No Hatred, Part I: Reading a Banned Author

To observe Banned Books Week 2012, I have chosen to read a prohibited book.

I wasn’t sure at first what to read. Should it be a cult classic? A controversial recent bestseller? A political satire? A libertine treatise? After puzzling over the question for some time, I decided that the best book to read would be one that is banned by a government today. In fact, I wanted to celebrate a book for which an author, somewhere in the world, is currently suffering. It wasn’t hard to find one.

“Solidarity with Liu Xiaobo.” Graffiti on a wall in Warsaw. Courtesy of Wikimedia user Brandmeister.

In 2010, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) (劉曉波). The judges honored Liu “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Liu’s chair on the stage at the award ceremony in Oslo was empty. He was finishing the first year of an eleven-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” This is his fourth prison term in China.

Liu is a poet and literary critic who has spoken out for decades in favor of freedom in China. He’s one of the signatories of Charter 08, a  dissident manifesto published four years ago. “The time is arriving everywhere,” the charter says, “for citizens to be masters of states.” Among its specific demands is universal freedom of expression. Charter 08 was the main evidence used against Liu at trial.

With Liu imprisoned for his ideas, and with all of his work banned in China, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to read one of his books this week. My first choice was the full text of Aesthetics and Human Freedom, his 1988 doctoral dissertation. It doesn’t seem to be available in English. But what is available now, thanks to Harvard University Press, is a large collection of his essays and poems: No Enemies, No Hatred.

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of No Enemies at the library and began to read.