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Acceptance Speech for the 2018 Annual Disturbing the Peace Literary Prize for a Courageous Writer at Risk
Liao Yiwu, September 27, 2018, New York City
I thank the award committee for conferring this honor upon me. The award is named for Vaclav Havel’s first work, his autobiography Disturbing the Peace. When translated into Chinese, however, the title of this work means about the same as “provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事). During the existence of the Czechoslovak communist regime, and under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), many dissidents have been sentenced for these “crimes”.
When the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 occurred, I wrote and recorded my poem “Massacre” (《大屠殺》). As the final line goes, “Faced with this unprecedented slaughter, the only survivors are the sons of bitches.” For this “disturbance of the peace” I got four years in prison, where I tried to kill myself twice. Instead of dying, I started writing as a witness, and I have not stopped since. Ten years ago, my work The Corpse Walker (《吆尸人》), which was translated by Huang Wen (黃文), again disturbed the peace.
In 2011, I bribed a triad organization to smuggle me to Vietnam. My sole aim in escaping China was to be able to publish the autobiography that I wrote in prison. I have spent the last seven years in Germany as a political asylee. I still don’t know much German, but Fischer has published eight of my books in the German language. My next book to be published in German next year will be Mr. Wang, the Man In Front of the Tanks (《王先生，挡在坦克前面的那个人》), and in it, there will be an essay titled Liu Xiaobo: The Final Days (《刘晓波的最后时刻》). It is about his persistence and our failure.
At the moment, Liu Xia (刘霞) and I are here, but her late husband Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) and Havel have gone to a faraway place. They have finally met each other in Heaven. Two Charters, drafted by two honest men. A few days ago, before we came to New York, Liu Xia and I travelled to Prague to visit Vaclav’s younger brother Ivan. I wonder, are we still “disturbing the peace”?
I have been disturbed as well. The day after Liu Xia arrived in Germany in July, China sentenced another dissident, Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) of Hubei Province, to 13 years in prison. He has been in jail twice and is 65 years old now. Not long ago, it was reported that in my hometown of Chengdu, Sichuan, Huang Qi (黃琦), a 55-year-old dissident who founded the “64tianwang.com” [a site dedicated to documenting social injustice], suffered from kidney failure in prison and is on the verge of death. His 80-year-old mother published his will, and pleaded that “Huang Qi is not guilty”.
Havel once had a round of debates with writer Milan Kundera about protests, politics, prison, and forgetting. What meaning is there to it all? Will Qin Yongmin and Huang Qi walk out of prison alive? And if they don’t, who will record their stories? It’s not something I can do, because unlike Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo, I don’t know enough about them or the things they have experienced.
Besides, I’ve recorded so much, but has it changed anything? New crimes are committed and simply bury the old ones.
Still, I have to keep writing.
Before I stepped onto the stage to accept my award, I found Ms. Albright and Mr. Kissinger, two former U.S. Secretaries of State, in the audience. You still have influence in China. I hope you will pay attention to the aforementioned Qin Yongmin and Huang Qi, and put pressure on the Chinese government for their release.
(Note: As a friend of Vaclav Havel, Ms. Albright accepted the Czechoslovakian Democratic Transition Commemorative Award from the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation. In her acceptance address, she expressed congratulations to Liao Yiwu for receiving the award and said, in acknowledging his request, that when she visits China, she will definitely place a request with top CCP leaders to release the two political prisoners.)
Links to vhlf:
The Corpse Walker https://archive.org/stream/B-001-000-369/B-001-000-369_djvu.txt
Gethsemane Church, Berlin, June 26, 2018
Upon the first anniversary of the death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, a public memorial will be held in the Gethsemane Church (at Stargarder Str. 77, 10437) in Berlin, on July 13, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. On this day last year, China’s most famous political prisoner perished in custody, under tight surveillance and official control, in a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. Two days later the world saw his ashes scattered in the Yellow Sea.
The Gethsemane Church in Berlin is as renowned as the Nikolai Church in Leipzig — both of which were important refuges for East German dissidents. A few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gethsemane sternly rejected the entry of a police-military manhunt, and provided asylum to over a thousand underground rebels. The church is also well-known for hosting Rolf Reuter’s (music director of Komische Oper company) conducting of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, followed by his speech with the lines that “The Wall Must Go!”, which shocked the East. On the evening of October 9, 1989, when the church’s late service finished, protesters walked outside still holding their candles and stood in the streets by their tens of thousands — a prelude to the collapse of the Communist Party of Germany.
We thus feel that the Gethsemane Church — sacred ground for human rights and democracy — is the ideal location for a memorial and prayer service for a man who fought till his death for those very values. The church sounds an alarm for a world upon the cusp of transformation: the Berlin Wall has been rubble for 29 years, but the economically powerful Chinese dictatorship continues to imprison over a billion members of the human race behind its own ‘Berlin Wall,’ which it keeps expanding. The 10,000 or more victims of the Tiananmen slaughter have received no restitution, and China’s Gulag Archipelago is distributed and hidden in untold corners of the country, in which new dissidents are arrested and imprisoned every day. In another time and another place, Liu Xiaobo would have been an East German — one full of bravery who scaled and pushed over the Berlin Wall, and died riddled with bullets for it.
