“I hope that I will be the last victim in China’s long record of treating words as crime.” Liu Xiaobo (1955-2017)
China isn’t usually a quotidian staple of the Westerner’s mindset. Let’s face it: our culture operates in Eurocentric mode, which may ultimately hint of a latent bias unrecognized in ourselves, a sense of smugness that they’ve little to offer us, save maybe for bargain-priced goods at your local box store.
Sadly, the death of leading dissident, Liu Xiaobo, on July 13 of this year from liver cancer was inevitably passed over by most Westerners and the media, which is a pity, for he graced our earth with a loving compassion, championing basic values promoting human dignity and the sanctity of individual lives.
A writer, poet and literary critic, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010. Unfortunately, his chair at the reward ceremony in Oslo would be empty. A year before, he had just begun serving an 11-year sentence for sedition against the People’s Republic of China. An outspoken critic of the Communist government, he campaigned for freedom of speech, free elections, and basic human rights.
If you google his name, you’ll find numerous links to salient quotations that speak to the decency of this man, who lived life courageously, and at ultimate cost, for his outspoken criticism of Beijing’s ubiquitous hegemony.
Among his quotations, I like this one best for its vibrant reiteration of one of humanity’s most requisite needs and fundamental rights:
Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth.
We live in a time of understandable exasperation with a new Washington regime, with many calling for shutting down views they find untenable, if not despicable. We find truth, promote dignity, and enhance human freedom, however, when we allow discussion in the market place of free exchange.
I don’t want to be under the aegis of thought police, whether Right or Left, and I don’t think you do either. I’m suspicious of all peripheries.
Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, is also a remarkable denizen in the portals of courage. Gifted poet and photographer, she married Liu in 1996 at the time of his incarceration in a reeducation labor camp for having urged peaceful diplomacy toward Taiwan.
Inveterate in her love and loyalty for her husband, she paid him a prison visit shortly after the Nobel Prize. Subsequently placed under house arrest, the government denied her access to cell phone and Internet use, while permitting only a handful of approved visitors.
Presently, we don’t know her whereabouts, although the government says that she’s free.
Two poems presented here pulsate with the salient love they shared as husband and wife and are especially moving in that they were written in contexts of extreme duress.
The first is “Morning,” which Liu penned before 2000 and dedicated to his wife; the second, “Road to Darkness,” Lia wrote shortly before her husband’s death. Both poems have been translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and appear in the current issue of The New York Review of Books (September 28, 2017).
The poignant irony is that these two stalwarts of freedom are unknown in China, all mention of them having been scrubbed from social media.
Between the gray walls
and a burst of chopping sounds,
morning comes, bundled and sliced,
and vanishes with the paralyzed souls
of the chopped vegetables.
Light and darkness pass through my pupils.
How do I know the difference?
Sitting in the rust, I can’t tell
if it’s the shine on the shackles in the jail
or the natural light of Nature
from outside the walls.
Daylight betrays everything, the splendid sun
Morning stretches and stretches in vain.
You are far away__
But not to far to collect the love
of my night.
Road to Darkness
Sooner or later you will leave me, one day
and take the road to darkness
I pray for the moment to reappear
so I can see it better,
as if from memory.
I wish that I, astonished, could glow, my body in full bloom of light for you.
But I can’t make it except
clenching my fists, not letting
not even a little bit of it, slip
through my fingers.