“It must be to mark the exit of a hero,” one Weibo user wrote. “The heavens are also moved.”
“Heaven is watching,” wrote a WeChat user, suggesting that China was being judged by a higher power for its treatment of Mr. Liu. The activist, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, had been sentenced to 11 years for his efforts to promote democracy.
Activists have accused the government of depriving Mr. Liu of proper medical care after a cancer diagnosis. Some critics warned that the treatment of Mr. Liu has marred China’s international reputation and tarnished the legacy of President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against dissidents.
As censors sprung into action after Mr. Liu’s death, internet users found creative means to convey their opinions. One popular motif was a picture of an empty chair, echoing the way the Nobel Prize committee honored Mr. Liu at the 2010 ceremony. Another common image was a black backdrop accompanied only by the text “1955-2017,” the years of Mr. Liu’s life.
Chinese journalists, lawyers and activists decried government efforts to erase mentions of Mr. Liu. He is now relatively unknown in China, despite his fame overseas, and the mainland Chinese press has largely not reported his death. To evade censors who were patrolling the internet for uses of Mr. Liu’s name, some users instead referred to him as “Wang Xiaobo,” or “Teacher Liu.”
The censors were quick to react, blocking searches of several code words. A viral essay on Mr. Liu’s death titled “A Night That Can’t Be Discussed” was quickly deleted.
Mr. Liu’s famous phrase — “I have no enemies and no hatred” — was widely quoted among his admirers in the hours after his death. He had planned to make the remark at his sentencing on charges of inciting subversion of state power in 2009, but the court forbade him from doing so. Since then, the quotation has become a mantra of hope for pro-democracy activists in China and a reminder of Mr. Liu’s commitment to nonviolence.
“I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies,” Mr. Liu wrote in a prepared statement in 2009.
As they grappled with his death, Mr. Liu’s admirers quoted his writings and poetry. Some remembered his days helping student protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989. They posted photos of a dimly lit square, a portrait of Mao blurry in the background.
“You are the martyr of freedom,” wrote one user. “The executioner will never be forgiven.”