The organizer of the memorial is the German pastor Roland Kühne, long associated with human rights causes. Rallied to action by the plight of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kühne has from 2010 to this day led hundreds of vocational college students to hold protests outside the Chinese embassy in Germany. Last year they carried aloft a coffin as part of the demonstration. Another organizer, Tienchi Martin-Liao (廖天琪), is the chief editor of Liu’s works in Chinese, German, and English; she also serves as president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, and is a longtime ‘comrade-in-arms’ with Kühne.
Kühne and Martin-Liao will preside over the memorial service. Opening the event will be the 82-year-old Berlin Wall-era poet, singer, and Georg Büchner Prize Laureate, Wolf Biermann, a household name in Germany. Biermann ‘defected’ from East Berlin in 1976, then held a famous concert, attended by over 10,000, in the Cologne Sporthalle. His 1974 ‘In China hinter der Mauer’ (In China Behind the Wall) infuriated the Communist Party of Germany, and he was eventually expatriated by the Party.
Biermann has since last year also been tireless in his efforts to help get Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia out of China. To this end, he’ll be singing ‘A Dirge to Jürgen Fuchs.’ Memories of Fuchs, a dear friend of Biermann who was secretly arrested in 1976, were the first thing to flood to Biermann’s mind on the day that Liu died. Fuchs was locked up in the Volkseigener Betrieb (VEB) People’s Prison, where he was irradiated with gamma rays on a daily basis by intelligence operatives posing as doctors. He silently fell ill and died of leukemia, becoming a famous case of radiation poisoning. Biermann sees Liu Xiaobo as a similar warrior belonging to all mankind, one who fell into the hands of the enemy in the battle for freedom, yet kept resisting until the end.
Herta Müller, one of Germany’s most famous poets and herself a Nobel Laureate in literature, will read in German poems composed by Liu Xia, which Müller translated from English. Müller was one of the key nominators of Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her literary works — including The Hunger Angel (Atemschaukel), Nadirs (Niederungen), and My Homeland Was an Appleseed (Mein Vaterland war ein Apfelkern) — all depict the daily experiences and struggles of life under communist dictatorship. Müller has long taken a close interest in China’s political prisoners and exiles, and has been a key figure involved in the attempts to rescue Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, from last year to this day.
Exile Chinese author and musician Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), an old friend to Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia and winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, will be joining with the young German violinist Fabian Lukas Voigtschild to perform the new work ‘Liu Xiaobo’s Last Moments’ (《劉曉波的最後時刻》). The inspiration for the work came from a phrase spoken by Liu Xia in an August 31, 2017 telephone conversation with Liao: “He [Liu Xiaobo] told me I had to get out of the country.… In the end he stopped speaking — he just kicked his leg to show what he meant. His legs kept moving, almost like he was walking, non-stop, for over an hour, both legs walking non-stop… without cease, without cease…”
American author and Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson will give a speech on the day. Johnson is a long-time resident of Beijing and has interviewed numerous dissidents as a correspondent for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Review of Books. He is a well-known author of long-form journalism, as shown by the influential works “Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China,” and “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.”
Pastor Kühne will lead all attendees in a section-by-section reading of Proverbs 31:8 (“Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. / Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”) A film review of Liu Xiaobo’s life will also be screened, as well as the April 30, 2018, phone call recording with Liu Xia, in which she cried, for three minutes, in despair. The female singer Isabell, who bears a striking resemblance to a 1960s-era Joan Baez, will perform ‘Donna, Donna,’ closely accompanied by a choir of several hundred students from the Rhein-Maas-College (Rhein-Maas Berufskolleg). The performance will slowly lead into a joint chorus by the entire body of memorial participants, who will sing together to call for Liu Xia’s freedom.
We invite every recipient of this invitation to come and participate in this memorial — no matter where you are in the world, whatever your political views, or the color of your skin or content of your beliefs. Please, all keep in mind this pacifist and author of the statement ‘I Have No Enemies’ (《我沒有敵人》). Following the massacre of 1989, Liu Xiaobo was jailed four times and in the end died a caged prisoner. His wife, Liu Xia, has been held under long-term house arrest simply because of her love for him, and has been unable to leave the country and seek treatment for her severe clinical depression.
If you cannot join us, please spread this invitation and the song ‘Donna, Donna’, make your own appeals to governments, or pray.
