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Letter from Liu Xiaobo to Liao Yiwu

April 9, 2010

January 13, 2000

Translation by HRIC.

Dear Beardie or Baldie:

I’ve been reading your My Testimony [unofficial translation of 《证词》, Zhengci] day and night. Liu Xia read it very fast; I read it much more slowly. Between reading it ten lines at a time and spending time to understand each word, I’m sure you can tell who cares about you more. Next time, even if you’re dense, you should know with whom you should be frank, and with whom you should be vague.

Compared to your four years in prison, my three imprisonments cannot be considered real disasters. The first time, I was in a single-prisoner cell in Qincheng; except for the deathly silence, I was much better off than you were in terms of daily life. The second time, during the eight months in a large compound at the foot of Xiang Mountain, the treatment was even better: aside from freedom, I had everything. The third time was in the Dalian Correctional Institution and it was also something else. As an entitled prisoner, it’s difficult for me to face what you have been through to the point that I can’t even claim that those three entries and releases were imprisonments. The truth is, in this inhuman place, resistance is our only course of action in preserving our dignity. Thus, being imprisoned is an essential part of a person’s dignity and is nothing to brag about. What should be feared is not imprisonment but what happens afterwards when you think you can make society pay back its blood debt to you and live by your principles.

I always knew that after June Fourth, there were too many of those arrested who received more severe sentences than well-known figures like myself. The vile prison conditions are difficult for ordinary people to imagine. But this was only a feeling I had until reading your Testimony. Testimony has allowed me to feel the pulse of the real victims of the June Fourth tragedy. Words cannot describe my shame; therefore, I will live the rest of my life for the souls of those nameless victims. Everything shall pass, but the blood and tears of the innocent will be stones in my heart forever. They are heavy and cold, and their corners and edges sharp. “Requiem” [unofficial translation of 《安魂》, An hun] is quite a poem. It’s even better than “Massacre” [unofficial translation of 《屠杀》, Tusha].

In Testimony, you have many criticisms for those around you, but sometimes it’s hard to separate those from complaints. I think perhaps you didn’t have enough distance [from the prison experience] and that your pen was still surrounded by your personal pain; this is something that you need to think about carefully. Being true to life is an unattainable task but our words must have the inner strength to strive infinitely closer to it.ô‡ô€“ô€²¦ô€²ƒ

Compared to others under the Communist black curtain, we cannot call ourselves real men. Through the great tragedies of all these years, we still don’t have a righteous giant like [Václav] Havel. In order for everyone to have the right to be selfish, there has to be a righteous giant who will sacrifice selflessly. In order to obtain “passive freedoms” (freedom from the arbitrary oppression by those in power), there has to be a will for active resistance. In history, nothing is fated. The appearance of a martyr will completely change a nation’s soul and raise the spiritual quality of the people. But Gandhi was by chance, Havel was by chance; two thousand years ago, a peasant’s boy born in the manger was even more by chance. Human progress relies on the chance birth of these individuals. One cannot count on the collective conscience of the masses but only on the great individual conscience to consolidate the weak masses. In particular, our nation needs this righteous giant; the appeal of a role model is infinite; a symbol can rouse an abundance of moral resources. For example, Fang Lizhi’s ability to walk out of the U.S. Embassy, or Zhao Ziyang’s ability to actively resist after stepping down, or so-and-so refusing to go abroad. A very important reason for the silence and amnesia after June Fourth is that we did not have a righteous giant who stepped forward.

It is possible to imagine people’s kindness and steadfastness but it is impossible to imagine people’s evil and cowardice. Every time a great tragedy occurs, I am always shocked by people’s evil and cowardice. However, I am calm when facing the lack of kindness and steadfastness. The beauty of written language is that, in the dark, it shines a light on truth; and beauty is the focal point of truth. Noise and glamour only hide the truth. Compared to this clever world, you and I are but fools. We are only fit to ride the Ship of Fools like those in ancient Europe, drifting in the open seas; whatever land we hit first will be our home. We live by the feeling of heartache still left in life. Heartache is a symptom of extreme blindness but also of extreme clarity. Blindness, because when everyone is numb, you still ignore the current situation and cry out in pain; clarity, because when everyone has forgotten, you still remember the bloody knife. I once wrote a poem to Liu Xia, “an ant’s cries have stopped your footsteps.”

I have never met your sister, Feifei, but your pen has already made me fall in love with her type of woman. Dancing with deceased souls or the defeated is the dance of life. If possible, when you go to her grave to pay respect, give her some flowers on my behalf.


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