The late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who passed away from liver cancer on Thursday after spending the last eight years of his life in jail, famously wrote, “I have no enemies and no hatred.” His words were intended to be a part of his final statement during his December 2009 trial, at which he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” But he was never allowed to make any last remarks. When his note was later published as an essay, readers discovered that Liu had even thanked, by name, his prosecutors and the cell warden at the detention center where he had been held. At the time, some Chinese dissidents criticized him for forgiving his oppressors and saw it as a form of capitulation. But the statement surely played a role in the decision of the Nobel Peace Prize committee when it awarded him the prize in 2010 “for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
Over the years, Liu’s influence has grown even as his voice has been silenced. Most Chinese dissidents have chosen nonviolent methods to try to change the Chinese regime. The New Citizens movement led by civil rights activist Xu Zhiyong asked its members to speak and act as citizens under the Chinese constitution, which includes the right to vote and criticize the government. Xu subsequently received a four-year sentence in 2014 for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.” During this “rights protection” movement, lawyers and activists tried to use the Chinese courts to protect victims of rights abuses; some 300 of them were rounded up in July 2015, and a number still remain in jail or are in custody. In 2015, five feminist activists were arrested after demonstrating against sexual harassment and domestic violence.
In China, nonviolent protest has been met with pervasive surveillance, harassment, random violence, and criminal prosecution. What this reveals, of course, is the regime’s sense of vulnerability. Ironically, survey after survey shows that the Chinese government enjoys high levels of