December 10 is Human Rights Day, and the International Committee for Liu Xiaobo along with Chinese advocates of human rights have organized a petition of 134 Nobel Prize winners demanding the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Their letter to Xi Jinping, the new General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the list of Nobel Prize winners, can be found here. They have also launched a citizens’ petition drive aimed at the Chinese government, and it has gathered 200,000 signatures so far. These drives have a second goal as well: the release from years of house arrest of Liu’s wife Liu Xia. And today we have a remarkable Associated Press (AP) report on Liu Xia, because two AP reporters managed to get to her apartment when the policemen outside her home went off to lunch. An account and a video of the interview can be found at China Digital Times. Here is an excerpt:
This week also brought a letter, now with the signatures of 300 Chinese activists, asking for the release of Liu Xiaobo and his wife and for broader reforms:
These internal and international initiatives are a reminder that the struggle for human rights in China is very much alive as Human Rights Day 2012 approaches. The recent leadership changes, in which the Chinese people played no role whatsoever, only served to magnify the lack of democracy and of respect for human rights in the Peoples Republic. The Chinese people’s search for constitutional government is well over a century old now, and if economic modernization has made gigantic strides in that period political modernization has not. But the struggle is of course not over, despite vast and brutal repression. China’s rulers will never achieve real and lasting legitimacy through repression.
No one has expressed this better than Andrew Nathan, who explained in the Journal of Democracy in 2009 that China’s rulers face a problem they will never be able to solve:
But like all contemporary nondemocratic systems, the Chinese system suffers from a birth defect that it cannot cure: the fact that an alternative form of government is by common consent more legitimate. Even though the regime claims to be a Chinese form of democracy on the grounds that it serves the people and rules in their interest, and even though a majority of Chinese citizens today accept that claim, the regime admits, and everyone knows, that its authority has never been subject to popular review and is never intended to be. In that sense, the regime is branded as an expedient, something temporary and transitional needed to meet the exigencies of the time. Democratic regimes, by contrast, often elicit disappointment and frustration, but they confront no rival form that outshines them in prestige. Authoritarian regimes in this sense are not forever. For all their diversity and longevity, they live under the shadow of the future, vulnerable to existential challenges that mature democratic systems do not face.
The future of China is visible now in the petitions and letters being written by citizens who are demanding their rights and rejecting the claims of the Party to rule forever.