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August 18, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright August 18, 2009. Used by permission.


News came today that legal scholar Xu Zhiyong was formally arrested last week, though he has not yet been charged, according to his lawyer (see recent China Beat posts on Xu Zhiyong here and here). Xu is one of several detainees whom netizens are seeking to free through a postcard campaign; another is Charter ’08 organizer Liu Xiaobo, who has been in custody since last December. Here are several readings related to Liu, and one on Xu, that have caught our attention:

1. Before Charter ’08, Liu Xiaobo was already well-known as a participant in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. His essay on “That Holy Word, ‘Revolution’” is posted on the website of the Tiananmen documentary Gate of Heavenly Peace. In June 2006, Liu reflected on the 17 years that had passed since the 1989 movement, expressing his dissatisfaction with “China’s Tiananmen Paranoia,” but also speaking of his hopes for the future.

2. In that essay, Liu Xiaobo briefly mentions the changes to China’s activist landscape brought by the internet. This topic is the focus of another 2006 piece by Liu, re-posted last April by the Times (UK), in which he calls the internet “God’s present to China.” While in past years Liu and his colleagues wrote essays by hand, collected petition signatures one-by-one, and bicycled great distances to find fax machines they could safely use, the introduction of new technology has completely changed their work since the late 1990s:

The internet has made it easier to obtain information, contact the outside world and submit articles to overseas media. It is like a super-engine that makes my writing spring out of a well. The internet is an information channel that the Chinese dictators cannot fully censor, allowing people to speak and communicate, and it offers a platform for spontaneous organisation.

3. During the months before last summer’s Olympic Games, quite a bit of attention was focused on the possibility of the Games having a liberalizing effect in China (Der Spiegel ran an interview with Liu on this topic). In the year since the Olympics ended, however, events like the arrests of Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong have led observers to conclude that the Games left no such legacy. “The Olympics were a delightful event with no direct, meaningful impact on altering the way China is run or where it might be heading,” states scholar Russell Leigh Moses in an article run by the Ottawa Citizen.