June 26, 2016
Originally published on December 6, 2005.
SHANGHAI, Dec. 5 — Liu Binyan, the forceful dissident writer who repeatedly exposed official corruption and openly challenged the Chinese Communist Party to reform itself before and after he was exiled to the United States in the late 1980's, died Monday.
He was 80 years old and lived in East Windsor, N.J.
The cause of death was believed to be complications related to colon cancer, said his wife, Zhu Hong.
A crusading investigative journalist and devoted Marxist, Mr. Liu became a popular figure in China for his literary exposés in the official party newspaper, People's Daily, on greed, corruption and rampant abuse of power within the Communist Party system.
But he was eventually expelled from the party in 1987, along with two other leading dissident intellectuals, Fang Lizhi, a prominent astrophysicist, and Wang Ruowang, a poet. A year later, he visited the United States to teach and write. He was never allowed to return home.
The expulsions came shortly after the government clamped down on pro-democracy student demonstrators in January 1987, and then fired the reform-minded party secretary, Hu Yaobang.
The three intellectuals were denounced by name in 1987 by Deng Xiaoping as threats to the party. But their pleas for greater reforms and democracy at a time when China was just beginning to open up its political and economic system were believed to have helped inspire a second wave of pro-democracy student demonstrations in 1989, which were touched off by Hu's death.
Few intellectuals in modern China were so daring or so persistent as Mr. Liu in publicly attacking and exposing corruption in the party's ranks. And what was perhaps most remarkable about his career is that he did it as something of an insider, as a party member and a writer for official party publications in a country that has a history of very little public dissent.
But for that he paid a heavy price. He was expelled from the party and denounced as a "rightist" in the 1950's, sent to forced labor camps, then labeled a "class enemy," rehabilitated, then denounced, re-expelled from the party and eventually exiled permanently from the country. He is survived by his wife, Zhu Hong; a son, Liu Dahong, and a daughter, Liu Xiaoyan.
Mr. Liu had a knack for saying what was on his mind, and for stubbornly insisting that the party was heading in the wrong direction, betraying the people and the country's Marxist and socialist principles.
"He was one of the first people to challenge the party," says Merle Goldman, professor emerita of history at Boston University and author of several books on Chinese intellectuals. "He openly challenged the regime. And few people did that."
Liu Binyan was born in 1925, in Changchun, in the industrial northeast. He was the son of a railroad worker, from a family too poor to send him through high school.
After completing the ninth grade, he dropped out and began reading on his own. He joined a Marxist reading group, taught himself Russian and began devouring books.
In 1943, while China was divided by civil war and at war with Japan, he joined the underground Communist Party.
After the Communist victory in 1949, he worked as an investigative reporter and editor at the China Youth Daily, the leading youth newspaper, where he practiced a formed of literary journalism that involved meticulous research and almost novelistic detail and description.
Yet during the 1950's, he began writing impassioned, thinly veiled critiques of the party's bureaucracy, and lifted the veil on corruption in the system.
In 1957 he was denounced as a "rightist" and expelled from the Communist Party. For the next two decades, he was in and out of forced labor camps and sometimes separated from his family.
In 1978, after Deng came to power, Mr. Liu was rehabilitated, readmitted to the party and given a job as a special reporter for People's Daily. Before long he was once again writing scathing attacks on the party bureaucracy. In 1979 he published his most famous work, "People or Monsters?", about a corruption case in northeastern China.
Mr. Liu's articles and essays in People's Daily and elsewhere made him into one of the most admired writers on the mainland, even though his depiction of the party was ugly.
"The Communist Party regulated everything," he wrote. "But it would not regulate the Communist Party."
But in 1987, after large student protests in the Yangtze River basin, the government cracked down on "bourgeois liberalization" and those who favored capitalism and Western values. Intellectuals and party critics like Mr. Liu were expelled.
The party's official papers then savaged Mr. Liu and charged him with fabricating stories. Deng called him a subversive and he was banned from writing for People's Daily.
In 1988 he was allowed to travel to the United States to teach and write at the University of California at Los Angeles and at Harvard. But after the crackdown on student protesters in June 1989, he went on national television and lashed out at the Chinese government, predicting that the Communist Party would soon collapse.
"He got on national television and burned his bridges," said Perry Link, a professor at Princeton University who translated and edited several collections of Mr. Liu's collections of writings. "He felt the party was morally bankrupt."
After that, the Chinese government refused to allow Mr. Liu to return home. He became a dissident in exile.
In the United States he continued writing and speaking out forcefully about how corruption and greed had eaten away at the system, and about how the Chinese party had strayed from socialism and the ideals he had read about as a youth.
"The problem does not lie with socialism itself," he once told The New York Review of Books. "The socialism imported from the Soviet Union and implemented in China was not true socialism. From Stalin to Mao Zedong, we have had false socialism."
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