China’s Public Intellectuals Speak out on Liu Xiaobo

ChinaIntellectual Cui Weiping, a social critic and a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, has conducted some interviews with several famous public intellectuals in China to find out their views on the recent jail sentence of Liu Xiaobo. Public intellectuals, when used in the study of modern China, refer to a group of scholars, writers, activists and media workers who “guide China’s political and social development and have served as voices of introspection, reform, and in some cases dissent against the excesses of China’s leaders”. These public intellectuals do not all share the same ideology and may have different political affiliations. However, this time there seems to be a consensus among them that (1) Liu Xiaobo’s conviction constitutes some kind of Wenzi Yu (文字狱 means jail sentences for publishing articles on topics deem to be politically incorrect); and (2) it is both legally and morally unacceptable to punish a person for exercising his freedom of speech.

Professor Cui first published the interviews at Twitter. A blogger named Shifeike then collated the tweets into a blog post. I am now selectively translating some tweets into English. Together with my translation is a brief description for each interviewee:


Xu Youyu is a philosopher, proponent of Chinese liberalism and a Charter 08 signatory. He says: “Liu Xiaobo is convicted on charges in relation to Charter 08. Charter 08 is written in the spirit of the United Nation’s Human Rights Declaration. Therefore, Liu’s conviction constitutes a challenge to the idea of civilisation as commonly accepted by humanities. It threatens the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in China’s constitution. Most importantly, it goes against the conscience, not only of Chinese citizens, but also of mankind.”


Qin Hui is a professor of history at Tsinghua University and a defender of a left-liberal position. He says: “It is very sad to see that in this day and age people are still being punished for their words. I am not a Charter 08 signatory. But I defend to death other people’s right to express their views, even though I may disagree with what they say. I therefore strongly oppose the conviction of Liu Xiaobo because of his writings.”

徐贲的看法:一个中国公民以宪法给他的 权利,善意地对国家政治表达自己的看法,却受到如此严厉的惩罚,感到难以置信。中国是一个签署了国际人权公约的国家,中国要在国际上崛起,必须建立良好的 言行一致的信誉。从许多国家对此事的报道来看,这是一件使中国信誉受到损害的事情。(关于刘晓波)

Xu Ben is a professor of English. He says: “(With regards to Liu Xiaobo,) it is hard to believe that a Chinese citizen will be so severely punished for exercising his constitutional right to express his views. China is a signatory to the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights. If China wants its rise in power to be recognised internationally, she must establish a reputation as a nation that practises what she preaches. It is not hard to tell from news reports worldwide that the conviction has damaged China’s reputation.”


Yuan Weishi is a historian and a professor of philosophy at Sun Yat Sen University. He says: “This is the 21st century. How can one still be punished for his words? This is a violation of civil rights and a desecration of civilisation. It is, once again, an utter disgrace for China. Liu Xiaobo, who has been branded a criminal by the authorities, is now a hero in the eyes of the public. How can the ruling regime bridge such an enormous gap it has created with the general public?”


Zhang Yihe is a historian and a writer whose books are banned in China because of her right-wing ideology. She says: “In 1968, I was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on counter-revolutionary charges. 41 years on, in 2009, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment on charges of inciting subversion. Both of us have been incriminated for speaking out. This makes me wonder: how far has our political system been improved? Has our society made any progress?”


Yue Daiyun is a writer, a poet and a professor of literature at Peking University. She says: “1. I have read Charter 08. In my opinion, it expresses a hope for improvements and does not constitute subversion of state power; 2. Charter 08 is a discussion paper. It is against the constitution to convict someone for conducting a discussion. It will be difficult to persuade the public to accept the verdict; 3. If no one is allowed to speak frankly, how can there be improvements in our country?”


Qian Liqun is a writer and a professor of Chinese literature at Peking University. He is well-known for his research on Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren. He says: “I don’t necessarily agree with what Liu Xiaobo said or what he did. But that’s beside the point. Liu Xiaobo is a peaceful and rational critic. It is an admission of weakness to send someone like him to jail. I find this difficult to accept …”


Ding Dong is a historian, a writer and a literary critic. He says: “Since antiquity many essays have landed their authors in jail. So you may well add another 11 years to the toll. The pursuit for freedom has never ceased and will continue, beyond 08. – A Sage has been born in China.”


