Daily Video

July 18, 2017

The legacy of Liu Xiaobo, Nobel laureate and human rights activist


  • For decades, Liu Xiaobo was one of the Chinese government’s most outspoken critics and advocates for peaceful change and democratization. During the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, he supported the original student demonstrators and helped negotiate safe passage for survivors of troops’ gunfire. He remained in China despite detention and constant surveillance and continued his political advocacy.
  • After he helped author and was the first to sign Charter 08 in 2008, a petition which demanded political and civic reform, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for subversion. Ten thousand people signed that petition, but Liu was the only one sentenced to prison.
  • Liu’s plight gained international attention and he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. However, as he was unable to attend his own Nobel ceremony, a chair was left empty for him and a statement from his trial was read on his behalf. “Hatred can rot a person’s wisdom and conscience,” it said.
  • Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, remains under house arrest. Calls for her release have not been recognized by the Chinese government.

  1. Essential question: What challenges do peaceful political opponents face in China?
  2. How is civic life in China, which employs strict censorship, different from civic life in the United States, where free speech is protected by the Constitution?
  3. Why did the Chinese government feel compelled to imprison and silence Liu? Was it successful? Explain.

Key Terms:

dissident: a person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state

Tiananmen Square protests: 1989 student-led demonstrations calling on the Chinese government for democracy, greater accountability, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. They were forcibly suppressed when the government declared martial law and troops with assault rifles killed at least several hundred protesters.

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