Milestones in China's pro-democracy movement

The career of Liu Xiaobo, China's most prominent political prisoner who died Thursday, intersected various times with the country's pro-democracy movement until his final imprisonment in 2008.

Liu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was a lecturer, writer and literary critic.

Below is a look at milestones in the drive for greater Chinese political freedom, openness and accountability beginning with the 1978 democracy movement up to the present day, along with Liu's role.


— 1978 DEMOCRACY WALL — Citizens are briefly allowed to call for political and intellectual freedoms. Liu is a student of Chinese literature at Jilin University.

— 1986 STUDENT PROTESTS — Students protest for democracy, leading to the ouster of reformist Communist Party Secretary General Hu Yaobang. Liu gains renown as a writer and lecturer.

— 1989 TIANANMEN SQUARE PROTESTS — Massive student-led pro-democracy movement is crushed by the army. Liu leaves a job at Columbia University to join the protests and is jailed after the crackdown.

— 1998 DEMOCRACY PARTY OF CHINA — Efforts to form an opposition party result in several arrests and lengthy sentences for organizers. Liu is not involved after having been detained for issuing an appeal on behalf of those who took part in the Tiananmen protests.

— 2008 CHARTER 08 — Liu joins other activists in drafting a call for greater freedom and democracy and an end to one-party rule. He is detained on Oct. 8, 2008, and sentenced a year later to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion of state power.

— 2010 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE — The honor is bestowed on Liu in recognition of his peaceful struggle for human rights and democracy, although, imprisoned, he is unable to attend. China responds with fury, but the award renews awareness of the struggle of China's pro-democracy activists.

— 2011 ARAB SPRING CRACKDOWN — Communist leaders disturbed by uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and online calls for protests dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution" within China ratchet up monitoring of perceived dissidents and critics. Among those detained is activist artist Ai Weiwei, who was held for three months and then barred from leaving the country for a period.

— 2012 BLIND LAWYER ESCAPES — Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer, makes a daring escape from house arrest in his rural town into U.S. diplomatic custody in Beijing, setting off a standoff over his case. Chinese officials later let Chen move to the U.S.

— 2012-13 NEW CITIZENS MOVEMENT — Legal workers, civic groups and human rights defenders step up their activism against corruption and other abuses, leading to multiple arrests for crimes such as "disrupting public order."

— 2015 JULY 9 CRACKDOWN — The party steps up attacks on legal activists and others, detaining and arresting scores, some of whom are tried and given relatively light sentences as a warning to others.

— 2017 ILLNESS AND DEATH OF LIU XIAOBO — After eight years in prison, Liu is diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer and is moved to a hospital on medical parole. News of his condition is met with dismay and draws calls from supporters and foreign governments for him to be allowed to seek treatment overseas. China rebuffs the calls.

Bg pattern light


Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?