No Enemies, No Hatred

Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo's first English-language collection of poems and essays offers a fearless critique of the China that has imprisoned him.

No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems By Liu Xiaobo Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 400 pp.

Visitors who expect China to look like a police state are surprised to see luxury hotels, well-dressed people, trendy restaurants, chaotic traffic – even goofy game shows on TV.

Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, acknowledges that China’s reforms have brought economic freedom and “relief from the pervasive poverty and totalitarianism of the Mao Zedong era.”

But, as the dissident writer’s current 11-year sentence for “incitement of subversion” illustrates, aspects of a police state still exist.

No Enemies, No Hatred is the first English-language collection of Liu’s poems and essays, including works that the Chinese government cited when convicting him in 2009. Editors' notes included in the book do an excellent job of providing foreign readers with background on some of the topics that Liu writes about.

The book's title comes from a statement Liu prepared for his trial: “I have no enemies, and no hatred.” 

No enemies, perhaps, but the 56-year-old Liu certainly has many targets for his criticism – and not just the Communist Party. Liu accuses some big-name protesters involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement of being undemocratic in their leadership and of capitalizing on the tragedy.

This collection begins with Liu’s writings about those protests, including poignant poems about those who died. Elsewhere, he takes aim at both Chinese and Westerners who believe that the other’s culture holds all the answers to humanity’s problems.

He is especially harsh toward fellow Chinese writers – those who survived the Communist system by denouncing others or self-censoring their own words.

Critics may find that Liu goes too far in blaming Mao’s zealous ideology for some of today’s problems – including the explicit sexual content that appears on blogs in China. But Liu writes that the “class struggle” mentality of that time led to a spiritual vacuum.

Liu blames the Communist system for major problems facing China today. For example, he says that people are not upset at the gap between rich and poor, but that corrupt officials and their friends have most of the opportunities.

Even China’s state-run media report that thousands of riots occur each year when corrupt officials confiscate land to enrich themselves with crony capitalism deals. This will continue, Liu writes, until citizens are allowed to own land, and Communist Party officials are not allowed to overrule courts.

Poverty in China “is not just a matter of inadequate resources or supply, but more a poverty of the political system and a poverty of rights,” says Liu.

Young people no longer believe in the Communist Party’s ideology, Liu says, but join the Party in order to have valuable connections. The Party’s preferred method today is “neither bamboozlement by ideology nor repression by brute force, but the soft tactic of buying people off,” he writes.

China’s successful reforms, started more than 30 years ago when Deng Xiaoping was in power, were “concessions that the top was forced to make because of pressure from below,” Liu writes.

The Internet plays a key role in continuing that progress and in fighting official abuse, Liu notes, writing that, “The regime’s traditional ways of blocking information and controlling discussion are now largely obsolete.”

But the Internet also helps to spread what Liu calls China’s “virulent nationalism,” often directed against the US or Japan. The Communist Party unites the public under nationalism as a means of holding onto power, Liu writes.

Liu’s writings also scrutinize the effect on society of China’s well-known one-child policy, as well as problems that receive less worldwide attention, such as child slavery.

The most offbeat essay in this collection is Liu’s plan to end friction with Tibet and improve China’s public image in the world overnight. Saying that Barack Obama’s election reversed history and showed “the greatness of the American system,” Liu suggests that China invite the exiled Dalai Lama to return home and become president of China.

At his trial, Liu said he supports a gradual and peaceful political reform for China, not a sudden or violent revolution.

Liu’s sentence ends in June 2020. It’s unknown how much China’s political system will have changed by then. But one thing seems certain: If the injustices that Liu has railed against are still in place, he will not be timid about speaking his mind.

Mike Revzin, a journalist who worked in China, runs ChinaSeminars.com to help foreigners prepare for work or travel in China.

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