Posts Tagged ‘Liu Xiaobo’

Liu Xiaobo. Remember him?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
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xiaobo3

Who dat?

What does Liu Xiaobo have in common with  Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Jimmy Carter?

Hint: I’ve written about him here and here and here, among other places.  Another hint: remember the empty chair?

How easily we forget a Nobel peace prize winner when it’s inconvenient to remember!   According to PolicyMic, a website founded by recent Harvard and Stanford grads Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz, ”Liu’s conditions are largely unknown, but many, including Amnesty International, fear the worst the Chinese can offer. The most startling aspect of the Liu Xiaobo case has not just been his arrest for subversion, as his fellow activist Ai Weiwei was in 2011, but the lack of American support for an activist who has been a strong supporter of the United States.”

According to the site, the last time Liu Xiaobo’s fate or existence has been mentioned by the U.S. government was in 2010, “when a bi-partisan group of 30 members of the U.S. Congress wrote President Barack Obama a passionate letter pleading for the president to discuss the release of Liu Xiaobo and fellow activist Gao Zhisheng at the G-20 Summit with President Hu Jintao.”

Here’s the newest development:

lius

In happier times…

Authorities in the Chinese capital on Friday detained a group of activists who tried to visit Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo under house arrest at her Beijing home, and beat up Hong Kong journalists who tried to follow them.

Hong Kong activist Yeung Hong, together with Henan-based activist Liu Shasha and two unnamed netizens from Beijing, got as far as the residential compound in a Beijing suburb where Liu has been held under police guard since October 2010, when the Nobel committee first announced her husband’s award.

Holding a placard with the words “Liu Xia, everyone is behind you!” and shouting slogans through a megaphone, the activists were quickly detained, questioned for several hours, and then released in the early hours of Friday morning.

The visit came just days after an international signature campaign begun by Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling on Beijing to free both Lius was handed to Chinese officials, after being signed last year by more than 130 former Nobel laureates across all disciplines.

PolicyMic again:

chair1To help Liu Xiaobo, and his wife Xia, go to Amnesty International and Change. Amnesty International can always use a small monetary donation to do great things; however, if you are a bit more frugal, all the Change petition (led by Desmond Tutu) needs from you is a signature. Let the people of the world try to succeed where Western governments have failed, and in the process try convince those governments to try again … for Liu Xiaobo and Lia, for Gao Zhisheng and Ai Weiwei, and all those unfairly imprisoned by corrupt governments.

More on Mo: an “officially sanctioned artist” or merely a cautious kinda guy?

Friday, October 12th, 2012
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"Don't speak"

As may be gathered from yesterday’s post, I’d never heard of Mo Yan before yesterday’s award.  While everyone today is laughing about the Onion satires that suggest that the Nobel peace prize has been awarded to the European Union (thank heavens it wasn’t the economics prize, as a friend noted), I’m still puzzling on Mo Yan, whose pen name is translated as “don’t speak.”

Here’s what Ted Gioia, whose weekly “Year of Magical Reading” spotlights the magical realism genre (it’s here),  said this about him on my Facebook page: “Not a very inspired choice. If the Nobel judges wanted to turn to Asia, Murakami was the obvious candidate – and his work is more skilled, creative and influential than Mo Yan’s.

Ted, expert on magic

“He is presented as a brave critic of Chinese repression, but his works are actually quite cautious and seem self-censored to me. He aims for parody and humor, and is sometimes amusing, but I can’t see him as a Nobel laureate – unless the judges were determined to pick a Chinese author this year.”

Why not Bei Dao then … oh that’s right.  They won’t do poetry two years in a row.  Poetry must be kept in its place, after all.

David Ulin, my former editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review has a piece in the L.A. Times today, spelling out what Ted had summarized:

Mo is what some critics deride as an officially sanctioned artist, a vice chairman of the China Writers’ Assn., celebrated by the establishment. Although he has been called “one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers,” he recently was one of “100 writers and artists” who participated in a tribute to Mao Tse-tung. In 2009, he refused to sit on a panel at the Frankfurt Book Fair with dissident writers Dai Qing and Bei Ling, and he has avoided making any public statements about Liu [Xiaobo].

