Death of a hero: Liu Xiaobo 1955-2017

Guaranteed to get this post/blog banned in China, alas, when in fact the Chinese should have been proud of this son, and certainly should have listened to him.

Interesting to see that SBS News devoted twelve minutes to the story. It was the lead item last night, unlike on ABC.

Liu Xiaobo was born into one of China’s first generations to be raised after the country’s Cultural Revolution. Receiving a PhD in literature, he was branded a ‘black horse’ early in his academic career.

“He was notorious for tipping sacred cows,” friend Australia author Linda Jaivin told SBS World News. Ms Jaivin lived in Beijing in the 1980s and moved in the same literary circles as Mr Liu. “He was very intellectual, very confident. He would attack people that everybody thought were the greatest writers and the greatest poets. He was quite controversial in his opinions and very good fun also,” Ms Jaivin said.

Mr Liu’s provocative writing would soon turn to impassioned protest.

Protesting at Tiananmen Square

When the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests broke out Liu was a visiting scholar at America’s Colombia University.

He rushed home to support the students, becoming a key protest figure. He gave rousing speeches, and famously joined a hunger strike.

Most significantly he is credited with saving many lives by helping to negotiate peaceful retreat for students out of the square….

During the days following the massacre Mr Liu, along with other activist friends, took refuge in Australian diplomat Nicholas Jose’s Beijing apartment.

When the area was evacuated Mr Jose offered Mr Liu refuge at the Australian embassy. “He could have come inside the gates to safety, he would have been in the jurisdiction of the Australian embassy if he did that. But he decided no, he wanted to meet his friends and take his chance,” he told SBS World News.

Now a writer and professor at Adelaide University, Mr Jose says that moment is the most precious memory of his friend.

“I will always remember that handshake outside the embassy that night. He borrowed my clothes. He was wearing my jeans and my jacket, and off he went.”

Mr Jose and Ms Jaivin were horrified to learn Mr Liu was apprehended in the street by an unmarked van just hours later.

He spent 18 months in jail, the first of many stints in detention. But despite heavy surveillance and censorship Liu Xiaobo continued to publish abroad, unwavering in his condemnation of China’s lack of freedom..

While free he often travelled, lecturing in Australia in 1993. But Mr Liu never sought asylum from China.

“He was passionate about China and its future. I think he knew that’s where his destiny was,” Mr Jose said.

Through Nicholas Jose I met Liu Xiaobo in 1993 in Sydney. See also Nicholas Jose – Fiction and Non-fiction (2005) and Linda Jaivin on Hou Dejian (2016) which includes links to several other past posts of mine. See also Linda Jaivan A Nobel Affair.

One post is worth reposting as it summarises the ideas that got Liu Xiaobo into trouble, but which China really needs to hear:

Dr. LIU Xiaobo is a renowned Chinese literary critic, dissident writer and human rights activist based in Beijing, as well as the Honorary President of the ICPC (Independent Chinese PEN Centre). On 8 December 2008, Dr. Liu was taken into the Police custody and now serves a sentence of 11 years for what he wrote…

What did he write?

Many things, but his participation in the Charter of Human Rights in China (Charter 08) has been the cause both of his Nobel Prize and his imprisonment.

II. Our Fundamental Concepts 
At this historical juncture of the future destiny of China, it is necessary to rethink the last 100 years of modernization and reaffirm the following concepts:
Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, and to demonstrate are all the concrete realizations of freedom. If freedom is not flourishing, then there is no modern civilization of which to speak.
Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by the state, but are rights that each person is born with and enjoys. To ensure/guarantee human rights must be the foundation of the first objective of government and lawful public authority, and is also the inherent demand of “putting people first.” The past political calamities of China are all closely related to the disregard of human rights by the ruling authorities.
Equality: Each individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic situation, ethnic group, skin color, religion, or political belief, is equal in human dignity and freedom. The principle of equality before the law and a citizen’s society must be implemented; the principle of equality of economic, cultural, and political rights must be implemented.
Republicanism: Republicanism is “governing together; living peacefully together,” □ that is, the decentralization of power and balancing of interests, that is comprised of diverse interests, different social groups, pluralistic culture and groups seeking religious belief, on the foundation of equal participation, peaceful competition, public discussion, and peaceful handling of public affairs.
Democracy: The most basic meaning is that sovereignty resides in the people and the people elect government. Democracy has the following basic characteristics: (1) the legitimacy of government comes from the people, the source of government power is the people; (2) government must be chosen by the people; (3) citizens enjoy the right to vote, important civil servants and officials of all levels should be produced through elections at fixed times; (4) the decisions of the majority must be respected while protecting the basic rights of the minority. In a word, democracy will become the modern tool for making government one “from the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of protecting basic constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms and rights of citizens through law and a rule of law, delimiting the boundaries of government power and actions, and providing corresponding systemic capacity.
In China, the era of imperial power has long passed and will not return; in the world, authoritarian systems are approaching the dusk of their endings. The only fundamental way out for China: citizens should become the true masters of the nation, throw off the consciousness of reliance on a wise ruler or honest and upright official, make widely public civic consciousness of the centrality of rights and the responsibility of participation, and practice freedom, democracy, and respect for law.
III. Our basic standpoint 
In line with a responsible and constructive citizens’ spirit towards the country’s political system, civil rights and various aspects of social development, we put forward the following specific standpoints:

