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Poets and political activists: the case of Liu Xiaobo
Poets and political activists: the case of Liu Xiaobo
Paul J. Balles considers the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award Chinese dissident and poet Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize by looking at the qualities that are common to poets and political activists.
Sunday, October 17,2010 23:21
by Paul J. Balles redress.cc

 Poems have been written about everything from angels to the world and everything in between. Thus, it's impossible to ascribe any single set of qualities to the poet.

 
Ralph Waldo Emerson argued that "the poet is a seer who penetrates the mysteries of the universe and articulates the universal truths that bind humanity together. Hence, the true poet, who puts into words what others feel but cannot express, speaks for all men and women."

One might speculate that these qualities of the poet account for some who become political activists. A number of famous poets have been in serious trouble because of their activism.

This year  
Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize. A poet and literary critic, Liu was a leading voice and an influential presence during the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"...the poet is a seer who penetrates the mysteries of the universe and articulates the universal truths that bind humanity together. Hence, the true poet, who puts into words what others feel but cannot express, speaks for all men and women."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

According to Princeton philosophy professor  Kwame Anthony Appiah, Liu's "insistence on non-violence and democratic process are widely credited with preventing far more catastrophic bloodshed during the subsequent crackdown.

“More recently, Liu co-authored  
Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform. He was detained in December last year and formally arrested in June, charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’.”

From the official press release of the Nobel Committee, October 8, 2010:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the ‘fraternity between nations’ of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

What was China’s reaction? The Chinese cancelled meetings with Norwegian officials, pointing out that Liu was convicted in December of inciting subversion of the state.

Liu's wife Liu Xia spoke of meeting Liu through their interest in poetry when they were both at Columbia University: “Twenty-six years ago, both of us were writing modern poetry. It is through our poetry that we became acquainted and eventually fell in love. Six years later, the unprecedented student democratic movement and massacre occurred in Beijing.

Xiaobo dutifully stood his ground and, consequently, became widely known as one of the so-called 4 June “black hands”. His life then changed forever.

He has been put into jail several times, and even when he is at home, he is still, for the most part, not a free man. As his wife, I have no other choice but to become a part of his unfortunate life.

According to one observer: “The Norwegian panel that gave him the prize provided Chinese officials and their supporters with ample ammunition to denounce the move as another attempt by the West to impose its values on China.”

Liu commented on his imprisonment: "Simply for expressing divergent political views and taking part in a peaceful and democratic movement, a teacher lost his podium, a writer lost the right to publish, and a public intellectual lost the chance to speak publicly."

“Some politicians from other countries are trying to use this opportunity to attack China,” Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters during a regularly scheduled news conference. He added that the prize “shows disrespect for China’s judicial system” because the recipient is a convicted criminal.

Ironically, 14 overseas Chinese dissidents, many of them hard-boiled exiles dedicated to overthrowing the Communist Party, accused Liu of maligning fellow activists, abandoning persecuted members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and going soft on China’s leaders.

As former US president John F Kennedy once said: "Politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is their greatness that depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life."


 

Source: Redress Information & Analysis (http://www.redress.cc). Material published on Redress may be republished with full attribution to Redress Information & Analysis (http://www.redress.cc)

 

tags: Politicians / China / Liu Xiaobo / Political Activists / Columbia University / Nobel Committee
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