Gethsemane Church, Berlin, Germany
Organizing Committee for the Memorial on the First Anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing
June 26, 2018
德國柏林 Gethsemane 教堂
2018年7月13日傍晚18點，在德國柏林 Gethsemane 教堂 (Stargarder Str. 77, 10437 Berlin) 將舉行2010年諾貝爾和平獎獲得者劉曉波遠行一周年追憶會。去年這一日，作為中國最著名的政治犯，他殆於嚴密監控中的遼寧瀋陽一家醫院，兩天之後，通過官方直播，全世界目睹了他的骨灰被沉入中國內海。
柏林Gethsemane 教堂與萊比錫 Nikolai 教堂齊名，是前東德兩大異議人士聚會場所，就在柏林牆倒塌前幾天，還嚴詞拒絕軍警搜捕，為上千名地下反抗者提供庇護，享有盛譽的 Rolf Reuter曾在這兒指揮演出貝多芬第九交响樂，并發表“拆除柏林墙”的演講，赢得陣陣歡呼，震撼全東德。1989年10月9日傍晚，Gethsemane 教堂的祈禱禮拜结束，反抗者們手持蠟燭走出來，在街頭聚集數萬民眾，成為共產黨政權垮臺的前奏。
我們認為在 Gethsemane 教堂這樣一個人權和民主的紀念聖地，舉行一個為人權和民主奮鬥至死的偉大人物的追憶祈禱，意蘊深遠。這是轉折關口的全球警鐘：柏林牆已倒塌29年，可在經濟騰飛的獨裁中國，禁錮十幾億人類的“柏林牆”依舊挺立，并蜿蜒擴張，上萬名天安門大屠殺死難者得不到撫卹，古拉格群島分布在数不清的角落，每天都有異議人士被捕。作為歷史和現實寫照，劉曉波倒下了，超越時間和時代，他也是一個東德人，一個為翻越和推倒“柏林牆”而中彈倒下的東德人。
這次追憶會組織者 Roland Kühne，是德國著名人權牧師，受“獄中諾貝爾和平獎得主”的事跡感召，2010至今，年年帶領數百名職業高校學生，到中國駐德國使館門前集會抗議，去年還進行了擡棺遊行示威。而另一名組織者廖天琪，是劉曉波著作中、德、英文的主要編輯和獨立中文筆會會長，也是Roland Kühne 的“長期戰友”。
追憶會由Roland Kühne 和廖天琪主持。開場 Wolf Biermann (沃爾夫 比爾曼), 82歲，柏林牆時代家喻戶曉的詩人和歌手，畢希納文學獎獲得者。1976年從東柏林“叛逃”，在科隆體育館舉辦萬人演唱會，一曲《長城內的中國》令東德共產黨震怒，登報開除了他的“國籍”。比爾曼也是從去年至今的營救劉曉波、劉霞行動的不懈參與者。此次他將演唱《给Jürgen Fuchs 的輓歌》。在劉曉波遠行當天，比爾曼想起1976年被秘密逮捕的Jürgen Fuchs, 他的好兄弟,被投進東德VEB人民监狱,整日被冒充醫生的特務們用伽瑪綫籠罩輻射，悄無聲息地種下病根, 最後死於血癌，成為此類放射受害者的典型案例。比爾曼認為劉曉波也是這樣一位屬於全人類的“在爭取自由之戰中孤陷重敵卻堅持抵抗”的勇士。
Herta Müller將朗讀自己從英文轉譯的劉霞詩作, 她是諾貝爾文學獎獲得者，也是諾貝爾和平獎獲得者劉曉波的主要推薦人之一。其文學作品《呼吸鞦韆》《低地》《我的祖國是一粒蘋果籽》都與共產黨獨裁下的個人經歷密切相關。Müller 女士長期關注中國政治犯和流亡者，也是從去年至今的營救劉曉波、劉霞行動的主要參與者。
流亡作家和樂手廖亦武，劉曉波和劉霞的多年故交，德國書業和平獎獲得者，此次將和德國年輕的小提琴演奏家Fabian Lukas Voigtschild (法比安)合作，演奏新創曲目《劉曉波的最後時刻》。这个曲目的靈感來自劉霞在2017年8月31日下午的一段講述：“他讓我一定要出去……最後他不說了，就用腿演示。腿不停的，好像在走路，不停的，一個多小時，兩條腿不停地走……不停的，不停的……”
美國普利策奬獲得者 Ian Johnson (張彥) 將受邀發表演講，Ian Johnson 長期駐北京，採訪過眾多異議人士，是《紐約時報》《華爾街日報》《紐約書評》的特約記者，也是這個時代出色的報道文學作家，代表作《野草－底層中國的緩慢革命》、《中國的靈魂－毛澤東時代後宗教的歸來》，影響極其深遠。
Roland Kühne 牧師將帶領大家，分段進行 Wachet nud Betet–Tu deinen Mund auf für die Stummen und für die Sache aller die verlassen sind (守望與祈禱—為那些被禁言者和被遺棄者發聲吧)。追憶會還將播出劉曉波生平影片，以及劉霞在2018年4月30日的電話錄音，當她對友人的絕望哭訴延續至三分多鐘時，一位酷似1960年代人權歌手 Joan Baez 的女孩 Isabell 將懷抱吉他領唱《Donna Donna》，由 Rhein-Maas Berufskolleg（萊茵-馬斯職業高校）幾百名學生組成的合唱團緊緊跟隨，逐漸擴散為追憶會全體參與者的合唱，以此為劉霞的自由呼籲。
A continued call on behalf of Liu Xia (China Change Exclusive)
Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer in exile, June 1, 2018
Dear friends, I am hereby once again publicizing a portion of a conversation with Liu Xia (劉霞), this time on May 25, 2018. The recording runs 21 minutes; I have excerpted the final 8 minutes. Liu Xia said: “Loving Liu Xiaobo is a crime, for which I’ve received a life sentence.”
