At The Economist’s Analects blog, Sascha Matuszak profiles liberal writer and microblogger Li Chengpeng, from his exposure of corruption in Chinese soccer to his recent book tour dogged by enforced silence and political scuffles.
Seasoned at playing the provocateur, Mr Li moved from reporting on sport to writing essays on politics and society soon after the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, which killed more than 80,000 people. His writing on the struggles of common people after the disaster brought his work to a whole new audience of internet-savvy young Chinese. He went on to publish a novel in 2011, “Li Kele Protests Demolitions”. Mr Li’s “Li Kele” was an immediate hit; the descriptions of ordinary people who united together to fight faceless forces and venality propelled the writer into the arms of a more organized new audience: China’s advocates for social reform.
Later that year Mr Li announced that he would be running for public office in Chengdu as an independent. Although his election campaign was never allowed to get under way (candidates for office are carefully screened by the Communist Party and eventually Mr Li failed his background check), he gained a new degree of credibility. Here, it seemed, was a man who would back up his words with actions.
At the book launch in Chengdu, an elderly man named Liu Shahe sat behind Mr Li. Mr Liu is one of the signatories of Charter 08, the document demanding a list political reforms that Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate, was jailed for drafting. Mr Li tweeted Mr Liu’s words to him—“You man of words, just keep writing”—and said the encouragement from the older man had reduced him to tears.
Li has answered questions about the silent signing in Chengdu on Sina Weibo, explaining why he opted to go through with...
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