History is said to repeat itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. And it is indeed farcical for China’s government to try to suppress the yearning for freedom in the same brutal ways that Soviet-era communists once did. For jailing Liu on the absurd charge of trying to overthrow the Chinese state is typical of the type of thinking found in the closed societies of 20th-century communism, where the state asserted its absolute right to judge every thought and every thinker.
In such a state, the only way to survive was for everyone to become his or her own thought police: self-censoring and never daring to question. But to judge and imprison one’s own mind, or any other mind, is to criminalize civilization.
In the Internet age, moreover, no prison or censorship can destroy an idea whose time has come. In its fight with Google, for example, China’s government appears to think that its technologists can provide the means to maintain the old thought control. But, thankfully, for anyone with persistence and a modicum of computer skill, the Internet leaks like a sieve.
The great economic progress China has made over the past 30 years is something all Chinese celebrate. But the jailing of Liu also demonstrates in the starkest terms that China’s neglect of human rights is flowing to the rest of world alongside the mass of Chinese goods. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that China opened its economy only to maintain the country’s over-mighty rulers in power, not to respect and enhance the lives of ordinary Chinese.