Liu Xiaobo and 1984

From: Jacqueline and Martin Winter <>
Subject: Liu Xiaobo and 1984

It’s a question asked around the world- what do people in China know, think,
feel (about this)?

My friend Jutta Lietsch, correspondent for several German and Austrian
papers in China, pointed out empty chairs floating around in Chinese
cyberspace on December 10, 2010. Any kind of chair, often pictured without a

At the end of the text below, Orwell’s 1984 comes up, as it often does in
China. There is a scene in the Liu Xiaobo biography I have just
co-translated, where a few friends accompany Liu’s wife Liu Xia as she
visits her husband in prison. They take the whole trip with her up to the
prison gate, where they have to wait for her. As they are approaching the
prison, there is a tall building which serves as a landmark. There is a
number on top of the building, visible from the distance: 1984. It’s an
ordinary building for people who live or work there, but these strangers
immediately want to take photos of each other with the building in the
background. At this point they are noticed by police guards. Their camera
gets confiscated. As they wait for Liu Xia outside the prison walls, the
gate shuts down and they are afraid that Liu Xia won’t come out again.
Eventually she comes out and tells them how Liu Xiaobo is doing, and how she
got reprimanded for photographing around a restricted area.

1984 brings up two other things for me this morning. One is Wang Xiaobo’s
2015. I am pretty sure everyone on this list agrees that this novella should
be required reading for any reporter in China, domestic affairs or foreign
supplies, anything. For reporters anywhere, actually. But how are “we” going
to enforce this? The English edition – Wang in Love and Bondage – is well
accessible and has been reviewed for MCLC. The only German translation that
I am aware of is in a special edition of the Chinese Studies magazine
Orientierungen. The publisher edition global will probably ship it anywhere,
though I’m not sure if they take credit cards. The only French edition of
any work by Wang Xiaobo that I found is out of stock on There is
a Polish Wikipedia entry for Wang Xiaobo, but it doesn’t say whether there
are any Polish editions.

The other thing 1984 brings to mind is Murakami’s 1Q94, which I haven’t read
yet. In his “intelligence” column in the NYT, Roger Cohen recently brought
up an idea from an essay by Murakami. What if there were two realities, A
and B. A is “our” day-to-day reality, and B is the one in which 9/11 never
happened, and no-one “would have heard of Waziristan or renditions”. B would
actually feel more real than A, says Murakami, as related by Cohen. He goes
on and mentions the assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in
1914 as well as the demonstrations in Iran in June 2009, quoting Stalin and
Israeli novelist Amoz Oz. Somewhere in the middle he gets his realities
mixed up and says A is the one without 9/11, but it doesn’t really matter. I
guess you could use 6/4 in Chinese instead of 9/11. Both dates have a
similar watershed quality, although you need to add 1989 to the Chinese one
to be understood by a wider international audience. “We need fiction to
understand the mesmerizing possibilities of reality”, Cohen says.
Murakami’s, or other writer’s fiction, as well as poetry, theatre and a
certain measure of non-fiction, I guess. Actually, you don’t really need to
have read Wang Xiaobo before noticing stories worth writing home about them,
in China or any other place. It helps, but it’s not always necessary. Maybe
you just need to be sufficiently strange, and also a little circumspect, if
you want a good picture.


P.S.: Ba Jin protested against the death sentences for Sacco and Vanzetti in Boston in 1927. Vanzetti wrote back to Ba Jin from prison. Sacco and Vanzetti were connected to violence, and Sacco may have been guilty of the murder he was accused of, although the trial is disputed to this day. But there was an international campaign for their release. I wonder what any of the government spokespeople in China who decry foreign attention to political prisoners in China would answer if he or she was asked if Ba Jin should have respected US sovereignty and refrained from interfering.

Source: South China Morning Post (12/11/10):

Censors ensure activist relatively unknown in mainland circles

Reuters in Beijing
Dec 11, 2010

Liu Xiaobo may be lauded by the international community for his tireless
efforts to promote human rights and democracy in China, but the jailed Nobel
Peace Prize winner’s ideals remain a mystery to many in Beijing.

Ask a person in the street what he or she thinks of Liu, whose award was
formally bestowed in Oslo yesterday, and the first reaction is often: “Who?”

That response is testament to the effectiveness of government efforts to
erase the memory of the bloody crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators
around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, a seminal event in Liu’s

“I think I saw something about that on television, but I’m not sure,” said
businesswoman Ma Junpeng when asked about Liu.

Ma shrugged her shoulders upon being told he had won the prize for his
efforts since 1989 to push for greater political freedom in the nation.
“It’s not rational to reward a man like that,” she said, shivering in the
Beijing cold.

“Everything is different now since the revolt of 1989. People’s ideas have
changed. China has changed. People like Liu are irrelevant.”

China jailed Liu last Christmas Day for 11 years for subversion of state
power and for being the lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for
democratic reform.

Liu, who was earlier jailed for 20 months for taking part in the Tiananmen
Square incident, told his wife, Liu Xia, the Nobel prize was a tribute to
those killed when troops moved in to crush the protests.

Yet far from the tightly controlled state-run media’s goal of erasing  Liu’s
name, they have ensured many are at least aware of him via the government’s
strident denunciations of recognition of a man it calls a criminal and a

“I am Chinese and that’s why I support the Chinese government,” said Beijing
resident Lao Jiang. “It doesn’t matter what the international community
says, he has violated Chinese law and after I heard the news, it really
shocked me.”

But a woman working at a news stand piped up: “Yes, I’ve heard of him. I
think he’s terrific.”

People like Zhang Xianling, however, who lost her son in the Tiananmen
protests, are unperturbed by the apparent lack of interest in or knowledge
of Liu in China today as the economy booms.

“Though some may be blinded by money, people with a sense of justice are the
majority,” she said from the southwestern province of Yunnan , where
authorities took her this week to try to prevent her from talking to

And Liu has managed to prompt reflection for at least a few Beijingers. “We
are living the novel 1984,” complained one Beijing college graduate, who
asked only to be identified by his family name of Li. “George Orwell
probably had no idea that what he wrote would end up being the reality of
China now.”

Orwell’s novel, published in 1949, described life under a totalitarian
government, which put its people under pervasive surveillance to ensure that
they were always controlled by the state.

一条回应 to “Liu Xiaobo and 1984”

  1. Liu Xiaobo biography events « 為世博服務 Says:

    […] to 16, it sold 2500 volumes, according to the publisher. Since then, Bei Ling’s biography of Liu Xiaobo has been reviewed in many newspapers, magazines, on TV and radio stations etc. throughout Germany […]


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