Hard Edge Under the Snow

Washington, DC is emerging from its winter wonderland of nearly two feet of light powdery snow over the weekend. With snow crested on rooftops and banked along the streets, with sparkling lights blinking around town, circling the monuments and the White House, the city looks like a postcard for the holidays.

Over the weekend if you didn’t have to travel, the record snowfall—between 15-20 inches, the largest ever in December—was magical. We walked into a restaurant with a fire place, met with family and friends for lunch then played in the park with our family dogs—one old dog and two puppies—who jumped and romped and tumbled through the snow as if it had fallen for their pleasure, theirs and the children who were sledding down the hill.

But the snow has now begun to melt during the day and to freeze at night, leaving crusty, icy mounds. From the window it is still beautiful, but it is a pain if you are trying to park a car at the curb or walk along paths not dug out when it was fluffy.  The holiday lights still blink, and the puppies still race across the white fields as if life was all that it was meant to be.

And yet as I sit here typing this December blog, trying to settle into the holiday spirit, I am acutely aware that half a world away a trial is under way at this very moment in Beijing for a Chinese writer and dissident whose “crime” was to draft, along with other Chinese citizens, a vision–Charter 08–calling for human rights, rule of law and  democratic reform in China.

An important writer and literary critic, Liu Xiaobo was held for six months at a secret location, then formally arrested and transferred to a detention center in June, and finally twelve days ago indicted for “incitement to subvert state power.” He is being brought to trial today– December 23–less than two weeks after the indictment and on the eve of Christmas when many diplomats and journalists will be away.  His motion to postpone so his defense could have time to read and prepare against the 20 volume indictment was denied. Liu’s wife was told she can’t observe the trial and has instead been named a prosecution witness. Across China activists and supporters of Liu’s have been warned to stay home and not participate in any activities in support of Liu. These actions have led China observers to conclude that the trial is purely political and a guilty verdict has already been determined.

Around the world freedom of expression and human rights organizations and activists are preparing for the worst—a long jail sentence for Liu.  A vigil has been called at the Chinese embassy in New York. Petitions are being prepared and at the same time lobbying continues in the hope for some recourse.

At this holiday season when hope is celebrated and rebirth, anticipated, the voice of a single Chinese citizen echoes as light as snow falling on grass and as hard as the frozen earth beneath.


  1. Bob F on December 23, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Saw lots of pics of DC snow-beautiful. Wasn’t sure I’d see a Dec. blog; thanks-enjoy’m.
    -Bob F

  2. Kathy on December 26, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I will certainly plan to spare a thought for Liu as he faces trial.  Your expanded awareness of what’s going on in the world is inspiring.   –Kathy

  3. Frank Ocwieja on December 29, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    I had the following reaction to Liu’s conviction in Chinese courts last week:
    How to Support Liu’s Crusade
    The U.S. Government and its liberal democratic allies are not the correct institutions to take on the undemocratic ways of the Chinese government.  The Chinese people seem to be satisfied, on the whole, with the autocratic rule of the Communist party in Beijing, as long as they are given the opportunity to earn a living and even become rich.  Liu Xiaobo has a different idea—one that he is certainly entitled to under the West’s concept of human rights.  However, that idea of free expression of political views is certainly not commonly held by Liu’s compatriots.
    Liu’s campaign has gotten him into deep trouble with the Chinese government whose suppression of dissent is Liu’s target.  Although foreign governments like the U.S. and other liberal democracies are often the tools their citizens wish to use to spread the acceptance of their political values, this is a very high stakes game in current economic conditions.  It is a game that should properly be undertaken by private non-governmental organizations and individuals rather than by their official agencies on whom promoting the economic welfare of their nations depends. 
    Direct governmental pressure on the Chinese Communist regime will only cause it to dig in harder, mainly at the expense of its own populace.  Changing the willingness of the Chinese people to demand better human rights treatment from their own government is a private matter.  Apparently, Liu’s strategy has been to risk personal imprisonment in order to embarrass likely sympathizers abroad into taking action to help him enlighten, as it were, a number of Chinese citizens sufficient to weaken the tacit acquiescence on which Communist rule rests. 
    There certainly are potential sources of support for that effort that have as much power, monetary and technological, as most governments to strengthen the hands of Liu, his wife, and their cohorts to convince a majority of their countrymen that life in a free society would be better for them all.
    -Frank Ocwieja

  4. Olin Barrows on June 19, 2010 at 8:51 am

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