Wednesday, 16 December 2009
A Little Freedom is a Dangerous Thing
China has undergone some remarkable changes since the death of Mao, one of the last century’s most repellent tyrants. Along with India and, perhaps, Brazil, it is set to be the great economic powerhouse of our time. So much has changed and yet so much remains the same.
This is a country that cannot escape past inferiorities and insults, reflected very much in a contemporary assertiveness that betokens insecurity and lack of ease. It is governed, moreover, by a party that has no reason for being their other than to perpetuate itself. Pleased by success, pleased by the advance of the nation, the Communist Party is also afraid, afraid that the centre will not hold and that mere anarchy will be loosed upon their world. It is afraid, in other words, that it will become historically irrelevant. It reacts by suppressing any moves to free speech; it reacts by suppressing dissent; it reacts by persecuting Liu Xiaobo.
Liu, a fifty-three year old literary critic and former academic, is one of China’s leading dissidents, the inspiration behind Charter 08, presently accused of subverting state power by posting articles on the internet calling for democratic reform and greater civil liberties in his native land. He was effectively abducted by the police from his home a year ago, formal arrest only following six months later, though it made no practical difference to his status.
He was recently charged with inciting subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years imprisonment. Liu is no stranger to the Chinese penal system, spending almost two years in ‘re-education’ camps in the early 1990s for his part in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Representations have been lodged on his behalf at the highest levels but the Chinese government has ignored them all in its acute sensitivity over any move to question its monopoly on power.
As individuals there is little we can do about this, about the repression still exercised by the likes of the tyrannical and morally repugnant Chinese Communist Party. But in our rush to do business with these people, to buy their produce, it’s as well to remember exactly what they are and what they represent, just as bad in every way, just as dangerous in a different way, as the clerical fascists in Iran. I never knowingly buy anything made in China, a rather pointless exercise, I suppose, but one that surely avoids corruption by association.