This is enough to make one burn with rage. Since when did love become a crime? When Xi Jinping’s father was labeled an anti-CCP element and jailed by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution, his mother didn’t abandon him, and nor did she get locked up for years like Liu Xia has.
In January 2014, by which point Liu Xia had been cut off from the world for more than three years, I was finally able to reach her from Germany by telephone at her home in Beijing. As soon as I spoke her name, she began to sob, and she went on sobbing for 20 minutes. I didn’t know what to say. She hung up. I called back, it was the same — she’d almost become speechless.
In the blink of an eye more years have elapsed — the torment of it impossible to put in a few words. In the end, it came to this: Xiaobo was murdered under the cover of ‘bail on medical grounds.’ The couple were able to see each other in the prison-like hospital ward for less than a month. Every day, there were people in and out the ward, over 100 times in all, ‘rescuing’ Xiaobo while sealing him off from the outside world.
Xiaobo desperately wanted Liu Xia to leave China, and even dreamt of accompanying her and Liu Hui, Liu Xia’s brother, to Germany in the little time left in his life. After he died, the Chinese police said to Liu Xia many times that as long as she cooperated with them, they’d let her leave the country to seek treatment.
In April 2917, I went through a contact — one of the most famous poets and singers of the Berlin Wall era, Wolf Biermann, as well as his wife — to reach out to Chancellor Angela Merkel with a letter asking for help. I attached a handwritten note by Liu Xia, titled ‘Application for Exiting China Submitted to Relevant Departments’ (dated April 9, 2017). My letter was met with a quick response, and a communication channel with the Chancellor was established. By now, the German and Chinese governments have been engaged in private negotiations for well over a year already. In early April this year, in response to numerous apparently optimistic signals, Liu Xia packed, and packed again, getting ready to travel — but her dreams dimmed and went dark. The Chinese official who had made promises to her had disappeared, and in despair Liu Xia declared that she would “use death to defy.”
I told her not to do anything rash, and sensing that things were reaching a crisis point, I published for the first time an audio recording of part of our conversation, with the headline “‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom to Liu Xia.” The purpose was to turn a low-key negotiation into a loud call for the attention of the international community.
On the eve of May 24, before Merkel went to China for visit, I received a call from German’s public broadcaster ZDF, where I made the earnest request that Chancellor Merkel bring Liu Xia out of China with her. I said that if this is impossible, she could at the very least express the wish to pay a visit to an ill Liu Xia, or have a medical expert attend to her. For Liu Xia, trapped in her home-prison, this may have been her best opportunity to be freed.
And yet none of this came to pass! Though, Merkel did meet with Li Wenzu, the wife of detained rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, and other family members of 709 victims in the German embassy in Beijing, and emphasized that she wished to personally meet with Liu Xia. When Merkel and Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang held a joint press conference, Li announced that China respects humanitarian requests and was willing to engage in dialogue with Germany on ‘individual human rights cases’ — this was the highest official statement on the matter.
As for Liu Xia, several days before Merkel’s visit, police entered her apartment and commanded her to leave the city on ‘travel.’ Liu Xia staunchly refused, and the police didn’t force it. Instead, they tried to persuade her, again and again, and said that soon there would be someone coming to speak with her about leaving the country.
I’ve lost count of how many times this promise has been made. The police said that in July, after the first anniversary of Xiaobo’s death, she’d absolutely be allowed to leave China. I made clear my doubts, and advised Liu Xia to consider countermeasures beforehand in case they don’t let her go in July. Upon these words of mine, Liu Xia was terrified and sunk into a bout of despair.
The following is an excerpt of our telephone conversation on May 25, the last day of Merkel’s visit to China:
Liao Yiwu: When you kept saying ‘death death death’ last time, I felt like I’d been hit with a jolt of electricity.
Liu Xia: When I’m dead, I won’t be a bother to anyone.
LYW: How can you say that? How can you die like that? This is not an option.
LX: So just keep me company, staying with me quietly. When you all tell me to do this and do that, I won’t take anyone’s calls anymore… You imagine these things are easy to do – if I can live like a free person, why do I even want to leave China? Xiaobo wanted me to go abroad to be free….because he had seen that police followed me everywhere and the room was fitted out with all sorts of surveillance equipment and nothing is easy for me to do. I’ve got a lot of friends here too….sometimes I’m so squeezed that I’m left with no choice…
LYW: Yes, you told me to record it last time — I felt you were falling apart. At that time, I…
LX: It’s no problem. But don’t ask me, as you did later, to do this or to do that…
LYW: OK, OK, OK. Just wait for July and see what they say.