  1. Amend the Constitution: Based on the aforementioned values and concepts, amend the Constitution, abolishing the provisions in the current Constitution that are not in conformity with the principle that sovereignty resides in the people so that the Constitution can truly become a document for guaranteeing human rights and [appropriate use of] public power. The Constitution should be the implementable supreme law that any individual, group or party shall not violate, and lay the legal foundation for the democratization of China.
  2. Separation and balance of power: A modern government that separates, checks and keeps balance among powers guarantees the separation of legislative, judicial, and administrative power. The principle of governing by laws and being a responsible Government shall be established. Over-expansion of executive power shall be prevented; the Government shall be responsible to the taxpayers; the separation, checking and keeping balance of powers between the central and local governments shall be set up; the central power authority shall be clearly defined and mandated by the Constitution, and the local governments shall be fully autonomous.
  3. Democratize the lawmaking process: All levels of the legislative bodies shall be directly elected. Maintain the principles of fairness and justice in making law, and democratize the lawmaking process.
  4. Independence of the judiciary: The judiciary shall be nonpartisan, free from any interference. Ensure judicial independence, and guarantee judicial fairness. Establish a Constitutional Court and a system of judicial review; maintain the authority of the Constitution. Abolish as soon as possible the Party’s Committees of Political and Legislative affairs at all levels that seriously endanger the country’s rule of law. Avoid using public tools for private objectives.
  5. Public institutions should be used for the public: Realize the nationalization of the armed forces. The military shall be loyal to the Constitution and to the country. The political party organizations in the armed forces should be withdrawn. The level of military professionalism should be raised. All civil servants including the police shall remain politically neutral. Discrimination in employment of civil servants based on party preference should be eliminated and equal employment without any party preference should be adopted.
  6. Protect human rights: Protection of human rights should be effectively implemented and human dignity should be safeguarded. A Commission on Human Rights shall be established that is responsible to the highest level of authority representing public opinion. [This Commission] will prevent government abuse of public power and violation of human rights, and especially protect the personal freedom of citizens. All persons should be be free from unlawful arrest, detention, summons, interrogation, and punishment. The system of Reeducation-Through-Labor should be abolished.
  7. Election of public officials: The democratic electoral system should be fully implemented, with the realization of the equal voting right of one person one vote. Direct election of all levels of administrative heads should be institutionalized step by step. Free competition in the elections on a regular basis and citizen participation in the election of public officials are inalienable basic human rights.
  8. Urban and rural equality: The current urban-rural household registration system should be repealed. The equal rights for all citizens guaranteed by the Constitution should be implemented. The freedom of movement for citizens should be protected.
  9. Freedom of association: Citizens’ right to freedom of association shall be safeguarded. The current system for registration and examination before approval for civil society organizations should be changed to a registration and recording system. The ban on freely organizing political parties should be lifted. All activities of parties should be regulated by the Constitution and law. One-party monopolization of ruling privileges should be abolished. The principle of freedom of activities of political parties and fair competition should be established. The normalization of party politics and a rule by law should be realized.
  10. Freedom of assembly: Peaceful assembly, protest, demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They should not be subject to unlawful interference and unconstitutional restrictions by the ruling party and the government.
  11. Freedom of expression: The freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom should be implemented. Citizens’ right to know and to monitor supervise should be protected. A press and publication law should be promulgated. The ban on freely publishing newspapers should be lifted. The current provision of “inciting subversion of state power” in the Criminal Law should be repealed and criminal punishment for speech should be eliminated.
  12. Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion and freedom of belief should be protected. Religion and politics should be separated. Religious activities should be free from government interference. All administrative regulations, administrative rules and local regulations and rules that restrict or deprive citizens’ freedom of religion should be reviewed and repealed. Management of religious activities by administrative legislature should be prohibited. The current prior approval system in which religious groups (including places of worship) must be registered before obtaining legal status should be abolished, and instead, a new record-keeping system for religious groups and their worship places should replace the current one.
  13. Citizen Education: Abolish political education and examinations that are deeply ideological and serve one-party rule. Promote citizen education that encompasses universal values and civil rights, establishes civil consciousness, and promotes the civil virtue of serving society.
  14. Property Protection: Establish and protect private property rights, implement a free and open market economy, protect the freedom of entrepreneurship, and eliminate administrative monopoly; set up a state-owned property management committee that is responsible to the highest legislative agency, initiate property rights reforms legally and orderly, make clear the property rights of owners and obligors, initiate a new land movement, advance land privatization, and strictly protect citizens’, in particular, farmers’, land rights.
  15. Fiscal Reforms: Firmly establish democracy in finance and protect taxpayers’ rights. Build a public finance system and operational mechanisms in which powers and obligations are clear, and create a reasonable and effective division of power in finance among all levels of government; implement major reforms in the tax system to reduce the tax rate, simplify the tax system, and achieve tax equity. The administrative departments should not be allowed to increase tax or create new tax arbitrarily without a social public choice and resolutions of the legislative agencies. Pass reforms on property rights, introduce diverse market subjects and competition mechanisms, lower the market-entry threshold in banking, and create conditions for the development of privately-owned banking to energize the financial system.
  16. Social Security: Build a social security system that covers all of the citizens, and provide them with fundamental protections for education, medical care, elderly care and employment.
  17. Environmental Protection: Protect the ecological environment, promote sustainable development, and take up responsibility to future generations and humanity; enforce the respective responsibilities of the state and government officials of all levels; perform the function of participation and supervision by civil organizations on environmental protection.
  18. Federal Republic: Participate in and maintain regional peace and development with an equal and fair attitude, and create an image of a responsible great country. Protect the free systems of Hong Kong and Macao. Under the precondition of freedom and democracy, seek a settlement resolution on cross-strait relations by way of equal negotiation and cooperative interaction. Explore possible ways and an institutional design to promote the mutual prospects of all ethnicities with great wisdom, and to establish China’s federal republic under the structure of democracy and constitutionalism.
  19. Transitional Justice: Rehabilitate the reputation of and give state compensation to the victims who suffered political persecution during past political movements as well as their families; release all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and people who are convicted because of their beliefs; establish a truth commission to restore historical truth, to pursue accountability and to fulfill justice; seek a settlement of the society on this foundation.

