The Dangers of Taking Responsibility and Acting on One’s Conscience in 21st Century China: A Review Essay of Xu Zhiyong’s To Build a Free China: A Citizen’s Journey

Gerda Wielander

Essay Full Text

Preview:  On Thursday 13 July 2017, China’s foremost dissident and Nobel Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, died of liver cancer, only weeks after his “release” from prison on “medical parole”. His closing statement, “I Have No Enemies” (Liu, 2009), delivered in 2009 before his sentencing, was read in his absence at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in 2010, and has become a seminal text. Liu’s death has had a profound effect on all those with China’s interest at heart; it is of particular poignancy for a generation who experienced 1989 and saw it as a possible turning point, only to have their hopes crushed under the tanks that rolled into the square on June 4th. It was 1989 that turned Liu from an academic into a political activist. His activism mostly manifested itself in writings, none more famous than “Charter 08”, a moderately worded document calling for political reform, initially signed by over 300 individuals, which he helped draft and for which he “took responsibility”. It was a responsibility that ultimately killed him (Link, 2017; Johnson, 2017).