The Chinese authorities have been very successful at keeping dissidents on the margins of society. Chinese repression is ruthlessly efficient; Mr Liu suffered the brutal side and other human rights activists have been arrested or harassed over the past year. But some of the other Charter 08 signatories were asked in “for a cup of tea” or given a quiet warning. There are carrots as well as sticks.
Charter 77 connected to the liberal tradition of 1920s leader Thomas Masaryk and Charter 08 was printed in the New York Review of Books. But its enlightenment and foreign tone put off some Chinese intellectuals.
Yet the appeal of Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 was broader than simply setting out political ideals; it was also about blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll and, above all, it was about irony. Here the parallels are less comfortable for the authorities.