LYW: I feel that you’ll be able to get out eventually… but, it’s such a fucking torment…
More sobbing. Endless sobbing. I could neither stop her nor comfort her. So I started playing the song ‘Too Much Love’ by Israeli singer Motty Steinmetz. I had played it for her many times; she liked it a lot. Steinmetz had learned traditional Jewish hymns from his grandfather since childhood, and his lyrics are drawn from the Hebrew Bible.
As the song played, Liu Xia wailed: “They’re going to keep me here to serve out Xiaobo’s sentence.”
I was flabbergasted. Last year when she finally returned home after Xiaobo’s death, she cast her gaze around a room full of books. The old ones he’d read; the new he’d never get to. She felt suffocated and reached out for her medication when she collapsed onto the floor. When she came to a few hours later, she found herself bruised all over.
As I considered all this, words from Jeremiah sprung from the depths of my mind:
“Thus saith the LORD;
I remember thee,
the kindness of thy youth,
the love of thine espousals,
when thou wentest after me in the wilderness,
in a land that was not sown.”
This seemed like the voice of Xiaobo from Heaven. Liu Xia continued: “I want to see just how much more cruel they can get and how much more shameless they’ll become; I want to see how much more depraved this world is.”
I responded: “All you have ever done is love, for all you’ve gone through.…”
She said: “They should add a line to the constitution: ‘Loving Liu Xiaobo is a serious crime, a life sentence.’”
I was too struck by these words of hers to continue. Liu Xia said: “I’m going to go take my medication.”
I bid her goodbye: “Be patient. Let’s wait until July.”
She ‘hmmmed’ and hung up. I sat still at my desk for a long while. The 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre is approaching, and I decided to send out this message to the world, continuing to call for her to be freed.
Dear friends, whether you’re a foreigner or Chinese; whether you’re a political leader, a parliamentarian, a diplomat, or a regular citizen — friends of Xiaobo who are dissidents, poets, authors, academics, artists, sinologists, journalists, actors, lawyers, and public intellectuals — if you’re in Beijing, please take a moment of your time to go and visit Liu Xia. If you’re concerned to go by yourself, bring a few like-minded friends along. If they don’t let you see her, please read a poem outside her apartment building, or call out to her. If her minders stop you, give them a flier with her poem on it.
If you’re not in Beijing, or not willing to do the above, at least forward around the recording. Have more people — including U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and the Nobel Committee in Norway — understand what the wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo has been going through for all these years.
June 1, 2018
又是沒完沒了的哀泣，無法打斷，更無法安慰。於是我放以色列歌手Motty Steinmetz領唱的《太多愛》。我曾經放過多次，劉霞非常喜歡。Motty Steinmetz從小跟祖父學習猶太傳統聖歌，她的歌詞均出自希伯來語聖經。劉霞在歌聲中哭訴：“他們要讓我在這兒，把曉波的刑期繼續服完。”
《DonaDona，把自由給劉霞》， 廖亦武， 2018年5月2日。
May 2, 2018
The following is an essay by Liu Xia’s longtime friend Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) explaining the circumstances of the phone call and providing an excerpt of the call for the first time. — The Editors
‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom to Liu Xia
Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer in exile
On April 30, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. in Germany, I spoke to Liu Xia at her home in Beijing. She said: “Now, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of. If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live. Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me.”
I felt like I’d just been shocked with a jolt of electricity. I told her to wait. I know that the Chinese Ministry of State Security agents that have been holding her under house arrest, since Xiaobo passed away last July and Liu Xia was forcibly taken to Dali in Yunnan for a while, have been promising her, again and again, guaranteeing that she’d be able to leave the country and seek treatment for her deep clinical depression. First they told her to wait until the 19th Party Congress was over; next they told her to wait until the conclusion of the ‘Two Sessions’ in Beijing in March of this year. On April 1, before Liu Xia’s 57th birthday, the German Ambassador called her to convey Chancellor Merkel’s special respects, and invited her to play badminton in Berlin before long.
According to my information, in early April the German Foreign Minister had already made specific arrangements, including as to how they’d not alert the news media, how they’d covertly collect Liu Xia at the airport, and how they’d arrange her treatment and recovery and more. In my own calls with Liu Xia, I sought Liu Xia’s opinions many times, and discussed the matter in meetings and correspondence with good friends Herta Muller, Harry Merkle, Carolin, Silvia, and the international representative of Liu Xia’s photographic art Peter Sillem. We went over every possible detail. Due to Herta Muller’s support, the Literature House in Berlin was willing to provide her an apartment for an interim period. Carolin said she would host a poetry reading for her, while Silvia were going to help her enter a residency program. Peter Sillem had already reached out to hospitals and experts on her behalf.
