Liu Binyan, the fearless Chinese journalist who openly challenged the Chinese communist regime by exposing official corruption, died of colon cancer on December 5, 2005, at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was 80.
Liu was just a common man in China, yet he led an uncommon life. Twice he was admitted to the Chinese Communist Party, and twice the Party expelled him. His early and undaunted efforts to make the Communist Party right its wrongs led him to the conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party would soon collapse.
Liu Binyan was born in 1925 in Changchun, Jilin Province. Like many in Changchun, his father was a railroad worker, too poor to send him beyond the ninth grade. At 15, he went to live with his sister in occupied Beijing and studied Marxist theory and foreign languages. Later, he moved to Tianjin and joined an anti-Japanese student group.
In 1943, when China was at war with Japan, Liu became a member of the underground Communist Party on a secret visit to the countryside, where the communists were organizing farmer resistance.
After the 1949 communist victory, Liu worked as an investigative reporter, editor, and Communist Party Secretary at the China Youth Daily, the leading Communist Youth League newspaper.
In the 1950s his writings were mostly critiques of the bureaucracy and corruption of the Chinese communist regime. In 1956 he published two works of thinly disguised fiction—one, At the Bridge Site, exposing corruption at a construction site and the other, Inside Story, showing how censorship worked at a newspaper.
In 1957, the Chinese communist regime started the "Anti-Rightists" campaign to purge outspoken intellectuals who criticized the system. After endless denunciations at the China Youth Daily, Liu was sent to the countryside to be reformed-through-labor in forced labor camps and "reeducation" facilities, along with hundreds of thousands of fellow "rightist" intellectuals. His family, which he did not see for years at a time, was forced to denounce him. He carted sewage from inner cities to farmers, made bricks, and raised pigs in the countryside. At times, labor camp officials tried to coerce him into recanting his controversial work.
After almost 10 years Liu was finally "rehabilitated" in 1966, only to be denounced again within months as Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution against China’s "class enemies." In 1969 Liu, still officially viewed as a "rightist," was sent to a forced labor camp for eight years.
In 1978, after Deng Xiaoping came to power, the once downtrodden "rightists" were rehabilitated and given government jobs. Liu was re-admitted to the Communist Party and assigned a job as a special reporter for the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party.
Soon he resumed writing articles critical of the communist regime. In 1979 he published his most famous work, Between Men and Monsters. It is the story of a Party secretary in Heilongjiang Province who makes a fortune from bribery. A Second Kind of Loyalty, published in the summer of 1985, praised a former political prisoner who openly challenged a decision by the authorities to shoot a fellow inmate. For a while he was one of the most admired writers on the mainland and was considered to be "China’s conscience."
In late fall 1986, college students in several cities staged demonstrations to demand political reform. In January 1987, the then General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, was accused of being soft on the student protests and on "bourgeois liberalism" and was forced to resign. Liu was singled out by Deng Xiaoping for "advocating bourgeois liberalism" and expelled again from the Communist Party. Liu was denounced by the People’s Daily, his former newspaper, as "the scum of the nation." Deng’s ensuing campaign against Liu and other reformers paved the way for the tragedy of Tiananmen Square two years later.
In the spring of 1988, Liu was allowed to travel to the United States to teach and write at the University of California at Los Angeles and at Harvard. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, he lashed out at the Chinese regime on U.S. national television and predicted that the Communist Party would soon collapse.
After that, the Chinese government refused to allow Mr. Liu to return home.
In the United States, Liu continued writing and speaking out about corruption and greed in China. Among other books, he wrote a memoir, A Higher Kind of Loyalty, in 1990.
Liu was a famous writer. From his earlier writings up to his last, he was very popular, particularly among those who grew up in the People’s Republic. Liu’s works touched the hearts of the Chinese and made them think. That was the power of his writing that the Communist Party feared most. Of the 63 years he lived in China, he was allowed to write as a journalist for only about nine years. Yet, in those nine short years, Liu’s writings inspired many Chinese.
Liu had reportedly asked for the following words to be included on any memorial to his life and work: "Here lies a Chinese who said what had to be said and did what had to be done."
Stephen Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.