At the same time, his work has often hit on touchy subjects, such as the role of women in Chinese society and the Communist Party’s one-child rule. His 11th novel, Frog, published in 2009 and not yet available in the United States [we published an excerpt here – B.H.], involves a midwife confronted by the forced sterilizations and late-term abortions demanded by the party’s policy.

I'll skip the party, thx!

Mo’s detractors are forceful. “For him to win this award, it’s not a victory for literature; it is a victory for the Communist Party,” raged Yu Jui, a writer and democracy activist, in a blog post.

David of L.A.T.

The article launches into something of a defense of new Nobelist, quoting his words in 2009:  “A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature,” he said then, “but we should not use one uniform expression. Some may want to shout on the street, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.”

Meanwhile, John Freeman‘s interview with the Chinese author at the London Book Fair this week is included in Granta, which seems to be the go-to place for Mo Yan this month.  The Q&A is here.

Am I the only one wondering today when they’re going to let their other recent Nobel writer (though a peace, not lit, prizewinner)  – Liu Xiaobo – out of prison?  He still has the distinction of being the second person ever to be denied the right to have a representative pick up his prize for him.

 

Liu Xia’s desperate internet message: “I’m crying. Nobody can help me.”

Friday, February 25th, 2011
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"Can't go out. My whole family are hostages."

On Thursday, the 17th of February, the Chinese celebrated the Lantern Festival, the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations.

Liu Xia, wife of this year’s Nobel peace laureate, the writer Liu Xiaobo, celebrated in her own way:  she managed to get on the internet for five minutes, communicating with a friend.  It is believed to be her first contact with the outside world in four months. Her phone and internet lines were cut off soon after the announcement of the Nobel.

The friend provided the transcript to the Washington Post.

“I don’t know how I managed to get online,” Liu Xia wrote to the friend in her post. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.”

The friend asked, “Are you at home?”

“Yes,” Liu Xia responded, writing in Pinyin, the Chinese transliteration system. She said she was using an old computer and apparently could not type Chinese characters.

“Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages,” Liu Xia said. …

“So miserable,” she wrote. “Don’t talk.”

“I’m crying,” she added. “Nobody can help me.”

She added that she had only seen her husband once since the Nobel.  The friend wrote was afraid of causing her more trouble, and wrote: “Please log out first. We miss you and support you. We will wait for you outside.” She replied “Goodbye” and “Okay,” and the chat ended.

According to Radio Free Asia:

Hu Ping, the chief editor of Beijing Spring, a New York-based pro-human rights and democracy journal, told RFA that he was surprised Liu Xia came online on Thursday.

He said that on Friday he had spoken on the phone with one of Liu Xia’s friends in China who was saying that everyone was worried because they had not heard any news from her in recent months.

Hu Ping also expressed concern over Liu Xia’s psychological state.

“I have no enemies”: Perry Link writes on his friend Liu Xiaobo and the Nobel’s empty chair

Friday, December 17th, 2010
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A few days ago, I discussed UC-Riverside’s Perry Links forthcoming Harvard University Press edition of the writings of the imprisoned Nobel peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo.  I didn’t realize that he had just posted about his friend on the New York Review of Books blog, including his recollections of this month’s awards ceremony in Oslo, dominated by the Chinese writer’s empty chair.  It’s worth a read, here:

The ceremony was one of the most exquisite and moving public events I have ever witnessed. The presentation speech was made by Thorbjørn Jagland, the chairman of the prize committee who is a former prime minister of Norway and now secretary-general of the Council of Europe. Only a few minutes into the speech, he said:

We regret that the Laureate is not present here today. He is in isolation in a prison in northeast China…. This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate.

When he had finished reading these words the audience of about a thousand people interrupted with applause. The applause continued for about thirty seconds and then, when it seemed that the time had come for it to recede, it suddenly took on a second life. It continued on and on, and then turned into a standing ovation, lasting three or four minutes.

The actress Liv Ullman read the full text of the statement that Liu Xiaobo had prepared for his 2009 trial in Beijing. The statement is called “I Have No Enemies.” Chinese authorities halted the statement mid-stream during last year’s trial.

