Thursday, February 16, 2012

Simon Leys on Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo,  the Chinese dissident writer, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, just one year after he was sentenced to ll years in prison.  In his review of Liu Xiaobo’s collection of essays No Enemies, No Hatred; Selected Essays and Poems in The New York Review of Books (“He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny,TNYRB,  2/9/12, Simon Leys singles out one of his essays, “To Change a Regime by Changing a Society,” remarking,  “I know of Western liberals who, confronted with the extreme puritanism of the Maoist era, naively assumed that, after long repression, sexual liberation was bound to explode sooner or later and would act like dynamite and open the way towards a freer society. Now an ‘erotic carnival’ (Liu’s words) of sex, violence, and greed is indeed sweeping through the entire country, but—as Liu describes it—this wave merely reflects the moral collapse of a society that has been emptied of all values during the long years of its totalitarian brutalization: ‘The craze for political revolution in decades past has now turned into a craze for money and sex.’” Xiaobo’s point about China’s superficial liberalization is curiously similar to the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse's concept of “repressive desublimation.” Marcuse applied the idea to the sixties love generation whose sexual freedoms siphoned off the energy of true rebellion. Thus the brutality of Tiananmen Square is quickly forgotten in an atmosphere of spurious freedom, a materialism that derives from a deep loss of an ethical and moral center. Leys comments in the beginning of his essay that “The general consensus, in China as well as abroad, is that the twenty-first century will be ‘China’s Century.’” But what is dramatic is the parallel ways in which the elites of two radically opposed ideologies have used material pleasures to muffle dissent.

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