Beijing residents wonder: Liu Xiao-who?

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (BestGrowthStock) – Liu Xiaobo may be lauded by the international community for his tireless efforts to promote human rights and democracy in China, but the jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner’s ideals remain a mystery to many in Beijing.

Ask a person the street what he or she thinks of Liu, whose award will be formally bestowed in Oslo on Friday, and the first reaction is often: “Who?.”

That response is testament to the effectiveness of government efforts to erase the memory of the bloody crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, an event seminal to Liu’s life.

“I think I saw something about that on television, but I’m not sure,” said businesswoman Ma Junpeng when asked about Liu.

Ma shrugged her shoulders upon being told he had won the prize for his efforts since 1989 to push for greater political freedom in China.

“It’s not rational to reward a man like that,” she said, shivering in the Beijing cold. “Everything is different now since the revolt of 1989. People’s ideas have changed. China has changed. People like Liu are irrelevant.”

China jailed Liu last Christmas Day for 11 years for subversion of state power and for being the lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratic reform in the one-party state.

Liu, who was earlier jailed for 20 months for taking part in the Tiananmen Square incident, told his wife, Liu Xia, the Nobel prize was a tribute to those killed when troops moved in to crush the protests.

Yet China’s tightly controlled state-run media has not scrubbed out Liu’s name, ensuring people are at least aware of him via the government’s strident denunciations against the recognition of a man it calls a criminal and a subversive.

“I am Chinese and that’s why I support the Chinese government,” said Beijing resident Lao Jiang. “It doesn’t matter what the international community says, he has violated Chinese law and after I heard the news, it really shocked me.”

One Beijing street vendor confused Liu’s name with the title of a magazine, and then said she had never heard of him.

But another woman working at a newsstand piped up: “Yes, I’ve heard of him. I think he’s terrific.”

DOWN WITH RUNNING DOGS

Chinese internet users have taken to the Web with gusto to denounce “interference” in the country’s affairs from people in the West who laud Liu, especially in the United States, though any messages of support would likely be swiftly removed.

“This is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, the Chinese people resolutely oppose it, and it will further arouse the anger of all the Chinese people all over the world against the U.S. and Obama and other running dogs of the U.S.!” wrote one user on the popular portal sina.com.

People like Zhang Xianling, however, who lost her son in the Tiananmen protests, are unperturbed by the apparent lack of interest or knowledge of Liu in China today, where the economy is booming and enriching what was once a dirt-poor nation.

“Though someone may be blinded by money, people with a sense of justice are the majority,” she told Reuters from the southwestern province of Yunnan, where authorities took her this week to try to prevent her talking to reporters.

And Liu has managed to prompt self-reflection for at least a few Beijingers.

“We are living the novel ‘1984’,” bemoaned one Beijing college graduate, who asked only to be identified by his family name of Li. “George Orwell probably had no idea that what he wrote would end up being the reality of China now.”

Orwell’s novel, published in 1949, described life under a totalitarian government, which put its people under pervasive surveillance to ensure that they were always controlled by the state.

(Additional reporting by Tyra Dempster and Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Beijing residents wonder: Liu Xiao-who?