World News

Taiwan Plans Sculpture Honoring Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel-Winning Activist

Posted June 1, 2018 5:01 p.m. EDT

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a move likely to anger Beijing, a sculpture commemorating Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner, will be unveiled in Taiwan’s capital in July to honor the democracy activist, who died last year in a Chinese prison.

The sculpture, to be unveiled July 13, the anniversary of Liu’s death, will be placed near the Taipei 101 skyscraper, one of the most popular areas in the city for Chinese tourists to visit and take photographs.

“I have always felt great sadness because there is not a place where we can express our grieving for Liu Xiaobo,” Wu’er Kaixi, founder of Friends of Liu Xiaobo, a U.S.-registered nonprofit, said at a news conference at the Taipei City Council. The group has led the drive to erect the sculpture and has received support from local lawmakers and funding from nongovernment organizations.

“Taiwan’s values are freedom and democracy,” Wu’er added. “It is the place that represents the most serious threat to the Chinese government, which makes it the place that knows best the value of fearlessness. A sculpture commemorating Liu Xiaobo here has great significance.”

The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan as its sovereign territory, despite never having controlled the island. Taiwan, ruled by the Republic of China government that fled the Chinese Communist revolution in 1949, was transformed from a dictatorship to a democracy in the 1990s.

Beijing views a democratic Taiwan on its doorstep as a threat to its monopoly on political power in China. China tried to intimidate Taiwanese voters in 1996, firing missiles into Taiwanese waters days before its first presidential election.

Wu’er, who has lived in Taiwan for the past two decades, was a student at Beijing Normal University in 1989 when Liu was a professor there. When the Tiananmen protests demanding democracy broke out that spring, both emerged as prominent participants, with Liu mentoring Wu’er and others.

In the aftermath of the bloody crackdown that left hundreds, if not thousands, dead in and around Tiananmen Square, Liu remained in Beijing, while Wu’er was spirited out of China to Hong Kong, then still a British colony.

Liu was detained for nearly two years after the Chinese government called him a “black hand” who supported the student demonstrators. He was arrested again in 2008 for his involvement in Charter 08, a petition for democratic change. The following year he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

China’s communist government was enraged when the Nobel Prize committee awarded Liu the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Held incommunicado in prison, he was unable to attend the Nobel ceremony, and his prize was placed on an empty chair.

Last year, Chinese authorities announced that Liu had late-stage liver cancer, rejecting demands that he be released to seek treatment abroad. He died July 13, and was promptly cremated, with his ashes tossed into the sea far from China’s coast, a move that Liu’s friends and supporters believe was made to deny them a place to commemorate him.

In Hong Kong, in a move to reawaken waning support for the coming 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, democracy advocates unveiled a bust of Mr. Liu on Thursday in a popular shopping district.

Commemoration of the dead can be a form of political protest in China; the Tiananmen Square protests initially sprang from commemoration of the death of Hu Yaobang, the liberal former secretary-general of the Communist Party who had been deposed two years earlier.

The bronze sculpture in Taipei will feature an empty chair, recalling the Nobel Prize ceremony, across from a large open book featuring Liu’s writings, lying flat with a rose on top. Between the two will be an 8-foot medal resembling the Nobel Prize, but with Liu’s visage on it, along with one of his more famous statements — “I have no enemies.” — in Chinese and English.

Aihua Cheng, the sculptor commissioned for the piece, said it was not until she had read Liu’s writings and watched videos of him on YouTube that she appreciated his bravery and commitment to democracy.

“I truly got to know him through his writing and thought,” Cheng said. “It deeply moved me.”

Friends of Liu Xiaobo has secured a three-month temporary permit for the installation and has applied for a permanent permit, Wu’er said. Nongovernmental organizations including Reporters Without Borders, the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights and the Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation are also lending support to the project.

Kolas Yotaka, a member of Taiwan’s legislature, said she was appalled by the Chinese government’s killing of demonstrators when she was a middle schooler in 1989. Taiwan was just emerging from four decades of martial law at the time.

“For me, commemorating June 4th is supporting democracy and freedom,” Yotaka said in an interview. “Supporting Liu Xiaobo is supporting his philosophy, his persistence and his pursuit of a better China.”