Over the years I came to understand that, alongside the many tensions inherent in China's fast-forward change processes, state-society relations were on the whole adversely affected by the conceited self-righteousness of foreign China-bashers in general, and, in particular, of some internatioal human rights 'advocacy' organisations that busied themselves looking for disaffected Chinese citizens and turning them into prison fodder. That remains my view.
This, of course, from a man who was thrown out of China for writing on political issues.
The main position on both sides appears to be that foreign involvement with Chinese dissidents serves only to dirty them in the eyes of the Chinese public and put them in danger of government reprisals. The supposition appears to be that, had Liu Xiaobo not received support from foreign organisations, then he would perhaps have avoided prison. Unfortunately we cannot go back in time and see what might have happened had he never been associated with foreign organisations.
Or can we? Liu Xiaobo is far from the only dissident held by the Chinese authorities on charges of 'subversion'. We have also the example of former Nanjing Normal University professor, Guo Quan. Unlike Liu Xiaobo, Guo Quan has publicly eschewed association with foreign human rights organisations, and his writings have struck a decidedly nationalistic tone.
Did this save Guo? Clearly not. In fact it is remarkable that, whilst Liu, who cultivated links overseas, is now the subject of high-profile international appeals for his release, Guo Quan remains virtually forgotten even in his own country. Even were there a domestic campaign for Guo's release this would be unlikely to achieve anything, since it would be nigh-on impossible for it to make head-way against government censorship.
Whilst I disagree with Nick Young's characterisation of people like Guo and Liu as merely disaffected individuals, we must admit that they exist in every society, and would exist with or without foreign assistance. The decision, then, is not whether they should be 'created' (in Nick Young's parlance "[turned] into prison fodder"), but whether to support people who will work to improve their society whatever foreign observers do.