Liu Xiaobo (1955-2017), a prominent independent intellectual in China, was a long-time advocate of political reform and human rights in China and an outspoken critic of the Chinese communist regime.
Liu was born on December 28, 1955 in Changchun, Jilin. He received a BA in literature from Jilin University, and an MA and PhD from Beijing Normal University, where he also taught. In April 1989, he left his position as a visiting scholar at Columbia University to return to Beijing to participate in the 1989 Democracy Movement. On June 2, Liu, along with Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo, and Gao Xin, went on a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square to protest martial law and appeal for peaceful negotiations between the students and the government. In the early morning of June 4, 1989, the four attempted to persuade the students to leave Tiananmen Square. After the crackdown, Liu was held in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison until January 1991, when he was found guilty of ‘counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement’ but exempted from punishment (NobelPrize.org).
He was imprisoned again in a re-education through labor camp from 1996 to 1999 for criticising China’s policies towards Taiwan and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Liu was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison on ‘inciting subversion’ charges for his involvement with Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for political reforms in China. Liu served nearly eight years in a Liaoning prison until being transferred to a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province, in June 2017. He died on July 13 from complications of liver cancer.
In 2010, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize ‘for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.’ Human Rights Watch honoured him with the 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism for his fearless commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in China (Human Rights Watch).