Another friend of the Nobel laureate, Renée Xia, who is overseas director of China Human Rights Defenders, said this about the ceremony: “To us,” she said, “that empty chair is not the least bit surprising. Of course Beijing treats its critics that way. This is wholly normal. If the rest of the world is startled, then good; maybe surprise can be the first step to better understanding of how things really are.”

Hu Ping, editor of Beijing Spring in New York and a long-time personal friend of Liu Xiaobo’s, said he wasn’t expecting China to yield on human rights and democracy.  Why should they?

“As they see it, the current strategy works. The formula ‘money + violence’ works, and we stay on top. We know what the world means by human rights and democracy, but why should we do that? Aren’t we getting stronger and richer all the time? Twenty years ago the West wasn’t afraid of us, and now they have to be. Why should we change what works?”

Liu Xiaobo was more optimistic, in a way.  Hu recalled him saying some years ago: “We are lucky to live in this time and this place—China. It may be difficult for us, but at least we do have a chance to make a very, very large difference. Most people in their lifetimes are not offered this kind of opportunity.”

More on the powerful image of the empty chair here.

The good news: Liu Xiaobo’s writing will be published in English. The bad news: not till 2012.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
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Liu Xiaobo and wife Liu Xia: "I will embrace you with ashes"

Some time ago, I wrote that it was unfortunate that we had no access to the writings of this year’s imprisoned Nobel peace prize winner, Liu Xiaobo.  All writers, after all, would rather be known for their writings rather than their persecution.

Now it’s official that the prestigious Graywolf Press will be publishing a bilingual edition of the Chinese writer’s June Fourth Elegies.  The book will be out in 2012.  The title of his book, which of course has not come out in China, refers to the June 4, 1989, suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square.

From Galleycat, we also learn that poet Jeffrey Yang will translate the collection. Literary agent Peter Bernstein negotiated the deal with Jeffrey Shotts and publisher Fiona McCrae.

That’s not all.  Harvard University Press (also prestigious) will publish a selection of works by the Chinese dissident, also next year.  The untitled anthology will contain poetry, essays, and social commentary.

The academic press has enlisted UC-Riverside’s  Perry Link to direct a translation team. Said Link: “Until he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo was little known in the West. This collection offers to the reader of English the full range of his astute and penetrating analyses of culture, politics, and society in China today.”

The empty chair, a presidential statement: “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.”

Friday, December 10th, 2010
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While he was named as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Liu Xiaobo was incarcerated, probably working in the prison factory that makes electrical switches.  In Oslo — an empty chair represented him.

Some Twitter users who listed their location as Beijing had changed their profile pictures to an empty chair.

In light of the refusal of one-third of the invited nations to attend in the face of Chinese threats — China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran — it is gratifying to know that President Obama sent out this graceful statement of support today:

One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice. Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.

All of us have a responsibility to build a just peace that recognizes the inherent rights and dignity of human beings – a truth upheld within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In our own lives, our own countries, and in the world, the pursuit of a just peace remains incomplete, even as we strive for progress.  This past year saw the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, even as the Burmese people continue to be denied the democracy that they deserve.  Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta has continued his tireless work to build a free and prosperous East Timor, having made the transition from dissident to President.  And this past year saw the retirement of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, whose own career demonstrates the universal power of freedom and justice to overcome extraordinary obstacles.

The rights of human beings are universal – they do not belong to one nation, region or faith.  America respects the unique culture and traditions of different countries.  We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.  But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law.  The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible. I regret that Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony that Michelle and I attended last year.  Today, on what is also International Human Rights Day, we should redouble our efforts to advance universal values for all human beings.

Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian in Paris: “I hate Chinese food most.”

Monday, December 6th, 2010
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A "global citizen" who eats Japanese

Liu Xiaobo‘s Nobel Prize in literature is not the first award to a Chinese writer.  That honor went in 2000 to novelist, playwright, critic, and painter Gao Xingjian, who emigrated to Paris as a political refugee in 1987.  Now, he says, “I live in Paris, but eat Japanese food almost every day for my health.”  The 70-year-old writer adds, “I hate Chinese food most.”

Excerpts from Akihiko Shiraishi‘s interview in today’s Asahi:

On nationalism and the writer:

Nationalism isn’t necessarily pushed on the people by the powers that be. Nationalism can bubble up from among the people themselves, as did Japanese militarism during World War II. That war was not caused by the emperor alone. The Japanese people themselves were caught up in their nationalistic frenzy. Mao Tse-tung was responsible for the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, but the Chinese masses were also guilty of irrational behavior. We all need to become more aware of this sort of insanity inherent in human nature. And perhaps literature can help there.