Jonathan Littell’s Nazi Oresteia

Wikipedia notes:

The Kindly Ones (French: Les Bienveillantes) is a historical fiction novel written in French by American-born author Jonathan Littell. The book is narrated by its fictional protagonist Maximilien Aue, a former SS officer of French and German ancestry who helped to carry out the Holocaust and was present during several major events of World War II.

The 983-page book became a bestseller in France and was widely discussed in newspapers, magazines, academic journals, books and seminars. It was also awarded two of the most prestigious French literary awards, the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie françaiseand the Prix Goncourt in 2006, and has been translated into several languages.

I borrowed The Kindly Ones from Wollongong Library on Wednesday and am now well into it. I am finding it horrific but fascinating. Littell, born in New York, is a bi-lingual (English / French) writer living in Barcelona. He is a dual citizen of the United States and France and is of Jewish background.  One reviewer on Goodreads wrote: “This is a hard book to review. It is like walking out of a David Lynch movie and feeling brain raped by the artist. How exactly to you attempt to explore the depths of Nazi Germany without feeling dark, abused, and sick afterwards?” I note there also that more recently Littell has written Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising. One reader says:

Must read, must read, everything’s a must read these days. But this is a ‘must read’ that it seems like nobody has read. To his credit, Littell mostly contains his righteous anger on that account, in the prologue and epilogue he added in 2012, when it was already too late. Now it’s even later than too late, and Assadist propaganda has thoroughly overtaken the discourse, leaving firsthand accounts such as this and those of revolutionaries and refugees for all intents and purposes useless…

So divided are readers! On Goodreads reviews of The Kindly Ones range from five stars to one! I am rather of the 4-5 star persuasion. See also opinions gathered at this dedicated blog, a review by Andrew Hussey, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of London Institute in Paris, another by David Gates in the New York Times, and another by historian Samuel Moyn in The Nation.

