Two writers were awarded Nobel prizes this year — but only one of them won for literature. In the brouhaha over his Nobel prize for peace, it’s easy to forget that Liu Xiaobo is a writer. Kind of a twofer, with Mario Vargas Llosa.
Liu Xiaobo is a writer, of course, but what kind of writer? From what I could glean on the web, he appeared at first to be a writer in the way all academics are writers. His essays, Critique on Choices – Dialogue with Le Zehou and Aesthetics and Human Freedom earned him glory in academia. The former critiqued the philosophy of a prominent Chinese cultural philosopher Li Zehou.
Then I found this from NPR over the weekend:
Mr. Liu is 54, a writer who became a dissident because, as he said, “an honest writer must live by his words.” In his essay, Philosophy of the Pig, he praises ordinary citizens who challenge China’s totalitarian rule, and castigates intellectuals who, he says, “feel brave because the government lets them write about sex, incest and human defects. In China, everybody has the courage to shamelessly challenge morals. Rare are those who have the courage to challenge reality.”
He was jailed after saving hundreds of lives in Tiananmen Square. After his release 20 months later, he said, “I hope to be a sincere Chinese intellectual and writer. This can put me back into prison—which is what happens to people like me in China.”
He is, of course, in jail again. His wife, the painter, poet, and photographer Liu Xia, said to Deutsche Welle: “I can only visit him, bring him books and write to him. They have allowed him to read and write for a year now. And he’s been allowed to see the sun twice a day for a year and a half. He is also allowed to go outside and move around – one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon.”
Liu Xiaobo‘s tireless work for human rights in China has rather overwhelmed his writing. But I daresay every writer would rather be known for his writing, rather than for doing time.
So this, from NPR. It’s a letter to his wife, Liu Xia, written last year from prison:
Sweetheart … I am sentenced to a visible prison while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning.
Given your love, sweetheart, I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where … all views will be spread in the sunlight for people to choose without fear. I hope to be the last victim.
I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.
(Finally, I found more of his writings here.)