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Los Angeles Times Obituaries

Liu Binyan, 80; Chinese Writer, Intellectual Was Exiled After Uprising in Tiananmen Square

December 06, 2005 | Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer


Liu Binyan, the Chinese writer and intellectual who was stranded in the United States by China's 1989 crackdown on dissidents after the student pro-democracy uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, has died. He was 80.

Liu died Monday of colon cancer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., said Cecilia Alvear, who was a Nieman Fellow with Liu at Harvard University.

Then China's most prominent journalist, Liu was participating in the Nieman program for writers in Cambridge, Mass., when the bloody confrontation between students and the Chinese government occurred.

Communist leaders, who were frequently at odds with Liu over his critical writing, seized on the uprising to bar his return to China and force him into exile.

In 1990, Liu published "A Higher Kind of Loyalty: A Memoir," which was based on a 1985 article with the same title. "There are two kinds of loyalties in this world," he wrote. "One is exposed to risks, while the other is safe."

David Treadwell, reviewing the book for The Times, called it "vintage Liu" and said: "It is at once a searing indictment of the Communist system in China, recounting in often disquieting detail the price Liu and others like him have paid for their dissent. At the same time, like all the major works he has written since joining the party and becoming a journalist, it is offered in the spirit of one who sees himself as a kind of loyal opposition."

But the work that established Liu as an internationally respected writer was his "People or Monsters?" First published in the prestigious Chinese national journal People's Literature in 1979, it gained wider prestige when it was re-published by Indiana University Press as the title article in a book-length collection of his work in 1982.

Blending the technique of the novelist with the subject matter of the muckraking reporter, "People or Monsters?" was a carefully researched expose of a corrupt cashier who became an oppressive party leader in northeastern China. The piece helped make Liu one of China's best-known and most admired writers, and earned him the nickname "Liu the Just."

Liu went on to write a series of works that criticized systemic local corruption within the Communist Party and the party's insistence on absolute obedience.


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