Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Plus One Is Eleven

By Chip Tsao | published Dec 31, 2009

In defiance of condemnation from the West, Beijing sentenced human rights activist Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in jail on Christmas Day.

It would have been just five years had China been in a good mood, but the atmosphere was bleak after the insult delivered by US president Barack Obama, who gate-crashed Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s meeting with third world countries during the global warming talks in Copenhagen, a meeting deliberately omitting the US’s presence. Obama acted as if he was an FBI agent ransacking an apartment in a heroic drug crackdown campaign and according to some newspapers, famously shouted, “Are you ready to meet me now, Mr. Premier?” No, we are not ready to meet you, but as revenge, we are more than happy to add a few years to Liu’s jail term. Hence, the 11 years.

To make things worse, a dozen Western diplomats tried to enter the Beijing court to witness the trial. Most managed to get in, except a representative from the American embassy, who read out an angry statement instead. Had the Beijing court not been besieged by such foreign powers whose act was apparently designed to “interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Liu might have received fewer years. Hence, the 11 years.

Some might also argue that, because Liu has been detained for a year already prior to the court hearings, that time served could be deducted from the sentence. Oh no, because of China’s revenge against “foreign interference,” instead of deducting that year, an additional year was added to Liu’s sentence. Hence, the 11 years.

The number “11” appears to hold special meaning for Chinese people too. Think about how our ancestors created Chinese characters—written Chinese is a system of visualized symbols. So it is not hard for any Chinese to think of jail when seeing the number “11”—the two 1s look similar to the bars of a prison cell. Hence, the 11 years.

For the Western diplomats who don’t understand the Chinese psyche, perhaps a reference to European history may be helpful, namely the French Revolution. When Louis XVI was put on trial in December 1792, opinions in the revolutionary court split over what punishment would be appropriate for the French king while few debated his guilt. Some moderates argued strongly for a royal exile on humanitarian grounds. It was not until other European powers like Prussia, Austria and England started gathering troops around the French borders to show support to the French king, did it convince the revolutionary court that the king was an agent of treason. The European empires tried to help, but instead sent their friend to the guillotine. And so it began the Reign of Terror.

And here we witness the Chinese communist government’s parallel mindset. China believes that civil unrest in Iran, Xinjiang and Tibet have been stage-controlled by the West, because the West offered to help. To China, the group of Western diplomats marching to the Beijing court to sit at Liu’s trial echoes the scene in France in 1792. Do not assume that the only Louis in France that China is familiar with is the cognac Louis XIII (de Rémy Martin). Chinese people actually remember an important chapter in history that Europe and the United States have long forgotten.

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