The condition in which Liu Xiaobo, Chinese democracy activist and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, died last Thursday speak volumes of what modern China is and what the modern world risks becoming. Liu, who had been in jail since 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power”, was given medical parole on June 26 after the cancer in his liver became terminal. It might have been the Chinese state that incarcerated him, but he died a prisoner of conscience of the entire modern world. He had learnt of his liver cancer in May, but he was consistently denied permission to travel abroad for treatment. Token protests were raised, but not one state leader in the free world faced up to the Chinese government to let him seek treatment for the fear of angering an important trade/military/strategic partner—meanwhile, China turned his death into a near Kafkaesque tragedy, allowing foreign doctors to examine him only days before he died.
A scholar, writer, poet and social commentator, Liu was instrumental in drafting of a reform manifesto that spoke of direct elections in China and an end to the single-party rule in the country. Liu had dedicated his life to peaceful political change—during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, he negotiated the retreat of student demonstrators as thousands of armed personnel of China’s People’s Liberation Army stood by to strike. China’s repression of pro-democracy activism has only gotten more trenchant as it has risen to become a world superpower. The present dispensation has been known for its pronounced dislike of internal and international criticism over human rights and democracy. Even in Liu’s death, its disdain for him has been unsparing—answering questions regarding his death, the state observed, “Liu is a prisoner who was sentenced to imprisonment in accordance with Chinese law… Conferring the (Nobel Peace) prize to such a person goes against the purposes of this award. It’s a blasphemy of the peace prize.” If Liu’s forlorn death is to stand in for anything, it must for the desecration of democratic values.