 Jonathan Littell’s novel The Kindly Ones took France by storm in the fall of 2006, when it won the Prix Goncourt–the nation’s most prestigious literary prize–and sold many hundreds of thousands of copies. Commercial success fed the heat of scandal, which followed the book to Germany in 2008, vaulting it to the top of the bestseller list. The furor revolved around nothing less than the governing conceit of Littell’s thousand-page roman-fleuve: the novel pretends to be the memoir of a Nazi SS officer who witnessed the different stages of the Holocaust as it was being perpetrated. The dispute over the book was another round in the cycle of Holocaust controversies that have marked time since the end of World War II with the regularity of a metronome. Tempestuous quarrels may have raised public consciousness about the Holocaust; but even so, subsequent battles over its representation can feel no less unseemly. “Silence over the murder, scandal over the books,” George Steiner worried in response to one of the first such imbroglios, forty years before Littell’s intentionally sickening but unquestionably brilliant success.

Finally, from HaaretzThe Executioner’s Song.

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Littell smiled. The discussion that ensued, in which Littell spoke in French – he does not speak German – was held with a panel of two historians and a researcher of anti-Semitism. Littell rejected comparisons with Dostoevsky or Joyce. He shrugged his shoulders at questions about why his book concentrates so heavily on sex and homosexual fantasies, choosing to speak instead about historical theories and the work of Holocaust scholars. Clearly, Littell does not like to have interpretations foisted on his book or to talk about the personal motives that led him to write it over the course of a Moscow winter, by hand, in a single draft.

Neil’s Family Specials — a reminder

I spent most of May setting up a sequence of posts about the Whitfields and Christisons, my paternal and maternal lineages. If you go to Neil’s Family Specials you will be taken back to 1815 and Ireland and Scotland. Keep scrolling and the posts will take the story from convict days here in NSW through the 19th century, World War 1 and finishing in the late 1920s on the south coast of NSW where my mother and father eventually met.

Do look. I have enjoyed creating the resource, primarily for family connections but family history so often is a good way into history more generally.

Here is a letter from my great-grandmother, Sophia Jane Christison, on the occasion of the death of my grandfather, Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield in 1948. You can read more about both as well as about other ancestors in that family history sequence.

19481948a

Great actor plays great POTUS, while real one…

Among my library borrowings lately had been Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis magnificent in the title role and Sally Field no less excellent as Mary Todd Lincoln. Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner wrote the script, paring down an initial 500 pages to home in on the final four months of Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts in January 1865 to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives.

lincoln-465

Naturally one wonders about the historical accuracy of the movie. It turns out that in many respects it is very accurate: see Fact-Checking ‘Lincoln’: Lincoln’s Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren’t.

Lincoln is not a perfect film, but it is an important film. Spielberg has positioned his work as something that should unite a divided nation in the aftermath of the 2012 election, but, paradoxically, his story points to a different conclusion. Sean Wilentz, one of those rare historians who moves seamlessly between the academy and the public sphere, noted that “Abraham Lincoln was, first and foremost, a politician.” Lincoln probably didn’t bribe congressmen to pass the 13th Amendment, but he instructed others to do so. He forged a deep connection with soldiers and their families, and won 78 percent of the soldier vote in 1864 because of it. He knew the power of his office, and used it.

See also David Denby in The New Yorker.

Steven Spielberg began by hiring the best playwright in the country. According to the press notes for the film, Tony Kushner, immersing himself in the politics and language of the period, delivered a five-hundred page script, which was unfilmable except as a TV mini-series. At some point, when Kushner was in his car, Spielberg called, and said something like, “The best part of your script is the eighty pages devoted to passing the Thirteenth Amendment. Let’s make the whole movie about that.”

I loved it. Meanwhile in the real world we have a much less believable script playing out. Here he is paying attention at the G7:

trump-1495893159-compressed

And now we have him lining up with Syria and Nicaragua to hand a propaanda gift to China: China tells Donald Trump there is an ‘international responsibility’ to act over climate change. Not that Trump’s decision is really a surprise. See Every Insane Thing Donald Trump Has Said About Global Warming.

Tell you what though: Daniel Day-Lewis was a much more convincing POTUS!

Family history project finished!

For the past month I have been compiling a series of posts, mainly from 2015 but with quite a few interpolations, tracing aspects of the journeys of my Whitfield ancestors from Ireland and my Christison ancestors from Scotland. You can begin simply by going to Neil’s Family Specials and Memory Hole and scrolling down for as long as you like!

Sydney was a tad different c.1815:

C 359 Joseph Lycett's painting of Natives and the North Shore of Sydney Harbour, courtesy of Mitchell Library.lightbox

1815