On his play, Escape:

Q: You then dashed off the play Escape. The story revolves around a young man, a young woman and a middle-aged intellectual who escape the massacre at the hands of the military and hide in an urban warehouse. But in the end, they are all killed, aren’t they?

A: I wrote it at the request of an American playhouse. But when I sent my finished manuscript, they asked me to rewrite it and include an “American hero” in the story. I refused. Even some of my pro-democracy activist friends in China got on my case because I didn’t give them the hero they wanted. After the publication of “Escape,” I was dispossessed of my home in China, purged from public office, and expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. I became a bona fide fugitive.

Q: But your play wasn’t a denunciation as such of the Tiananmen protests. It dealt with a theme that is universal–how people act in extreme circumstances.

A: I wrote a tragedy of contemporary people, not a political drama. There is no mention of China or Tiananmen. Just like in any classic Greek tragedy, I tried to depict the difficulties of human existence itself. The play has since been performed around the world, including Japan. When it was recently staged in Slovenia, one local reviewer said, “This play is about our very history.”

On Chinese culture:

Q: Soul Mountain, which you published in 1990, chronicles your spiritual odyssey when you traveled deep into the Chinese hinterland. The work left a lasting impression on me, especially your depictions of quaint villages of ethnic minorities and sensuous folksongs sung by village elders. Am I correct to assume that China, in your mind, is a conglomeration of these diverse cultures, rather than a nation-state?

A: That is exactly my understanding of Chinese culture. In China, the history of emperors has been recounted as China’s legitimate history. But aren’t there also other histories? I always asked myself. While traveling along the Yangtze river, I collected many old local poems and mythical folk tales, including those of the ethnic minorities. This made me realize that there is no single source of Chinese culture, but that Chinese culture is a composite of diverse ethnic and regional cultures. This revelation deepened my understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity, and freed me from thinking of China as a monolithic state.

Top global thinkers read Ian Morris’s Why the West Rules — For Now … and an odd blunder

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
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Archaeologist Morris digs for the secrets of the ages

Foreign Policy has published its Second Annual Top 100 Global Thinkers List — “a unique portrait of 2010′s global marketplace of ideas and the thinkers who make them” — and there are inevitably some surprises.

The one that pleased us most is that nestled in Niall Ferguson‘s recommended reading list of three books (Ferguson comes in at #80) –  Ian Morris‘s Why the West Rules — For Now.  We’ve written about Morris, the man who knows everything, here and here.

Other names mentioned in these pages appear on the list — Christopher Hitchens, Liu Xiaobo, Mario Vargas Llosa, Clay Shirky, David GrossmanAyaan Hirsi Ali made the cut, and so, ironically, did the man who has derided her — Ian Buruma finishes the list at #100.  (Tariq Ramadan follows immediately after at #62).  But what’s curious about her blurb is this bizarre understatement:

“The first time you heard about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it was likely the story of a brave Muslim woman fleeing her forced marriage in Somalia to become an outspoken critic of Islam. But her flight didn’t stop there; after more than a decade living in the Netherlands, she left Europe and its painful debates over assimilation for more comfortable ground: conservative America.”

Well, no.  Not quite.  They neglect to mention that she fled Holland because a fatwa called for her death, her colleague Theo van Gogh was murdered, and the Netherlands not only failed to protect her, but turned on her, questioning her immigration status. Big difference.

Why did no one at Foreign Policy flag this boo boo?  I guess all the copy editors have been laid off.

The non-award of the Wendy Wasserstein Prize … and the non-award of the Nobel to Liu Xiaobo

Saturday, November 20th, 2010
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What would Wendy do?

The non-award this year of the Theatre Development Fund’s Wendy Wasserstein Prize for young women playwrights — the TDF considered no one up to snuff — has caused a great kerfuffle.  See New York’s Time Out here. She Writes reproduces the strident dialogue between Kamy Wicoff and TDF honcho David LeShay hereFeministing posts its reprise of the conflict here.  A Facebook petition is here.

