Perry Link spoke about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo Feb. 8 at Prothro Hall at SMU as part of SMU’s Asian Studies lecture series. Link is the Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California, Riverside and an established writer on Chinese literature, language and culture.
Before beginning his talk in earnest, Link shared his early opinion of Liu.
“I’d always thought he was a sort of gadfly,” Link said.
Link’s habit of flitting from person to person, especially during his denouncing years, seemed to play a part in this characterization of Xiaobo. However, he still respects Liu.
“He can write with analytic calm about upsetting things,” Link said.
In fact, Xiaobo continued his struggles from the cells of a government prison, or during government sponsored house arrest. He even enlisted the help of his wives; his second wife, Liu Xia, made 36 trips to his prison camp to drop off books.
“Luckily for us, his readers, he has the habit of writing without fear,” Link said.
Liu lamented the existence of some of the most commonly admired figures in modern Chinese culture. He wondered how costly it had been for Chinese people that Confucius had become an exemplar in modern times.
“The time a good leader should come out is when things are bad,” Link said.
Liu derided Confucius as a coward, citing his idea that leaders should become reclusive or go into hiding when things aren’t going well.
“’I hope I’m not the type of person who stands at the door of hell, strikes a heroic pose and frowns with indecision,’” Link quoted from Liu’s book.
“One thing that didn’t change is that he says what he thinks,” Liu said. “He complained that his primary school teacher explained things too simply.”
Liu’s youth exposed him to much, including a burgeoning distaste for Chinese government and influence. Link said Liu dealt with the cruelty and horror of the Red Guard at a young age. His brothers joined the Red Guard, but he was too young to do so.
Those experiences with the Red Guard on the outside instilled in him a bitter resentment but also gave him perspective.
Liu’s philosophy and resolve coalesced at a point far outside China’s cities.
“He really learned to read out in the countryside,” Link said.
Link said Liu read Marx assiduously.
Relatively early in his career of criticizing the Chinese government, Liu understood the toxic ways of thinking in a society bound up in the rules and regulations of a dictatorial government structure.
According to Link, Liu said Chinese writers don’t have the ability to write creatively because their lives are not their own.
Therefore, especially in the late 1980s, Liu spent his time looking at the ideas of Western thinkers and briefly resided at Oxford University.
However, Link said he behaved so badly that his stay was cut short from six months to three months. At one point, Liu said 98 percent of Westerners are useless in terms of expression and philosophy.
Link said Liu felt he had to straddle a line in between the two schools of thought. On one hand, he needed to dispel the thoughts of Chinese writers and thinkers tainted by a culture steeped in propaganda while critiquing Western thought.
Liu held to this line of thought, and as his works have been translated, his perspective has transformed the Western view of China’s political landscape.
Throughout his life, Liu advocated for a more democratic state. Even in death, he affects the lives of activists and officials alike.