Mo Yan is one of the best known contemporary Chinese writers for the English-speaking world. His seminal works such as Red Sorghum and the Wine Republic, among others, have been translated into many different languages. He says: “I don’t quite understand the situation and so I don’t want to talk about it. I have guests at home and we are having a conversation.” (The above statement is published with Mo Yan’s permission)


Wang Hui is the chief editor of Dushu magazine, a professor of Chinese studies at Tsinghua University and the leader of the New Left movement. He says: “Thank you for your letter and your phone call. I don’t agree with many of Liu Xiaobo’s points of view. However, I also object to the use of any means to convict people for what they have said. I will continue to monitor how this case will develop and will give my views when I have a better understanding of the situation.”


Tang Jingling is a human rights lawyer and activist. Commenting on the 11-year jail sentence of Liu Xiaobo and the 10-year jail sentence of Guo Quan, he says: “Whenever a free man is imprisoned, every member of his community is held responsible, because all governments, regardless of whether they are good or bad, will need the active support, passive collaboration or silent tolerance of their citizens in order to govern. The imprisonment of a free citizen is made possible if we tolerate or wilfully collaborate with tyranny.”

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12 Responses to China’s Public Intellectuals Speak out on Liu Xiaobo

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention China’s Public Intellectuals Speak out on Liu Xiaobo « Under the Jacaranda Tree --

  2. Pingback: Global Voices Online » China: Cui Weiping tweets elite views on Liu Xiaobo

  3. Pingback: China: Cui Weiping tweets elite views on Liu Xiaobo :: Elites TV

  4. The Teacher says:

    That the CCP doesn’t have the balls to jail all 300 or so who signed the thing, proves rather conclusively that there’s a lack of self-confidence in the CCP high command.

  5. C.A. Yeung says:

    For sure, the CCP leadership definitely does not want to drag everything to the open and make Charter 08 a centre of attention for the domestic audience.

    Welcome, The Teacher. I’m sure I know you from somewhere.

  6. The Teacher says:

    Wow! Is my writing style so identifiable that you actually recognized it? I am impressed.

    Yes, you do know me, from Facebook, but please do not disclose my real name here, at least not until I know a bit more about this place. I don’t know what I clicked to stumble into here, but I am just thrilled. What is this place??

    Tibet and East Turkestan are two of my “mid-life crisis” passions, although I probably won’t live to see those two great peoples living in freedom.

  7. C.A. Yeung says:

    It is always a good policy to be cautious while you are online. This blog has been blocked by the Great Firewall almost since the first time we blogged about Tibet. However, for some strange reasons, the censors suddenly decide to unblock it. It is either because we have been inactive for a short while, or because our traffic is not high enough for the censors to worry about it. They are apparently very busy lately when more and more famous Chinese bloggers have decided to take their blogs overseas. Now Nanny has more work to do to try to stop people from scaling the wall to access information outside. So in short, yeah, we are now under the radar of the censors and so it’s more important for you (and other commenters) to protect your ID.

  8. 祁怀荣 says:


  9. adamcathcart says:

    Glad to discover your blog via the conversation re: GFW with Jeremy Goldkorn.

    Wei Jingsheng published an editorial on the Liu Xiaobo topic, of course broadening his critique, on New Years’ Day in the Los Angeles Times:,0,4563564.story

    Tangentially related is Chinese online groups using Twitter to support protest actions in Iran:

    Thanks for your various translations! Hope to be back here frequently.

  10. Pingback: Minority report: Phone calls from Professor Cui Weiping | The China Times

  11. Pingback: Minority report: Phone calls from Professor Cui Weiping | The China Times 中国时报

  12. Pingback: 【转载】崔卫平:中国知识分子论刘晓波——只是问问而已 « 芥子园

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