The upshot:  The TDF is reconsidering.

The $25,000 award is named for Wendy Wasserstein, a popular playwright who died at age 55 from cancer — that’s a lot of money, and I yield to no one in understanding how hard a writer’s life is. I made my living as a free-lance journalist for a decade, and that when I was no longer young and also had a kid to support alone.  The award and recognition could make a big difference in a young playwright’s life.

Nonetheless, doesn’t an award have a right to determine its own criteria, however distressing that may be to the applicants? It’s always a punch in the face for a writer when a jury decides that no award was better than awarding you — especially if the criteria for judgment is bureaucratic, subjective, political, wrong-headed.  Still …

I have no doubt of the enormous gender bias in the theater world, and pretty much everywhere else. (Look at politics.  I’ll never forget the landmark misogyny of the 2008 elections, when the most accomplished woman ever to grace American politics was treated with truly ugly slurs, culminating in a major broadcast journalist called for her to be snuffed while the major feminist organizations were … silent.)

The Facebook page makes the strongest argument: “Your claim that ‘none of the plays were truly outstanding in their current incarnation’ sends a discouraging message to early career theatre artists at a time when these artists need more support than ever. The prize is not to support a production of the play, but the promise of the writer.” [italics mine]

Feministing‘s resorts to retro language, accusing the TDF of reproducing “hierarchies of privilege”  they meant to redress, though heaven knows its too true that “it’s often those who are already have many accolades who are likely to receive more of them.”  Wicoff resorts to a demanding tone and capital letters (“If you can’t figure out a way to give a prize to ONE WOMAN PLAYWRIGHT in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, YOU are the problem, not the applicants or the by-laws or whatever.”)

At the end of the Wicoff’s exchanges, she asks, “Anybody else feel a She Writes Prize coming on?”

Now there‘s an idea.

I understand that Wasserstein was a fabulous woman and a beloved friend to many.  But her plays always struck me as formulaic, built on TV models of short scenes and clincher lines, which were often blandly Gail Sheehy-esque:  “The real reason for comedy is to hide the pain.”  And sometimes not even true: “You’re the unfortunate contradiction in terms — a serious good person.”

In any case, the Time Out article hints that the award itself is having financial troubles, and may be discontinued:

But this apparent victory may be Pyrrhic. [Patrick] Healy’s article raised a detail that had not been a subject of general discussion earlier: that the Wasserstein Prize is a four-year project whose future funding is not assured. Toward the end of the piece is an ominous statement from Heidi Ettinger, a key figure in the establishment and funding of the prize: “This is the final year of the grant for the prize, and it will be up for reconsideration next year. All along, we have been changing and refining criteria to insure that the objectives of the prize honoring Wendy and her high standards were met. We have also managed to increase the amount of the award. As a funder, we must be able to insure the integrity of the prize and provide selection panels the freedom they need free of outside pressures.”

Would any of the 19 young playwright applicants wish to accept the award now, under such a cloud?  In a minute.

***

No prize after all

Non-prizes have a long history.  In 2006, the Pulitzer board gave no prize in the drama category in spite of having three nominees from the drama jury. As recently as 2008, it gave no prize for editorial writing.  In 1953, 1964, 1965 and 1981 it gave no prize for music.  In 1920, 1941, 1946, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1971, and 1977, it gave no award for fiction.  The Pulitzer board does not explain its sometime mysterious decisionmaking.

And it appears, in an unhappy development largely overlooked by the media, that there will be no Nobel peace prize this year for Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo.  The Associated Press notes: “Even Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa were able to have their wives collect the prizes for them. Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi‘s award was accepted by her 18-year-old son in 1991.”

The only precedent for the non-award is 1935, when the Nazi government forbade German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky to accept the award.  Imprisoned in a succession of concentration camps, Ossietzky had been hospitalized hospital for severe tuberculosis, but the Nazi government prevented him from leaving the country to accept the prize. Someone representing Ossietzky was allowed to receive the Nobel Prize money only.  On the books, it’s “no award” for 1935.

“I will embrace you with ashes”: Liu Xiaobo, the Writer

Monday, October 11th, 2010
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Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo: "Visible and invisible prisons"

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.”

"A hard stone in the wilderness"

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.)