When Liu Xiabo won the Nobel Peace Prize last week, it prompted discussion that the award would spur a crackdown on Chinese dissidents. As of yet, that crackdown hasn’t come, but it has prompted a response from some veterans of Chinese politics, calling not for more repression, but for freedom of speech. One of the singers includes Li Rui, in his 90s, a former secretary to Mao Zedong. And while there’s anecdotal evidence here and there of the Communist regime ‘cracking’ down, it hasn’t appeared in the manner in which I would have expected it.
That the elders of Chinese politics are calling for freedom of speech is very significant. In a society such as China’s, where the elders are the ones shown the most deference and respect, theirs is a voice that’s not easily muted, and their political backgrounds give their requests a degree of credibility that dissidents can’t muster, as these men in question, quite literally, designed the system in which they live. And, while it does enhance their credibility, there’s a degree of irony present in the letter. The former assistant to Mao demanding freedom of speech?
Better late than never.