Dissident activist and Nobel laureate was last sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 and died in custody

The death on Thursday of Chinese dissident activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo elicited an outpouring of grief and anger in China, particularly from its artists. Though usually preferring to remain safely apolitical, members of the Chinese art world defied a ban on covering or mentioning Liu and expressed their sorrow and frustration at his death through mostly indirect references on Chinese social media.

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist now living in Berlin, told the BBC yesterday: “It still comes as a big shock… because he has been such a symbol for China’s human rights or democratic movement.” Ai said of his friend, “I think Liu Xiaobo will be remembered as an individual, a strong mind, with his belief, and as a brave fighter, believing in democracy and freedom of speech. And he sacrificed his life for his belief.”

His compatriots still based in China, though unable to speak so freely, found creative ways to mourn Liu on the social media platform Wechat. According to some reports, the national outpouring was so widespread that the government banned the emojis for candles and clasped hands on Twitter clone Weibo, though they remain permitted on Wechat.

Articles mentioning Liu’s death, with titles like “The Death of Freedom”, were quickly expunged, but artists and curators have instead posted screenshots of the error message, with comments like, “Do you not understand what bullshit this is!” Screengrabs of global media reports were also popular, as technology currently does not facilitate the searching of textual images. read more