Liu Xiaobo, Charter 08, and the Challenges of Political Reform in China

Anyone pondering the choices confronting China’s recently installed new leadership will want to read this perfectly timed collection of stimulating essays by a diverse group of perceptive China watchers. That said, it will certainly discourage readers who believe that the time has come for the Chinese Communist Party to establish genuine democratic political and legal institutions. Indeed, the expert analyses presented here can lead to only one conclusion: the party will continue to rely on increasingly harsh repression to cope with the burgeoning social problems stemming from China’s prodigious economic development. That is likely to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron for the next five or ten years, but it is not a reliable path to the “harmony” and “stability maintenance” incessantly preached by party propagandists. Probing the texture and complexities of Chinese life, each of these essays helps readers understand why Chinese society has become so contentious. In their contributions, Béja, Joshua Rosenzweig, Willy Wo-Lap Lam, and a group of Chinese lawyers (led by the noted defense attorney Mo Shaoping) analyze the unjust, politicized prosecutions of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and other valiant human rights advocates. Michaela Kotyzova explains why, despite the kinship between Liu’s Charter 08 and Charter 77, the manifesto written by Václav Havel when he was a young Czech dissident, one cannot expect China to follow the Czech path to freedom. And Fu, Pils, and Teng Biao relate the experiences and views of attorneys who have bravely taken on the authorities in China, a state in which, as Fu notes, “Lawyers cannot be the representatives of the people’s interests; only the Party can.”

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