We’ve all been patiently and quietly waiting.
We’ve all quietly awaited this special patient.
Liu Xia has no criminal record, and according to the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, she has the freedom to travel wherever she wishes.
We’ve been low key about it because after Xiaobo’s death, Liu Xia has been devastated, and the clinical depression she had suffered for years came back worse than ever, driving her to the brink of mental collapse. As long as she is in China, we have no way of looking after her. When Liu Xia told Xiaobo that a special rescue squad in Germany (including the 82-year-old Wolf Biermann and wife) were working to help them, Xiaobo, dying, was moved to tears.
In my April 30 conversation with Liu Xia, I said I’d no long keep it quiet. I will take action, and I will selectively reveal some truth that I have been holding back. I said to her that I would publicize her cries, which was uncontrollable even with her taking large doses of antidepressants, in the evening of April 8, 2018. She said yes.
The following statements were transcribed from audio recordings of our conversation that evening. In the first instance, I called and poured out my concern: I feared that Liu Xia would once again be ‘disappeared.’ I worried that the Chinese government would do the same as they did last year when they announced that Xiaobo and Liu Xia didn’t want to leave the country. Luckily I had her handwriting attesting to the opposite, and remarkably this became the strongest evidence that punctured the lies.
I insisted on Liu Xia writing another application to leave the country, and at first Liu Xia demurred again and again. She then panicked, after that threw the phone down. I waited a little while and called her back, and she cried out in tears:
“The German Embassy knows all about my situation. The whole world knows. So what’s the point of me writing those things again and again?”
“But what you’re facing is very special… the German government has been in discussions about this all along…”
“I don’t have anywhere to send it from. Nor do I have a cell phone nor a computer.”
“OK. That’s OK.”
“You know we don’t have all that stuff, but you still want me to do this and do that…”
“Over here, we…”
“So I’ll write it tomorrow and hand it in tomorrow. You can record it now: I’m so fucking angry that I’m ready to die here…. If I’m dead, it’ll all be done with…. It’s obvious that I don’t have all the ways and means in hand….”
“That foreign ministry spokesperson said that you fully enjoy all the provisions of Chinese law…”
“I know all that. You don’t have to repeat it. I’m not an idiot.”
“OK. Let me tell you about the arrangements: after we get you over here, we’ve got a place called the Literature House where you stay for a while and then apply to join an arts program. At the moment, the responses everywhere are very positive, and everyone agrees that this should be done very quietly….”
I couldn’t go on, because Liu Xia was crying non-stop. The audio recording went for 16 minutes and 30 seconds. I excerpted the first seven minutes, and at about the four minute mark played over it the piano solo “Dona, Dona.” I felt waves of emotion well up inside me. When I turned the music off, I yelled out “Liu Xia!” Her crying abated and she said: “After the German Ambassador called, I started packing. I wasted no time — what more do you want me to do?”
The general meaning of the lyrics is: a calf is being brought to the butchers, a swallow is flitting around above its head. The calf thinks to itself: If only I could turn into a swallow with wings and fly away, how grand it would be. Unfortunately, the calf is not a swallow.
Like her husband Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia had a passion for works related to Holocaust. Liu Xia even said that she felt she’d been a Jewish person in her previous life.
Dona, Dona became a byword for genocide: the millions of Jewish people were the calf after calf, resigned to their fate, being led to the slaughter. Please, people, with Liu Xia, it’s Dona, Dona now, and please allow me to use Liu Xia’s sobbing as its new lyrics……
Dona, Dona, give her freedom.
Dona, Dona, please cry out loudly for her.
Composed in the late Berlin night on April 30, 2018.
我如遭電擊，我說再等等。我知道，長期監管她的國保警察們，自去年7月曉波剛走，劉霞被強制挾持到雲南大理期間，就開始許願，一而再，再而三地許願——保證讓她出國治療深度抑鬱症。先是吩咐等到中共十九大召開之後，接下來是吩咐等到今年3月的人大、政協兩會閉幕之後。在4月1日她57嵗生日前，德國大使還致電給她，轉達了默克爾總理的特別問候，并相約不久後在柏林打羽毛球。據我所知，4月上旬，德國外交部已經作了具體安排，包括如何不驚動新聞界，如何將她從機場接到某一隱蔽地點，安排治病和調養等等。而我自己在通話中，也多次徵求劉霞意見，又多次與好友赫塔▪米勒（Herta.Müller）、哈瑞▪麥克（Harry Merkle）、卡羅琳（Carolin）、西爾維亞（Silvia），以及劉霞藝術攝影的全球代理人彼得▪西冷（Peter Sillem）聚會和通信，事無鉅細地溝通。由於赫塔的張羅，柏林文學之家願意為她提供過渡期公寓，之後，卡羅琳答應為她舉辦一場詩歌朗誦讀會，西爾維亞答應替她聯繫一個在歐洲的入住計劃，而彼得已替她聯絡好相關醫院和專家。
我們低調是因為曉波走了，她深受刺激，多年的抑鬱症再度加重，使之瀕臨崩潰，而她在國內，我們沒法照顧她。劉霞曾告訴垂危的曉波，他倆在德國有我們這個特別救援小組 (其中還包括82嵗的沃爾夫▪比爾曼 Wolf Biermann 夫婦)，曉波的淚水奪眶而出。
By Yang Jianli, July 22, 2017
“The U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them—banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country—and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as ‘Liu Xiaobo Plaza.’”
