Liu Xiaobo, a famous human rights activist in China, was born in 1955 in Changchun. He spent his teens in Inner Mongolia due to his father being sent there as part of Chairman Mao’s campaign to dispatch the middle class to the countryside to learn physical labor skill in the farms and villages. His family was loyal to the Communist party and obeyed their wishes thoroughly.
Xiaobo followed in the footsteps of his father and was taught by those living in the countryside in his late teens and beginning of his twenties to do the manual labor required for the lifestyle there. When his father died in 1976, Xiaobo traveled to Jilin to seek a proper higher education. He attended the Beijing Normal University with a focus on the study of literature, after going on to teach at the University shortly after his graduation.
Liu founded a long-running poetry group called “The Innocent Hearts” which lead to the meeting of his wife Tao Li, also a poet. In 1988, he completed his Ph.D. with a thesis entitled Aesthetic and Human Freedom, a work that was eventually published as his second book.
Liu published literary critiques in the late 1980’s and became known as a “dark horse” for his commentary on Chinese establishments and literal instruments. His opinions were radical to a majority of the populous, exemplified in his first book Criticism of the Choice: Dialogues with Li Zehou. This piece thoroughly criticised China’s tradition of Confucianism, a religion that strongly affected the political stances in the country. Liu also criticized numerous mainland Chinese writers and thinkers, sometimes getting carried away with his need to provoke those following traditional ideologies. Some of his statements are still used as examples to illustrate him as a tool for the governments of the West to harm China. Liu quickly got involved in the protests at Tiananmen Square upon seeing images of the masses of students gathered there. The growing sentiment for economic and political reform in the country was brought to a boiling point when Hu Yaobang, a CCP general secretary who openly encourage democratic reforms, was forcibly made to resign and died in the spring of 1989.
He became a martyr and symbol for the liberalization of Chinese politics. The Communist Party of China was trying to suppress all “bourgeois liberalism,” and the recent economic boom lead to horrible amounts of corruption in the government. These students were fighting for the individual rights and freedoms that they had seen prevalent among foreign governments. While Liu opposed hatred towards anyone in politics, he felt the responsibility to guide the fate of his nation. He played a pivotal role in the communication between the students and the government officials with the goal of getting the protesters out of the square in a peaceful manner. Because of the influence, he held over the protesters, he was able to save hundreds of lives, getting the demonstrators out of the square as soon as the killing started. Due to his actions against the Chinese government at Tiananmen Square, Xiaobo was arrested and sent to prison for two years.
He was sent to prison for another six months in 1995 for his political reform petition published on the event’s anniversary and placed in a labor camp for three years for the advocation of peaceful unification with Taiwan in ’96. Liu states in his book, A Nation That Lies to Conscience, that “the people recognized that every effort was being made to develop the economy and raise the standard of living. This resulted in widespread and deep popular support and a solid, practical legitimacy.” A petition for reform in China that Liu was the co-author of was signed by over ten-thousand Chinese citizens in 2008, which objectively contributed to the changes made to China’s human rights policies over the past few years. In 2009 Liu published Falling of A Great Power: Memorandum to China, a report on the human rights of Chinese citizens. This was a tipping point in his treatment by the Chinese government.
While they had been tapping his phones and surveilling him for years under house arrest, he was sentenced to jail for eleven years in response to its release. It was revealed that Liu had developed cancer while imprisoned only after his condition was well beyond any possible treatments in June of 2017. With no proper form of medical attention, he died on July 13th due to multiple organ failure. His wife, Liu Xia, was prevented from speaking out about the nonexistent treatment of his cancer due to threats from the government and constant surveillance.
He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his non-violent fight for fundamental human rights in China and became the first ever recipient to be awarded this while in a state’s custody. Desmond Tutu was born in Transvaal, South Africa in 1931 to his elementary school principal father, Zechariah, and housewife Aletta. From an early age, he observed the discrimination against blacks in his community and the lack of human rights given to them compared to the whites that lived alongside them. During his youth, black Africans had the right to vote restricted and were vastly segregated in society.
He graduated from Johannesburg Bantu High School in 1950 with the hopes of attending medical school, however, this dream was not possible due to the outrageous expenses that this would require for such a poor family. After being awarded a scholarship to continue his studies as an education major at Pretoria Bantu Normal College, he earned a teacher’s certificate in 1953, finally graduating from the University of South Africa a year later. While teaching at the high school he attended, the Bantu Education Act, a bill that severely reduced the accessibility of higher education for black South Africans, was passed by the government. It made it a much greater challenge to provide an adequate education for his students, especially one that was unbiased and equal for all attendees. The National Party had won control of the government and allowed for this act, and many others similar, to be part of the official policy of apartheid. Frustrated for the government for which he was working, he resigned from his position in 1957, not willing to contribute to a system of education that legally prompted inequality.
Tutu decided changed his course of study to theology, attending St Peter’s Theological College in Johannesburg in 1960 as an Anglican deacon, the first black African to ever do so. His hope was that religion could be used as a powerful tool for the advocation of equality in South Africa. He became a priest in 1961. After spending four years pursuing theological research in London, he obtained his master’s in theology from King’s College. He proceeded to lecture about theology in the Eastern Cape, Fort Hare, Botswana, Swaziland, and Lesotho before returning to England to become the associate director of Theological Education in Kent for the World Council of Churches. Tutu was soon the leading spokesperson for black South African rights, acting as the general secretary.
A letter was composed to the prime minister of South Africa addressing his concerns with the ignored importance of racial equality and its direct effect on the well-being of the country, but there was no discourse. While direct contact with the South African government was barely possible, Tutu used his prominent position in the church to try and put an end to apartheid. His official objective was to create “a democratic and just society without racial divisions.” Some of his main interested laid in abolishing South African passport laws and establishing a common system of education with equal civil rights regardless of race.
The anti-apartheid movement which he spearheaded started to receive international attention. While this was excellent for his social advancement goals, the spotlight put him at high risk of imprisonment or exile by the government. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his actions as a unifying force in the diminishment of the apartheid. The award supported the individuals in South Africa who held the same concern for equality and inclusion, giving international recognition and force to the anti-apartheid movement. It was brought to the attention of many world leaders who then began instating actions to help with the cause. In 1993, the apartheid was put to an end.
Tutu was given the responsibility to run the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by president Mandela so he could further investigate the crimes committed by those fighting with and against the South African apartheid.While officially retiring from public service work twenty years ago, Tutu continues to tackle issues such as climate change, AIDS prevention, death with dignity laws, and other human rights struggles. While Tutu did achieve many of his goals, I question the choice to pursue religious practice as a way to change legislation. There is a large moral grey area when it comes to using your religious authority as a way to sell your own ethical and legal agenda. Tutu did this in a way that benefited the human rights of many citizens, but this could also be used for doing exactly the opposite, which countless churches have done many times before. Religion and politics, while aligning closely with one another in their ability to define what is right and wrong for those who follow them, should questionably be used in reactive compliance with one another.
This meaning, one affecting the other so drastically. Either way, religion is a way to spread social awareness on a large scale of issues that are obstructing the human rights of others.