Despite never having been formally accused of a crime, painter, poet and photographer Liu Xia has been under house arrest and subject to surveillance since her late husband Liu Xiaobo was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. After Liu Xiaobo died from multiple organ failure related to late stage liver cancer last week, friends and supporters voiced concern over the whereabouts and well-being of his wife. These concerns have continued to grow despite official assurances that she is free. On July 5, just over a week before his death, Liu Xiaobo wrote a parting love letter to Liu Xia, which has been translated by Quartz.
On Weibo one week after Liu Xiaobo’s death, Liu Xia supporter JunDaLedeManXiansheng (@君达乐的慢先生) posted an essay on his respect for the artist and widow whose whereabouts are currently unknown. The essay, titled “A Wave Breaks in a Vast Ocean, a Man With a Pure Heart and Honest Character” (沧海一晓波，赤子莽撞人, the “wave breaking” being a play on Liu Xiaobo’s given name, 晓波) has been deleted from Weibo, but is archived on CDT Chinese and translated in full below:
That time when Lao Xia came to Suzhou, I was still young.
I didn’t know why the police were following her, she looked very friendly. It wasn’t until quite some time later that I finally came to understand why. I often saw pictures of her and her husband online, mostly reposted by young people. They looked full of high spirits, wise and casual in an elegant way, as if being a hero doesn’t cost you anything.
In 2012, my friend and I tried to see her. She had already been under house arrest for a long time. She looked very different. We went to her apartment building many times. We knew she was a heavy smoker and she had to open the window to smoke. It was a winter day when my friend and I saw her smoking at her window. She saw us. When we made the hand gesture from 28 years ago, she jumped in delight, like a child who had been imprisoned for years. We kept quiet the whole time. So did she. Why was that? Because there was a female state security officer sleeping right next to her apartment.
I’ve seen her being scolded. I’ve heard her being pushed and shoved by those worthless thugs. I knew that the only chance for her to go outdoors was to go grocery shopping. At the time, she could go out twice if she was well-behaved. She often took full advantage of the quotas. Of course, they always had someone follow her.
When circumstances were tense, she was often prohibited from turning on the lights in her apartment. So she had to endure darkness as night fell. I’ve seen that many times. Those rulers in the gutter thought that Lao Xia shall not be allowed to see the sunlight. So she became someone who often had to live in silent darkness.
On the 28th, a group of friends led by Mr. Hu and Xu Youyu decided to risk everything and visit her. Xu Youyu shouted downstairs at her apartment building: “It’s me! I’m Lao Yu.” Lao Xia looked very happy, but she didn’t have the courage to open the door. She said: They are at my doorstep. She was referring to the state security officers who slept in her corridor. But Xu Youyu said: “This time when you open the door, you’ll see us.”
When we finally saw Lao Xia at close range, she looked like a panicked old nun. She was a completely different person. Hu Jia is often choked up with anger whenever he talks about this encounter.
I was stunned. To my understanding, if they could drive Lao Xia to the verge of collapse, then, in theory, they could drive anyone crazy.
When Lao Xia was getting married, the person at the marriage registrar asked her: Do you know who he (Xiaobo) is? He’s an enemy of the state. Lao Xia said: I know. The officer said: Ok, now you are an enemy of the state, too.
In 2010, Lao Xia said that she wished the court would announce the verdict soon so that she could visit Xiaobo in prison.
She spoke with that slow and jumpy Beijing accent. She was ready. She knew what to expect. Yet she was nevertheless on the verge of being burned out. I still believe, though, that no one could have done any better than she did. No one.
I’ve heard so much about Xiaobo, both praise and curses. Those judgements can neither add to, nor discredit, what he did. It’s not up to our generation, our “insiders” to judge him.
Therefore I’ve been thinking of Lao Xia more often. I hope she can be free. As a witness and a passerby, I hereby offer my facts and testimony. I saw this with my own eyes. I am not afraid of being questioned by God.
I finally saw the ocean when I was 17, at Mount Putuo. I said to myself: Ok, so now I know what an ocean looks like. Starting a few years ago, I began to see the ocean every day. It is divided into East Bay and West Bay, with the east being poor and the west being rich. I live at the “Democratic East,” which is a lot worse than the west. There is no award-winning artwork on the beach; there is only a children’s slide, its color fading from the sun. There are no children but young hooligans playing with their skateboards on the slide. Cargo ships as big as islands cruise at slow speeds. But the ocean doesn’t discriminate based on worldly standards. The poor ocean and rich ocean all have flipflops and cigarette butts floating in them. The ocean doesn’t discriminate based on worldly standards. It would bury a man who is broke but righteous; it would also bury a man who is powerful but evil.
Since that day, I’ve known that the ocean will never make me calm again. [Chinese]
Translation by Yakexi.
Liu Xiaobo was cremated by authorities and his ashes were spread at sea, which his friend Hu Jia said was done to ensure that there was “nothing to remember him by on Chinese soil.” If that was indeed authorities’ goal, it backfired: The Guardian reported on planned “sea protests” across the globe to commemorate Liu, with one supporter reportedly swimming for more than two hours to leave flowers where Liu’s remains were scattered.
— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) July 15, 2017