Who Was Liu Xiaobo?

You may have seen on the news on Thursday that imprisoned Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo passed away from liver cancer in a hospital in northeast China. He had been sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for his part in the writing of “Charter 08,” a document calling for political reform in China.

In case you are wondering who he is and the significance of his life and work, I recommend reading these two articles, both in the New York Review of Books:

The Passion of Liu Xiaobo, by Perry Link

After his release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, Liu was banned from publishing in China and fired from his teaching post at Beijing Normal University—even though students there had always loved his lectures. He began to support himself by writing for magazines in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas. The rise of the Internet in China in the early 2000s gave a huge boost to circulation of his essays, not only outside China but inside, too, as overseas friends found ways to skirt the government’s Great Firewall and send them back into China. Before 1989, his essays had been mostly on contemporary Chinese literature, but now he addressed topics in history, politics, and society, revealing a rich erudition.

China’s ‘Fault Lines’: Yu Jie on His New Biography of Liu Xiaobo, by Ian Johnson

In 2003, Yu converted to Christianity and increasingly complemented his provocative writing with political activism of his own. He was an early signer of Charter 08, the landmark human rights manifesto, and in 2010 cemented his position as a leading political critic by writing a biography of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he refers to his subject as “China’s best actor.” Last year, Yu completed a rough draft of his biography of Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an eleven-year prison sentence. Authorities warned Yu that he too would be jailed if the book was published and put him under house arrest for several months. In January, he fled China with his wife and son for the United States, where he now resides.

I spoke to Mr. Yu at a church in the Washington area.

It is a sad day for China.