Liu Xiaobo Exclusive
I want to stress that the driving force for positive change within the Chinese political system does not come from the top, it comes from ordinary people and it’s unstoppable.
00.19 – 00.37
The following interview with Nobel Peace Prize Lauriat Liu Xiaobo was conducted in April 2008. It was one of the last television interviews he gave before being jailed by Chinese authorities seven months later. I’m Liz Jackson from Australian Television’s Four Corners programme.
00.38 – 00.43
What are the fears that a writer like yourself has now in the China of today?
00.44 – 02.36
Living in an authoritarian society, doing the pro-democracy work that I do, the possibility of being sent to prison at any time doesn’t actually scare me too much. If it did, I wouldn’t have kept on doing this kind of work for 19 years. What I’m afraid of is the way this can affect your family, the major problems it can cause them psychologically and in many other ways. The way I see it, people like me live in two prisons in China. You come out of the small, fenced-in prison, only to enter the bigger, fence-less prison of society. My phone, my computer, my whereabouts and so on are all monitored by the Chinese Public Security Bureau. For myself, I firmly believe in the value of what I’m doing and I’m prepared to face the risks. But there are many times when it doesn’t just affect you, there’s also your wife, your parents and other family members. I’m the one who has brought fear into their hearts, so deep down I feel guilt, and sometimes that can turn into fear. I’m extremely fortunate that my wife, Liu Xia, is a woman with a very strong sense of justice and responsibility. She understands why I do this work, despite the fact it means she gets followed by the police.
02.37 – 02.46
You’re one of the top signatories in the open letter to the Government about Tibet, What was the reason for the open letter for Tibet?
02.46 – 03.39
The main reason for the Open Letter was there had been huge problems in Tibet, which had attracted so much attention. We, as Han Chinese intellectuals, felt the need to state our position on these problems. Human rights problems in Tibet are part of human rights issues in China as a whole. By showing our concern for Tibetan human rights issues, we’re also showing concern for China’s human rights issues. Our other motive was that the authorities were deliberately stirring up tension and conflict between Han Chinese and Tibetans, as Han Chinese intellectuals we wanted to express our view on this.
03.40 – 04.11
There’s a debate about whether or not increased economic prosperity in a country, indeed in China, will bring greater democracy as the middle class become more educated, they’ll demand more individual rights – and there’s the alternative view which is that increased prosperity means that people aren’t so bothered about human rights, that here in China everybody is happier now cos people are richer and that the group who are pushing for democracy and human rights is getting smaller. What’s your position on that debate?
04.12 – 05.15
As long as the economic prosperity is based on a market economy I strongly believe it will boost political progress and human rights. These days many Chinese intellectuals have the courage to speak out. Ms Zhang Yihe has a famous saying that if our rice bowls were still in the hands of the Communist Party, as in the 1950’s, people like us would have to keep our mouths shut. China’s increased economic prosperity has also raised people’s awareness of their rights. Back in the mid-90’s if the government knocked down someone’s house no-one would have said a thing. But now with economic development people understand the rights of private ownership. Now if the Chinese government violates a person’s rights, whether economic or political, no one will just take it lying down and remain silent. Everyone will speak out.
05.16 – 05.39
But, realistically, how many people, in the huge population of China has, know enough or care enough to speak out publicly for human rights and democracy anymore? Do you feel that you’re just a small minority the Government can afford to just contain or remove?
05.40 – 06.54
Well it’s hard to say. In my case I haven’t stopped criticising the government from the time I got out of prison in 1999 until now, which makes nine years. People keep saying “Xiaobo, you’ll be back inside soon, you’ll be back inside soon”. But it hasn’t happened yet, has it? I think the government is under increasing pressure from ordinary people. If they arrest and sentence someone they have to take into account the political cost, particularly with high profile people. It’s not true that the government can simply ignore us, that they don’t care what we do. If they didn’t care they would not go to such lengths to monitor and control us. I also sense that the community which empathises with us, supports us and is prepared to speak out for us is growing. Every year the numbers are increasing. My optimism about China is not something I judge by what the authorities are doing but by the growing power of ordinary people.
06.56 – 07.02
But we cannot expect things to change overnight in China. I think it’s a very slow process.
Within your lifetime?
07.05 – 07.10
Maybe not, despite all my efforts for so long.