Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giving Liu Xiaobo the Thangka Treatment

Last Friday was a historic day for Chinese, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other people living under the yoke of the Chinese empire. Liu Xiaobo, a little known writer-activist in China who will now become a household name around the world, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In New York we held an event to honor Liu's contribution to humanity, where Tibetan artist Rigdol and Chinese artist Zhang Hongtu created a Liu Xiaobo portrait in the form of a thangka. I call it, "Giving Liu Xiaobo the thangka treatment," for his unparalleled efforts to promote human rights and democracy in China.

Below is an adapted version of a speech I gave on Friday to a group of media outlets gathered at the Ralph Bunche Park -- mostly to see Richard Gere, not me.

"Good morning and welcome.

Barely two hours ago, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo as millions of people tuned in to watch this historic moment on television, on the radio, and on the internet. But a fifth of the world’s population, living in the Chinese empire, did not get to share this moment with the rest of the world. The Chinese government, blacked out all broadcasts of the ceremony. To some this is a display of Beijing’s power; that it can control all the televisions and all the media outlets in China. But in reality, it’s a display of Beijing’s weakness and brittleness, Beijing doesn’t have the confidence and the courage to let its own people decide what they watch and to share in a moment cherished by the rest of the world.

We stand here this morning to celebrate the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a writer, an intellectual, a poet, an activist, a reformer. But above all a compassionate individual whose love of life, humanity, freedom, democracy and his nation is far greater than what China's current leadership can ever match.

As a Tibetan exile whose parents fled Tibet to escape from Chinese government persecution following the invasion of my country, I know that Liu Xiaobo has a special place in our hearts. He is one of the first Chinese intellectuals to support the Tibetan struggle. He has expressed in his essays a profound understanding and a deep empathy for the Tibetan people.

As early as 1996, Liu Xiaobo wrote a letter to Jiang Zemin, in which he argued that the Chinese government must respect the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination and open dialogue with the Dalai Lama. One of Liu Xiaobo’s closest friends, Woeser, a Tibetan writer living in Beijing writes.

“I have known Mr. Liu Xiaobo for many years, in fact, I have never referred to him in such a formal and distant way. I still remember that night when he asked me in his stammering voice on Skype to please sign my name under “Charter 08” as a sign of trust towards him and in memory of his long-standing support for the Tibet issue. I signed my name without any hesitation. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested in his home and one year later, concealed by the haze of Christmas celebrations, he was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. We will never forget when journalists from international media asked his wife Liu Xia how she felt and she replied: “I think one day would already be too long. How are 11 years justified?”

I feel a deep sense of loss for Liu Xia, who is being condemned to spend the next 11 years without her husband at her side. I feel a great sense of outrage that the Chinese government has deprived Liu Xiaobo of 11 years of his life and freedom. And I feel even greater outrage that the Chinese government has deprived the world of 11 years Liu Xiaobo's presence.

But I'm hopeful that in the end it will not be for 11 years, because the Chinese government will not last that long. Endemic corruption, environmental disasters, grassroots pressure, global isolation, and too many other factors are shaking the Community Party's foundations.

We are standing at this busy road across the United Nations; we’re also standing at a historic crossroads. One line in Charter 08 reads, “The future of China hangs in balance.” I believe the future no longer hangs in balance; the balance of history has tipped toward democracy and freedom. And with it Chinese imperialism will end and people like Liu Xiabo will take their rightful place in history.

I thank you for joining us today and hope that you will continue to speak out for human rights and freedom in China, in Tibet, and indeed throughout the world."

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