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Liu Xia

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In silent recitation,
I carve lines on my bones.

—Liu Xia, "Speechless"
Liu Xia. (Jordan Pouille)

Liu Xia is an avant-garde poet, photographer, and painter from Beijing. She was married to dissident and fellow poet Liu Xiaobo from 1996 until his death in 2017.

Liu Xia was born in 1961 in Beijing. In the 1980s, she worked for the Beijing Tax Bureau while enmeshing herself in the burgeoning literary scene in the capital. Her poetry was published in major Chinese journals until the violent military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989. All of her work has been banned in China from that point on. Nevertheless, Liu quit her job at the tax bureau in 1993 to devote herself entirely to her art.

It was at a salon in the 1980s that Liu Xia met Liu Xiaobo. Both had first marriages around that time, and both ended in divorce. Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo eventually moved in together, but did not marry until 1996, while Liu Xiaobo was serving a three-year sentence at a re-education through labor camp. They were reunited in 1999, but separated again in 2008, after Liu Xiaobo was detained for his participation in drafting Charter 08. Though never charged with any crime, she has been under house arrest since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2010. Journalists and supporters have occasionally managed to visit her, finding her deeply depressed by her de facto imprisonment. Liu Xia was last seen on July 15, 2017, in official photos with her family at Liu Xiaobo's funeral and burial at sea. Her attorney in the U.S. has filed a formal complaint to the United Nations condemning her "enforced disappearance."

Critics often note the inward focus of Liu Xia's work, even from before her house arrest. She has also avowed that she is "not politically involved," despite her devotion to Liu Xiaobo. In her intense isolation, she has continued to produce hundreds of paintings and photographs. Dozens of her black-and-white photos were smuggled out of China one by one by French professor and friend Guy Sorman, later exhibited in 2012 in "The Silent Strength of Liu Xia." Many of the photos, taken between 1996 and 1999, feature Liu Xia's "ugly babies," dolls with anguished faces bound up in her Beijing apartment or looking out to sea. Her 2014 "Lonely Planet" series, photos of tin foil sculptures emerging from stark blackness, appear in her latest book, Accompanying Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xia's poetry has been published in Selected Poems by Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia (刘晓波刘霞诗选) and Empty Chairs: Selected Poems.

Liu Xia at CDT

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