OneNewsNow Misleads on Liu Xiaobo Quote

Writing at OneNewsNow, David Aikman discusses discontent in China:

When Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month, the response of the Chinese government was predictable… Liu, at the time of the Nobel announcement, was already serving an 11-year jail sentence slapped on him by the Chinese government for his temerity in authoring a brilliant human rights document, “Charter 08,” which called for a dazzling array of political and social reforms for China, including public control of the military, the separation of powers, freedom of religion, and an end to censorship.

…Boston-based human-rights activist Chai Ling, who founded All Girls Allowed in the U.S. to combat China’s brutal compulsory abortion policy, first met Liu Xiaobo as a student leader in the Democracy demonstrations in Beijing in 1989.  She believes strongly that China must have a spiritual transformation of its society before any major political reforms can be effective as part of a total package of reforms.  This conforms with a quotation attributed to Liu Xiaobo, who is not even known to be a Christian.  “Without God,” Liu is claimed to have said, “China has no hope.”

Aikman is the author of Jesus in Beijing, a journalistic guide to Christianity in the country which contains a lot of useful data, but which is marred by a simplistic triumphalism.

The quote which he attributes to Liu, that “Without God, China has no hope”, is also a simplification: it’s not sourced to anywhere, although I suspect that it has been derived from his essay “Does Chinese Culture Have a Future?” There, Liu writes that:

My tragedy may be likened to that of Lu Xun’s in that we have no transcendent values. Ours is the tragedy of having no God… Having no God to save him, Lu Xun could only degenerate.

However, Liu is not here calling for China to embrace theism. If Aikman had wanted to give his readers the full story, he would have probably bemused and disturbed them by referencing Liu’s debt to Nietzsche and existentialism; the tragedy is not that we’re ignoring the reality of God, but rather that we find ourselves in a world without God. According to an assessment by Woei Lien Chong, in China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Master Narratives and Post-Mao Counternarratives (pp. 248-249):

Liu Xiaobo is convinced that embracing absolutist master narratives is always a form of escapism from the meaningless of existence, and trhat it is a fatal mistake because the meaninglessness of life has to be valiantly endured and not concealed behind reassuring myths… Liu Xiaobo continues the hyperindividualistic, aestheticizing current associated with the name of Nietzsche.

Aikman’s gloss, by contrast, misleadingly makes Liu sound like one of the “cultural Christians” such as Liu Xiaofeng.

Liu has also described the internet as “God’s present to the Chinese people”; however, that’s clearly just a figure of speech rather than a theology.

It’s also worth noting the irony of the Christian Right OneNewsNow carrying praise for Charter 08: the document includes a specific call for “a separation of religion and state”.

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