SHENYANG, China – China cremated the body of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died this week after a battle with liver cancer amid international criticism of Beijing for not letting him travel abroad as he had wished.
The government of the city of Shenyang in northeastern China, where Liu had been treated for advanced liver cancer, said in a briefing that the cremation took place Saturday morning in a ceremony attended by family and friends.
The wife and other family members of China’s best-known political prisoner have been closely guarded by Chinese authorities and largely out of contact with the outside world.
Liu died Thursday from multiple organ failure that followed a battle with liver cancer while serving an 11-year sentence for incitement to subvert state power. He was 61.
Foreign governments and Liu’s supporters had urged China to release Liu and his wife to allow them to seek treatment abroad but Beijing dismissed those requests.
Tributes have rolled in from around the world to mourn Liu, but there is little mention of him in China’s heavily-censored state media and social networking platforms. One notable exception was a report by a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party, which on Friday dismissed Liu as a pawn of the West whose legacy will soon fade.
The newspaper’s editorial marked a rare mention of Liu in the Chinese-language media, possibly indicating a desire to guide popular opinion amid widespread reporting of his death overseas s and on social media platforms such as Twitter that are blocked in China.
Liu lived a “tragic life” because he sought to confront Chinese mainstream society with outside support, The Global Times said in its editorial headlined “Liu Xiaobo a victim led astray by West.”
“Liu’s last days were politicized by the forces overseas. They used Liu’s illness as a tool to boost their image and demonize China,” the paper said.
“The West has bestowed upon Liu a halo, which will not linger,” it said. “By granting him the Nobel Prize, the West has ‘kidnapped’ Liu. However, the West only puts a halo on those useful to them.”
While Liu did have considerable renown abroad – official censorship made him virtually a non-person at home – the party frequently uses the specter of Western manipulation to demonize its critics.
“Liu lived in an era when China witnessed the most rapid growth in recent history, but he attempted to confront Chinese mainstream society under Western support. This has determined his tragic life,” the paper continued. “If he could live longer, he would never have achieved political goals that are in opposition to the path of history.”
President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were among Western leaders offering praise for Liu. Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer called Liu a “poet, scholar, and courageous advocate,” who “dedicated his life to the pursuit of democracy and liberty.”
They also urged China to free Liu’s wife, the artist and poet Liu Xia, from the strict house arrest she has lived under for years even though she has not been convicted of any crime.
Responding to such calls early Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang chastised foreign officials for “making improper comments on Liu Xiaobo’s death of illness.”
“China is a country under the rule of law. The handling of Liu Xiaobo’ s case belongs to China’s internal affairs, and foreign countries are in no position to make improper remarks,” Geng said.
Geng’s comments were issued by the ministry’s official social media account. But the statement did not appear on its website, where transcripts of daily news briefings have been scrubbed clean of all mentions of Liu.
Liu rose to prominence during the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and became one of hundreds of Chinese imprisoned for crimes linked to the demonstrations after they were crushed by the military. It was the first of four imprisonments. His last was for co-authoring “Charter 08,” a document circulated in 2008 that called for an end to one-party rule.
He was in prison when he was awarded the Nobel in 2010 by a committee that lauded Liu’s “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
The government condemned the award as an insult to its political and legal systems and put Liu’s wife under house arrest even though she has never been charged with any crimes.
Liu was only the second Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in prison, a fact pointed to by human rights groups as an indication of the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly hard line against its critics. The first, Carl von Ossietzky, died from tuberculosis in Germany in 1938 while serving a sentence for opposing Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
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