This is a crucial moment in China's history, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee clearly understands. Liu rightly wants to underline how far his country has to go to secure the basic democratic freedoms of speech and association. But we also need to remember how far it has come. In the 1960s and 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution, a whole generation of intellectuals was uprooted. Millions were displaced. The situation today is very different in ways both heartening and discouraging. Now we can identify somewhere between 40 and 50 writers and bloggers whom the Chinese state has imprisoned simply for peacefully speaking their mind.
And then there are people like Gao Zhisheng, the army veteran and human rights lawyer who hasn't been seen since this April. Gao -- whose struggle to achieve an education began in a cave in Shaanxi province, where he was born to a peasant family -- has been tortured and imprisoned in the past. And all because he has learned the law, committing great volumes of the Chinese legal code to his formidable memory, and used it to fight corrupt officials and the suppression of religious minorities. While we celebrate Liu, let's also ask the Chinese government where Gao is and what has happened to him.