China’s most famous political dissident, Liu Xiaobo, has now served nearly half of an 11-year prison sentence. He was convicted of “subversion” in 2009 after calling for an end to one-party rule. In 2010, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize but was not allowed to attend the ceremony in Oslo, an empty chair was put in his place. For five years, silence has surrounded this once-prolific writer. Until this week.
A friend in Germany, fellow writer Liao Yiwu, was able to obtain this message from Mr. Liu: “I am O.K. Here in prison, I have continually been able to read and think. In my studies, I have become even more convinced I have no personal enemies.”
That Liu still holds no animosity toward his jailers or the Communist Party officials who suppress both him and his writings is a testament to his final words given at his court sentencing:
“I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity.... Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress towards freedom and democracy.”
Liu now joins a list of notable dissidents for democracy in history who were sustained during their detention by embracing their detractors rather than disliking them.
One is Nelson Mandela, who, while imprisoned for 27 years, learned the language of his Afrikaner guards and, later after being freed, dined with the white leaders who had sent him away. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” said Mr. Mandela.
Another is Myanmar’s former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who carries no grudge for the military generals who put her under house arrest for years. “In some ways I don’t think they really did anything to me,” she said. “I do not think I have anything to forgive them for.”
Liu has studied many protest leaders, from Mohandas Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. He worries that China, in its focus on personal wealth, lacks a moral model. In his latest message, he asked that the world pay more attention “to other victims who are not well known, or not known at all!”
Yet by showing no hate or revenge from his prison cell, Liu sets a high standard. He has had many sources of inspiration to draw on, including Jesus. In a 1998 poem, translated by Nick Admussen and published in a book of Liu’s writings called “No Enemies, No Hatred,” he wrote about the meaning of Jesus’ life compared with the Old Testament:
Between the rural manger and God’s cross
a destitute infant
turned a wrathful God into the embodiment of love
continuous repentance and infinite atonement
no boundary, no leeway
like the darkness before history
Many world leaders have called for Liu’s release. But simply by his convictions alone, he may already see himself as free.