Social change, from the library to the jail

6a0105369e3ea1970b0148c6aa8606970c 320wi - Social change, from the library to the jail How does a society transform?

Liu Xiaobo had a few ideas.

For the second time in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, no one was there to receive the award.  The chair of winner Liu Xiaobo sat empty on Friday. Neither Liu nor his wife, Liu Xia, were allowed to travel to Norway to receive the honorary degree.

Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an eleven year jail sentence in a China for “subversion of state power.”

Who is Liu Xiaobo? What have his efforts shown us about what it takes for a society to change?

Liu Xiaobo was born in Changchun and raised in Mongolia. Born to two intellectuals, Liu’s parents encouraged him in his scholarly pursuits. Before attending a University in Jillin to study Chinese Literature, Liu was an unskilled laborer working alongside his father. Liu persevered in his intellectual path and earned a doctorate degree in Beijing in literature in 1989.

Quickly, Liu became known for his desire to “provoke and outrage.” His intellectual pursuits brought him to Columbia University in New York.

Liu became famous – or perhaps infamous – through his work in 2008. Along with a few others, he organized what is known as the Charter 08 petition calling for political reformation in China. The document’s publication coincided with that of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Human Rights declaration—a monumental landmark.

Following the publication of this document, Liu was put under house arrest for a period of six months. Despite national petitions to Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in jail for his part in the petition and his censure of the Communist Party.

Liu Xiaobo’s is just one example of a remarkably honorable individual willing to lay his life down for social change. He’s not the only one, because a working model of social change suggests that individuals like him are a necessary condition of social transformation and progress.  Their actions, however controversial, help others in society conceive of change and … eventually … help them realize that they are ready to take the next step.

Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross, all psychologists, researched and developed a theory of change, congruent and applicable for societies and individuals. Known as Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model, its six stages represent the process orientation of transformation.

  • Pre-Contemplation: This is the quintessential “not there” stage. Ignorance is indeed bliss. Typically, no one individual or society has even thought of change.
  • Contemplation: The height of ambiguity. The idea of change is introduced and circulated.
  • Preparation: Feeling out the waves of change—change becomes a possibility in the short-term.
  • Action: Change is implemented. Behaviors, cognitions, and attitudes begin to transform.
  • Maintenance: The ultimate definition of perseverance. This usually occurs over years and involves the commitment to total personal and societal transformation for the issue at hand.
  • Relapse: This involves the great fall from grace. A greater commitment to transformation needs to occur here and continual steps to move forward are necessary to avoid further relapse.


This model has been used by many different sectors of society including: governments, domestic violence shelters, mental health facilities, and smoking cessation programs.  At each the individual level, a person must decide that they are ready for the next level of change;  at the societal level, individuals must speak out  – and sometimes endure terrible suffering – before the society can acknowledge that change is possible.

Undeniably, Liu Xiaobo’s work and life has been a beacon of hope with its firm dedication to the process of change, of transformation for China. Liu himself, on an individual level, was action oriented and admirably perseverant. He was indeed, a man with a mission.

At the core, change and transformation are about embracing hope, about believing that a better tomorrow is in reach. Liu Xiaobo is just one example of a person that believes the change can occur…that transformation is possible…and that the sun can rise with patience perseverance.

 — Liz Schreiber

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