Liu Xiaobo and Ding Zilin

The Nobel Peace Prize was recently awarded to Liu Xiaobo, 55, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in China. His “crime” was to have circulated a petition calling for democratization. Actually, China’s top leaders themselves have called for democratization. The difference is that they know it is only hot air; Liu’s crime was to take it seriously.

In the 1950s, Mao Zedong famously said, “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” meaning that people should express their opinions openly. Thousands accepted this invitation to criticize the regime. Guess what happened to them.

My local newspaper published an op-ed saying the prize to Liu is actually a bad thing. The argument was that it’s just an empty charade that makes us feel good while doing absolutely nothing to change things in China. Some have even said it makes things harder for Chinese human rights advocates.

Liu’s wife had said she hoped to travel to Stockholm to collect the prize for him. That’s doubtful as the Chinese have effectively put her under house arrest. And now she alerts us that Ding Zilin seems to have been “disappeared.” Ding (her picture at left) is an elderly woman who has waged a determined lonely battle for recognition of what happened in Tienanmen Square in 1989. Her courage in doing so cannot be overstated, because Tienanmen is something the Orwellian Chinese regime wants expunged from history.

But I disagree with that mentioned op-ed. Our human values are important, and expressing those values is part of our humanity. Liu’s Nobel award is such an expression. Maybe gestures like that won’t budge the Chinese regime; but complicity with that regime by ignoring these issues, as it would like, is surely not the way to go either. In fact, you may not have noticed, but there is a global ideological battle under way, almost mirroring the Cold War. Then, it was Freedom vs. Communism; today it’s Freedom vs. Authoritarianism. The Chinese model is not Communism, but economic capitalism combined with political repression. And a lot of people believe this works better than our system with all its messy democratic dysfunctionality. They point to China’s economic growth rates far outstripping ours.

I don’t buy it. I don’t believe China’s people will achieve Western material standards of living without insisting on Western human rights. Nor should they. Our democratic system indeed has a lot of problems, but they are ultimately a consequence of government being accountable to the people; and when government is not accountable, as in China, the problems are deeper. (Including an endemic, corrosive culture of corruption.)

And the fact remains that, overall, democratic countries still have higher living standards than authoritarian ones. America’s government is a drag on its economy, but not enough to squelch the creative economic dynamism of a free people, which ultimately a repressive society cannot match. Moreover, even if you actually believe that tyranny works better in producing economic rewards, Man does not live by bread alone. Freedom is worth paying a price for. Human beings have proven they are willing to make sacrifices to achieve freedom.

Liu Xiaobo and Ding Zilin are monuments to that proposition.

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3 Responses to “Liu Xiaobo and Ding Zilin”

  1. Rajesh Says:

    What a great piece!

    I saw some of your posts and Iam really pleased to see optimism and fairness.

    You are absolutely right about China. At the same breadth – as an Indian, seeing where China is compared to India and many other developing countries – I am also sometimes lead to a thought that a bout of dictatorship will lead to removal of poverty and instill some discipline, which India totally lacks.

    Being an absolute democrat and also a total believer in free market and not carrying any baggages whatsoever, the thought that something similar to Chinese dictatorship might help India come to me once in a while.

    I would like to know your thoughts on this.

    FSR RESPONSE: Thanks, Rajesh. Regarding your wish for some dictatorship in India, an old proverb says “be careful what you wish for.” Yes, India is a very messy country, governmentally, and putting up with the vestiges of the old “License Raj” must be maddening. But it is my view that in a basically free society, government can be a hindrance but ultimately will not hold people back. You can look at next-door Pakistan which has gone back and forth, but I don’t think its “bouts of dictatorship” have done the country any good.
    I note The Economist a week or two ago had a cover story about why India will overtake China. (I haven’t had time to read it yet.)

  2. Liu Xiaobo and Moral Relativism « The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] Peace Prize Winner who remains imprisoned in China for his advocacy of democracy and human rights. (Click here for my own blog essay about […]

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