Liu Xiaobo, China’s long-imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate, could find human dignity in the darkest of places. He found it working with the grieving mothers of young people killed in the 1989 Beijing massacre. He found it in occasional glimpses of warmth between guards and prisoners amid the grinding routine of prison life. And he wrote eloquently and often about dignity as he found it.
Liu died on 13 July, eight years into an eleven-year jail term for speaking and writing about the value of human dignity and about the political and social conditions needed for it to flourish. It’s true that he wasn’t a celebrated figure in his own country, as foreigners with close ties to the Chinese government point out, eagerly and often. This could conceivably be because people in China do not care for human dignity — or it could be because individual dignity cannot be upheld or celebrated openly in China without provoking the indignation of the Communist Party and the fury of its public security agents.
Either way, Liu’s ideas, his life’s work and his recent passing have barely been noted in China’s party-controlled media. And when they have reported it, the character of the coverage has served to reinforce Liu Xiaobo’s message to the West.