David Kelly: Liu Xiaobo and Universal Values

David Kelly, a Professor of China Studies at the China Research Centre, University of Technology, Sydney, counters arguments that Liu Xiaobo’s activism represents undue influence from the west and not homegrown Chinese values. From East Asia Forum:

The text of Charter 08, the document which more than anything else sealed Liu Xiaobo’s fate and led to his harsh 11-year sentence on Christmas Day 2009, is explicit in its appeal to universal values:

‘The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.’

Attacks on Liu Xiaobo will inevitably link his ‘wholesale Westernisation’ with the universal values to which the Charter 08 document subscribes. His insistence that universal values really be universal — that the West itself be subject to its own culture of critical enquiry —will be swept aside. But there is a fatal weakness in the critique of universal values in China today. Something has to be offered in their place such as ‘Chinese values.’ So far nothing but ‘motherhood’ concepts like ‘harmonious society’ and ‘peaceful rise’ have been put forward. Social order, based at its core on a pervasive police state, and unquestionable authority protecting the interests of an opaque power elite are values that dare not state their real names. In any genuine debate they must fall before the universal values of Charter 08. If there is anything of value in them — say traditional Confucian ideas of meritocracy — these will survive genuine debate and become special applications of universal values. Meritocracy that arbitrarily arrests and imprisons will be thrown in the trash-can of history.

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