Relatives of those detained in what is known as the "709" crackdown protest in front of the Supreme People's Procuratorate in Beijing, China, July 7, 2017.
Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Over the past two years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has severely curbed grassroots activism. Viewing civil society as a conduit through which dangerous Western ideas flow into China, his administration has routinely rounded up those whom it considers boundary pushers, detaining a number of human rights lawyers starting in July 2015, arresting several labor activists a few months later, and placing new restrictions on foreign NGOs operating in China.

The latest reminder of the crackdown came on July 13, when Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo died from liver cancer after having served most of his 11-year prison sentence for writing the pro-democracy treatise Charter 08. In his last days, Liu’s sunken face seemed to signal a stark reality—that state repression had worn out even the staunchest of activists. And his death has left the world with the lingering question: Has the era of activism in China come to an end?

Although

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