both are speech crimes.

Twenty years have passed, but the ghosts of June Fourth have not yet been laid to rest. Upon release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, I, who had been led onto the path of political dissent by the psychological chains of June Fourth, lost the right to speak publicly in my own country and could only speak through the foreign media. Because of this, I was subjected to year-round monitoring, kept under residential surveillance (May 1995 to January 1996) and sent to Reeducation-Through-Labor (October 1996 to October 1999). And now I have been once again shoved into the dock by the enemy mentality of the regime. But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my “June Second Hunger Strike Declaration” twenty years ago—I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.

Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation’s development and social change, to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.

Everyone knows that it was Reform and Opening Up that brought about our country’s development and social change. In my view, Reform and Opening Up began with the abandonment of the “using class struggle as guiding principle” government policy of the Mao era and, in its place, a commitment to economic development and social harmony. The process of abandoning the “philosophy of struggle” was also a process of gradual weakening of the enemy mentality and elimination of the psychology of hatred, and a process of squeezing out the “wolf’s milk” that had seeped into human nature.1 It was this process that provided a relaxed climate, at home and abroad, for Reform and Opening Up, gentle and humane grounds for restoring mutual affection among people and peaceful coexistence among those with different interests and values, thereby providing encouragement in keeping with humanity for the bursting forth of creativity and the restoration of compassion among our countrymen. One could say that relinquishing the “anti-imperialist and anti-revisionist” stance in foreign relations and “class struggle” at home has been the basic premise that has enabled Reform and Opening Up to continue to this very day. The market trend in the economy, the diversification of culture, and the gradual shift in social order toward the rule of law have all benefitted from the weakening of the “enemy mentality.” Even in the political arena, where progress is slowest, the weakening of the enemy mentality has led to an ever-growing tolerance for social pluralism on the part of the regime and substantial decrease in the force of persecution of political dissidents, and the official designation of the 1989 Movement has also been changed from “turmoil and riot” to “political disturbance.” The weakening of the enemy mentality has paved the way for the regime to gradually accept the universality of human rights. In [1997 and] 1998 the Chinese government made a commitment to sign two major United Nations international human rights covenants,2 signaling China’s acceptance of universal human rights standards. In 2004, the National People’s Congress (NPC) amended the Constitution, writing into the Constitution for the first time that “the state respects and guarantees human rights,” signaling that human rights have already become one of the fundamental principles of China’s rule of law. At the same time, the current regime puts forth the ideas of “putting people first” and “creating a harmonious society,” signaling progress in the CPC’s concept of rule.

I have also been able to feel this progress on the macro level through my own personal experience since my arrest.

Although I continue to maintain that I am innocent and that the charges against me are unconstitutional, during the one plus year since I have lost my freedom, I have been locked up at two different locations and gone through four pretrial police interrogators, three prosecutors, and two judges, but in handling my case, they have not been disrespectful, overstepped time limitations, or tried to force a confession. Their manner has been moderate and reasonable; moreover, they have often shown goodwill. On June 23, I was moved from a location where I was kept under residential surveillance to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau’s No. 1 Detention Center, known as “Beikan.” During my six months at Beikan, I saw improvements in prison management.

In 1996, I spent time at the old Beikan (located at Banbuqiao). Compared to the old Beikan of more than a decade ago, the present Beikan is a huge improvement, both in terms of the “hardware”— the facilities—and the “software”—the management. In particular, the humane management pioneered by the new Beikan, based on respect for the rights and integrity of detainees, has brought flexible management to bear on every aspect of the behavior of the correctional staff, and has found expression in the “comforting broadcasts,” Repentance magazine, and music before meals, on waking and at bedtime. This style of management allows detainees to experience a sense of dignity and warmth, and stirs their consciousness in maintaining prison order and opposing the bullies among inmates. Not only has it provided a humane living environment for detainees, it has also greatly improved the environment for their litigation to take place and their state of mind. I’ve had close contact with correctional officer Liu Zheng, who has been in charge of me in my cell, and his respect and care for detainees could be seen in every detail of his work, permeating his every word and deed, and giving one a warm feeling. It was perhaps my good fortune to have gotten to know this sincere, honest, conscientious, and kind correctional officer during my time at Beikan.

It is precisely because of such convictions and personal experience that I firmly believe that China’s political progress will not stop, and I, filled with optimism, look forward to the advent of a future free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme. I also hope that this sort of progress can be reflected in this trial as I await the impartial ruling of the collegial bench—a ruling that will withstand the test of history.

If I may be permitted to say so, the most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.

My dear, with your love I can calmly face my impending trial, having no regrets about the choices I’ve made and optimistically awaiting tomorrow. I look forward to [the day] when my country is a land with freedom of expression, where the speech of every citizen will be treated equally well; where different values, ideas, beliefs, and political views . . . can both compete with each other and peacefully coexist; where both majority and minority views will be equally guaranteed, and where the political views that differ from those currently in power, in particular, will be fully respected and protected; where all political views will spread out under the sun for people to choose from, where every citizen can state political views without fear, and where no one can under any circumstances suffer political persecution for voicing divergent political views. I hope that I will be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech.

Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

In order to exercise the right to freedom of speech conferred by the Constitution, one should fulfill the social responsibility of a Chinese citizen. There is nothing criminal in anything I have done. [But] if charges are brought against me because of this, I have no complaints.

Thank you, everyone.