In the NYRB, Simon Leys reviews No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems by Liu Xiaobo.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 brought the name of Liu Xiaobo to the attention of the entire world. Yet well before that, he had already achieved considerable fame within China, as a fearless and clearsighted public intellectual and the author of some seventeen books, including collections of poetry and literary criticism as well as political essays. The Communist authorities unwittingly vouched for the uncompromising accuracy of his comments. They kept arresting him for his views—four times since the Tiananmen massacre in June 1989. Now he is again in jail, since December 2008; though in poor health, he is subjected to an especially severe regime. As Pascal said, “Trust witnesses willing to sacrifice their lives,” and this particular witness happens to be exceptionally well qualified in other ways as well, both by the depth of his information and experience, and by his qualities of intelligence and moral fortitude. ...
At the Oslo ceremony, an empty chair was substituted for the absent laureate. Within hours, the words “empty chair” were banned from the Internet in China—wherever they occurred, the entire machinery of censorship was automatically set in motion.
Foreign experts in various intelligence organizations are trying to assess the growing strength of China, politically, economically, and militarily. The Chinese leaders are most likely to have a clear view of their own power. If so, why are they so scared of a frail and powerless poet and essayist, locked away in jail, cut off from all human contacts? Why did the mere sight of his empty chair at the other end of the Eurasian continent plunge them into such a panic?