This week, the mayor and city council of D.C. will receive an idea from Congress to pay tribute to a human rights hero and make sure Chinese diplomats see his name every day.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said at last week’s U.S.-China Commission hearing that he’ll ask District officials to consider renaming the street that runs outside of the Chinese Embassy — International Place — after Liu Xiaobo.
A longtime pro-democracy and human rights activist, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Christmas 2009 after his lawyers were allowed to argue his case for only 14 minutes. The charge was “inciting subversion” against the communist state.
Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia in 2010.
“I intend to send a letter to the D.C. mayor and city council requesting that the section of International Place that runs past the Chinese Embassy in Washington be named after Dr. Liu Xiaobo. There is precedent for such an action: in the 1980s, the square in front of the Soviet Embassy in Washington was renamed Sakharov Plaza, after anti-Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov,” Wolf said.
“By renaming the street in front of the Chinese Embassy after Dr. Liu, we would send a clear and powerful message that the United States remains vigilant and resolute in its commitment to safeguard human rights around the globe,” he added. “The timing is auspicious with the Tiananmen anniversary rapidly approaching. Some may argue that this is purely a symbolic gesture. But symbols have power.”
Liu is currently on his fourth prison term, but his first incarceration was a two-year sentence in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square protests. The anniversary of the brutal crackdown in the square is June 4.
“The Tiananmen Square demonstrators of 25 years ago understood that symbols speak volumes. They carried paper Mache models of the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ precisely because of what it represented. The art students who created the sculpture explained as much in their declaration writing, ‘You are the symbol of every student in the Square, of the hearts of millions of people. …Today, here in the People’s Square, the people’s Goddess stands tall and announces to the whole world: A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people!’” Wolf said.
“President Ronald Reagan, too, understood symbols. He understood that there was something symbolically stirring about him standing at Brandenberg Gate and calling on the then-Soviet leader to tear down the wall that divided the people of East and West Berlin. He understood that there was something symbolically powerful about invoking the name of Solzhenitsyn when he spoke at the Danilov Monastery in Russia.”
One other embassy, Singapore’s, is located on International Place in the Cleveland Park neighborhood.
“How many times can we pretend that we don’t see the injustice, the repression and the persecution that the Chinese people endure at the hands of their own government?” Wolf asked. “…How many times can we pretend that a White House State dinner is the appropriate welcome for a head of state that imprisons a Nobel Laureate? I pray that the answer to these questions is quite simple: no longer.”
“With the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen on the horizon there are steps that the administration can take, symbolic and tangible alike, that would communicate to the Chinese people that their struggle has not been forgotten. I believe that the Chinese government – the party and system responsible for Tiananmen and continued repression – will ultimately be left on the ‘ash heap of history.’”