This text is the last thing that Liu Xiaobo, the literary critic, poet, and human rights activist, wrote. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, two years after he was imprisoned for eleven years on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” His “crime” was to speak out for freedom of speech, basic human rights, and democratic elections. He died on July 13 of liver cancer in a hospital in Shenyang.
The Ms. G. referred to in Liu’s text was a close friend of his wife, Liu Xia. Ms. G. had asked Liu to contribute a preface to his wife’s forthcoming book of photographs, Accompanying Liu Xiaobo. Although barely able to write, he managed to scribble this love note. Since expressions of love, except for the Communist Party or Chairman Mao, were virtually banned as “bourgeois” when Xiaobo and Xia were growing up, it seems especially poignant that his final words should take this form.
Liu Xia is a poet and photographer. She married Xiaobo in 1996 when he was imprisoned in a “reeducation through labor” camp. His “crime” then was to have urged the government to find a peaceful way to unite mainland China with Taiwan, that is, to do so without the dire threats commonly issued by the People’s Republic of China.
Liu Xia visited her husband in prison after he was awarded the Nobel Prize. She was then placed under house arrest and deprived of a mobile phone, Internet access, and all but a tiny number of visitors. She was allowed out briefly in 2013 to attend the trial of her brother, Liu Hui—part of what human rights lawyers say is official retaliation against the family. She called out to a crowd of well-wishers: “Tell everybody that I’m not free.”
After her husband’s death, Liu Xia disappeared. Her family and friends had no idea what had happened to her. She did appear in a video recently, saying that she needed time for mourning. Who made the video and under what circumstances is still unclear. The Chinese government claims that she is free.
My praise could be a poison impossible to forgive:
Dim desk lamp…the first desktop computer you gave me, possibly a Pentium 586.
That room, so plain and cramped, always let us let love’s gaze crowd tightly in.
You must have read that short poem of mine about the stubborn little shrimp (my wife)—she boiled gruel for me while she waited for praise…the words flew off the page into the gruel. It took three hundred seconds to write that most…
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