Liu Xiaobo, of blessed memory, was a Chinese critic, human right activist, professor, and Noble laureate famed for fighting against China’s one-party rule and campaigning for democratic reforms in the country’s political system.
Toeing the Mahatma Gandhi’s revolutionary style of civil disobedience, the freedom fighter and human rights activist campaigned for ‘change’ and wanted it as peacefully as possible.
Liu died a hero, not only in China but across the world. He would forever be remembered as a principled champion who fought with his blood to defend, uphold, and make China a better place.
Liu Xiaobo’s Biography
Liu Xiaobo was born in Changchun, a northeastern Chinese province bordering North Korea and Russia, to Liu Ling (father) and Zhang Suqin (mother) on December 28, 1955.
His father (born in 1931 in Huaide County, Jilin) was a professor of Chinese at Northeast Normal University and a loyalist to the Communist Party while his mother did a stint in the Northeast Normal University Nursery School.
The third-born in a family of five boys, Liu’s father lost his battle with a liver disease in September 2011, leaving behind his wife and five sons.
Liu and his brothers were not fazed by their father’s shocking death as they went on to attain greater heights in China in their respective fields of interest.
His eldest brother Liu Xiaoguang, now retired, was a Dalian import and export clothing company manager, retired. Liu Xiaohui, Xiaobo’s second brother, studied history at Northeast Normal University and now works as a deputy director at the Museum of Jilin Province.
His immediate younger brother, Liu Xiaoxuan (born in 1957) is a professor of Energy and Materials at Guangdong University of Technology while his youngest brother, Liu Xiaodong died in the early 1990s of heart disease.
Liu Xiaobo began his educational career in 1977 when he gained admission to study Chinese Literature at Jilin University. He graduated with a BA in literature in 1982.
The freedom fighter later made it to Beijing Normal University where he was admitted to the Department of Chinese Literature as a research student. Upon the completion of his studies, he was awarded an MA in literature and was employed as a lecturer thereafter.
Liu enrolled for his doctoral study program in 1986 when he would publish his literary critiques in various magazines. As a result of his radical opinions and criticism, he was dubbed the dark horse, the “Liu Xiaobo Shock” or the “Liu Xiaobo Phenomenon” by Chinese intellectuals.
He rounded off his PhD programme in June 1988 and was later employed as a lecturer in the same university. He later became a visiting scholar at several universities, including Columbia University, the University of Oslo, and the University of Hawaii in the same year.
Liu’s love for literature dates back to his time at Jilin University where he met some of his schoolmates who were also good in literature. He ended up establishing a poetry group known as “The Innocent Hearts” (Chi Zi Xin) with six of them.
He wrote his first book, Criticism of the Choice: Dialogues with Li Zehou, in 1987. His doctoral thesis: Aesthetic and Human Freedom, was published as his second book while his third book: The Fog of Metaphysics, a comprehensive review of Western philosophies, was published in 1989.
He went to publish two more books – The Future of Free China Exists in Civil Society, and – in January 2005 in the United States., This was after the death of former Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, who had shown sympathy towards the student demonstrations in 1989.
Liu Xiaobo married twice. His first marriage was to Tao Li in 1984. He welcomed a son named Liu Tao with Li in 1985, divorcing after some years. Tao and his son reportedly immigrated to the United States after the separation.
The iconic freedom fighter later got married to Liu Xia in 1996 while he was still imprisoned in the labour camp. His union with Xia did not produce any child until the time of his death.
Liu’s second wife, Xia, was placed under house arrest few weeks before his death. She was the only one who was permitted to visit him in prison.
All through his life, brilliant Chinese writer and critic Liu Xiaobo dedicated his talent to the fight for democracy and human right despite China being popular for its non-democratic and conservative governing leadership style.
In his younger days, Liu acted as an advocate for democracy and human rights in China. He also took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that ended with the deaths of many.
Although he arrived late at the scene of the protests, he saved the lives of many students by helping them leave the square. It was after the protest that most of his works were banned.
In 2009, Liu was incarcerated for his pro-democratic Charter 08 Manifesto, although that was not the first time he was jailed by the Chinese government.
Human rights activist Xiaobo was arrested and imprisoned for the first time in 1989 and was released in 1991. He was imprisoned the second time from 1995 to 1996 for participating in a democracy and human rights movement. From 1996 to 1999, he was charged and jailed for “disturbing the social order”.
The final time was on June 23, 2009. He was arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. Six months later, he was charged to court and sentenced to eleven years imprisonment.
Death and Funeral
Chinese literary icon Liu Xiaobo passed away on July 13, 2017, in Shenyang’s First Hospital of China Medical University after losing his battle with liver cancer.
Liu’s health challenge first made headlines on 26 June 2017, when he was granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in late May 2017.
It was later revealed that the Chinese icon was at the late stage of liver cancer; a condition blamed on the government for neglecting his medical needs while in detention.
He was denied access to travel abroad for medical treatment and later died of multiple organ failures. His death has received tributes from world leaders and international human right organizations and even made him more famous than he was while alive (as at the time he was awarded the Noble Laureate award, about 85% of Chinese students did not even know about him).
His remains were cremated and his ashes scattered at into the sea in the early morning of July 15, 2017. Liu’s funeral was attended by his widow, his brother-in-law, and two of his brothers, as well as their wives.
Awards and Honours
In absentia, Liu Xiaobo was awarded a Noble Peace Prize in 2010. This made him the third person to have received the Peace prize award while in prison.
He was also the second winner to be denied the right to be represented at the awards, and the second to die in custody. Liu was the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China.
In 2004, he was awarded the Foundation de France Prize as a defender of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.
Liu Xiaobo may have died physically, but his legacies remain evergreen in China and beyond. With international reactions towards his death, it is speculated that his legacy may be stronger than his lifetime struggle for democracy in China.
Quick Facts About Liu Xiaobo
- He was the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in state custody since May 4, 1935, when German Nobel Peace Prize recipient Carl von Ossietzky died of tuberculosis in a Berlin-Pankow hospital while in police custody.
- Liu reportedly ex-communicated his eldest brother, Liu Xiaoguan, after June 4 protest, calling him a “petty bureaucrat of the Communist Party”.
- Xiaobo was sometimes referred to as China’s Nelson Mandela.
- The sea burial of his remains was not totally welcomed, especially by his supporters who accused the government of trying to wipe out his legacies.