The world lost a hero when China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, died of liver cancer in Chinese custody on July 13, 2017.
In life as well as in death Liu Xiaobo represents the best of what China can ever be. He possessed a moral authority unimaginable to his persecutors, and his legacy of love, justice, and sacrifice will surely far outlive the deeds of those who persecuted him. His spirit will be an uplifting and unifying force that will inspire more Chinese people to fight to realize his dream—indeed, the common dream of the Chinese people. To the world, he represents the universal values that all democracies embrace, and he stands for the unwavering struggle of unfree people. Liu Xiaobo is a representative of universal ideas that resonate with millions of people all over the world.
Chinese human rights and democracy advocates had all hoped that Liu Xiaobo would one day complete his unjust prison sentence, and then reengage in his passionate quest for human rights and democracy in China, and also perhaps one day be able to savor the fruits of his life’s work. But instead, he is gone. Now, more than ever, it is critical to demand justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death, to lend a helping hand to assist his widow, Liu Xia, and other members of his family, and to fight in every way possible to honor the legacy of his courage and sacrifice.
Many suspect that the Chinese officials intentionally concealed Liu Xiaobo’s illness from him and his family, and intentionally hastened his death by denying him proper care. Liu Xiaobo’s cancer was reportedly diagnosed on May 23 during an emergency hospital visit because of internal bleeding. However, the news of his late-stage cancer did not become known until late June. During this time, his tumor enlarged from 5-6 cm to 11-12 cm. As early as 2010, Liu Xiaobo was suspected of suffering from hepatitis B, but the Chinese authorities never allowed him to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, Liu Xiaobo reportedly had two CT tests in 2016, which likely would have revealed large liver tumors. Medical parole in China is a political, rather than a medical, decision. In Liu Xiaobo’s case it was up to China’s top leaders to decide. What they chose was a thinly disguised death sentence.
Liu Xiaobo had been held incommunicado since December 2008 until he became terminally ill and was eventually allowed a visit by a German and an American doctor following an international outcry. During his entire imprisonment, he was not allowed to discuss current events, nor the persecutions that his wife Liu Xia and her family suffered. When Liu Xiaobo’s worsening condition became public, 154 Nobel laureates, human rights activists around the globe, and a handful of world leaders called for his immediate release and medical treatment overseas. Liu Xiaobo himself also expressed his wish to seek medical treatment abroad and to die in free country. Tragically, the Chinese regime callously disregarded these requests. After persecuting him for so many years, the regime didn’t give a second thought to denying him his final wish.
Without a doubt, the Chinese communist regime is responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. However, the policy of appeasement carried out by democracies towards China’s human rights abuses has made them accomplices to Liu Xiaobo’s slow and stealthy murder. It is a sad and disturbing fact that many leaders of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, have been less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others. If the world continues to acquiesce to China’s aggression against its own people, Liu Xiaobo’s tragedy will be repeated, and the democratic ideal and the security of all free peoples will be in jeopardy.
The tragic death of Liu Xiaobo should give all of us a stronger sense of urgency in helping prisoners of conscience of China. It is a legitimate concern that now we can expect more human rights activists will languish and disappear in Chinese prisons: Wang Bingzhang, Hu Shigen, Zhu Yufu, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jingling, Wu Gan, Guo Feixiong, Liu Xianbin, Chen Wei, Zhang Haitao… the list goes on. If American advocacy for human rights and justice is to mean anything at all, the U.S. government must do more to support these political prisoners and to hold accountable the Chinese government and individuals who so brazenly abuse the fundamental rights of its people.
The U.S. can also do more to help Liu Xiaobo’s family. The Trump administration should make it an urgent priority to help Liu Xia leave China for a country of her choosing. The U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them—banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country—and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”
To fight for the ideals of human rights and democracy, Liu Xiaobo sacrificed his career, his freedom, and now, his life. But we cannot give up on him. We have to seek justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death at the hands of the Chinese regime, and we have to prevent the tragedy that awaits his widow, Liu Xia, if we do not act immediately to help her get out of China, and we have to preserve the legacy of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for a democratic and free China.
Yang Jianli (杨建利) is the President of Initiatives for China, a Washington, D. C.-based NGO devoted to promoting human rights and political change in China.
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.
Liu Xiaobo: Walking the Path of Kang Youwei, Spilling His Blood Like Tan Sitong, Wang Dan, July 20, 2017.
Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017
It was heartbreaking and depressing recently to watch the community of Chinese activists and dissidents, especially friends of Liu Xiaobo, congregating on WhatsApp and frantically thinking of ways to save him. The appeals and statements, and the calls for signatures from a dozen or so sources, sounded like echoes bouncing off the walls that Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia were trapped behind. For China’s opposition movement, the passing of Liu Xiaobo feels like the climax of a continuous and ruthless campaign of elimination. Now, people are left to pick up the pieces, and they will need time.
I have been pointing out that over the past few years, starting from the now benign-looking crackdown on the New Citizens Movement in 2013, the Party has been carrying out a what I call “targeted elimination” of key activists, dissidents, and intellectuals across the country. In Guangdong, they imprisoned Guo Feixiong, Tang Jingling, and those pesky grassroots street demonstrators. In Wuhan, they put a few key activists in jail; the same was done in Suzhou and Shenzhen. In Xinyu, Jiangxi, they jailed Liu Ping and her small cohort. In Zhengzhou, a nascent, bustling citizen network used to gather frequently — but no more. In Beijing, Xu Zhiyong and key activists in the New Citizens Movement were sentenced, and prominent lawyers such as Pu Zhiqiang, as well as influential intellectuals, have been taken out one way or the other. The Sakharov laureate Hu Jia spent much of the year under house arrest in his Beijing home. Then in 2015, there was the consummate 709 Crackdown that targeted no fewer than 300 human rights lawyers and activists across the country. I can go on with the list, but you get the picture.
Those considered less than “leaders” have been chased around, driven out of their rentals, and subjected to all manner of harassment. Liberal commentators, journalists, and intellectuals have mostly stopped writing, because it has become too dangerous to analyze and reflect on the current conditions and the behavior of the government. Well, even if they write, their writings won’t survive anywhere inside China’s system of omnipresent censorship.
Come to think about it, that this calculated elimination should have come to Liu Xiaobo, China’s Nobel Peace laureate, is only inevitable: how could the Party allow him to walk out of prison in 2020 and instantly become a Mandela or an Aung San Suu Kyi for China’s struggle toward democracy?
With Liu Xiaobo gone, the mood among activists is one of helplessness. I’m surprised how little argument over the statement “I have no enemies” there has been these days, and indeed, how it ceased to be relevant, while Liu Xiaobo lay dying, for it is unbearable, and preposterous, to bring back to mind its central proposal: “to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.” This statement used to be a lightening rod that sparked heated discussion. If Charter 08 represents a vision of China peacefully transitioning to a democracy, few today think it a viable option.
I was certain from the beginning that foreign governments — the United States and Germany in particular — were not going to do enough to make Liu Xiaobo’s last wish come true: “If I were to die, I’d rather die in the West” (as he said, via Liao Yiwu). They don’t care enough; they are absent-minded; they almost always underestimate the evil of the Chinese Communist Party; and they don’t know what it takes to get the upper hand with the CCP.
I find it particularly grievous that Liu Xiaobo’s close friends were denied a last chance to see him and say goodbye, despite their repeated and heartfelt pleas on humanitarian grounds. They’d have a much better chance entreating humanity from a pack of coyotes. Rubbing salt in the wound, plainclothes agents then played the role of “family and friends” at Liu Xiaobo’s memorial service.
Altogether, I feel that dying and being dead in the Party’s filthy hands is so ignominious that Liu Xiaobo would have been more dignified dying alone in a dungeon somewhere.
What is the path forward? What’s going to happen next in the struggle for democracy? The path forward is that there is no path forward. The Party has been working systematically to block that path: The elimination of key activists has been successful, and they are either in prison or have been rendered ineffective. To keep tabs on a few hundred or thousand activists is nothing for the Party. If you run down the list of the first batch of Charter 08 signatories — all 303 of them — and see where they are and what they have been doing now, you get a sense how this core group of Chinese citizens advocating change has been faring.
Meanwhile, the Party has been working overtime to cage in and lock down incipient civil society in China — an aspiration that has grown out of the economic and social transformations since the 1990s — by passing one draconian law after another from late 2014 to the present. This includes the law on the management of foreign NGOs, the National Security Law, the Internet Security Law, the revised Criminal Law, the Charity Law, the Counter-Terrorism Law, the counter-espionage law, and more recently, the draft Intelligence Law.
On July 15, Liu Xiaobo’s ashes were given a sea burial off the coast of Dalian and his widow and relatives had their arms twisted to obey the Party’s orders. Since then, a Chinese phrase, “crush the bones and toss the ashes” (挫骨扬灰), has sprung to the mind of many as the most apt description for the Party’s animus. It means that one is so hated that his bones must be ground up and his ashes cast away. Applying it to Liu Xiaobo, it is at the same time literal and true of the Party’s fear of both the man and what he symbolized.
Liu Xiaobo may not have enemies, but the despots in China know very well who their enemies are.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017