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Liu Xiaobo’s Early Life and Education:

Liu Xiaobo was born into an intellectual family in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin Province, in 1955. He spent his teenage years in a remote province of Inner Mongolia as part of Mao Zedong’s “Down to the Countryside Movement,” an outgrowth of the anti-bourgeois Cultural Revolution that sent privileged urban youth away for rural re-education. After returning to Jilin at 19, he studied literature at Jilin University, where he and six other students formed a poetry group called “The Innocent Hearts,” and at Beijing Normal University, where he earned a Ph.D. and became a faculty member.

Liu Xiaobo’s Critical Writings:

From the beginning of his career, Liu Xiaobo has been an advocate for freedom of expression, never afraid to challenge the powerful forces shaping intellectual life in China. His first book, Critique on Choices: Dialogues with Li Zehou (1987), was a direct challenge to the philosophical and aesthetic ideas of an influential Chinese academic. His second book was the published version of his doctoral thesis, Aesthetic and Human Freedom (1988). His third book, the title translated as Myths of Metaphysics or The Fog of Metaphysics (1989), was a review of Western philosophies, and the last publication he was allowed in China.

Activist for Human Rights and Freedom of Expression:

Liu was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in the United States in 1989, when he decided to return to China to take part in the popular protest movement at Tiananmen Square. The events of June 4, 1989, when the Tiananmen gathering was violently suppressed by the Chinese government, were clearly a turning point in Liu Xiaobo’s life, documented in the film The Gate of Heavenly Peace. Since then, he has been a tireless advocate for democracy, free speech and an end to political hostility, and he has suffered imprisonment for “spreading messages to instigate counterrevolutionary behavior” and “disturbing the social order.”

Charter 08:

Liu Xiaobo participated in writing and was one of the first signatories to Charter 08, a manifesto published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. Charter 08 calls for an end to authoritarian rule in China and a constitutional government supporting freedom, human rights, human equality and democracy. Since its release, Charter 08 has been signed by more than 8,000 people inside and outside of China. It was published in English (translated from the Chinese by Perry Link) in the New York Review of Books in January 2009.

Imprisonment and the Nobel Peace Prize:

Two days before the official release of Charter 08, Liu Xiaobo was detained, his house was searched, and his computers confiscated. He was held incommunicado until June 23, 2009, when he was formally arrested on “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power.” He was tried on December 23, 2009 and sentenced to 11 years in prison and 2 years’ deprivation of political rights. Liu’s commitment to peaceful change and free expression remains absolute—witness the statement he wrote while awaiting trial, “I Have No Enemies.” Despite the Chinese government’s furious attempts to dissuade them, the Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

Liu Xiaobo as Poet:

His wife Liu Xia is also a poet, and it is through poetry they met and fell in love. When he was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2009, she wrote (in “The Poet in an Unknown Prison,” translated by Liao Tienchi, New York Review of Books, May 2009) of the hundreds of poems written by the two of them “born of the conversations between our souls” and said of her husband, “In my eyes, he has always been and will always be an awkward and diligent poet.” The section of his last statement addressed to his wife is a love poem in prose:
“I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.”

Poems by Liu Xiaobo:

The only online source for Liu Xiaobo’s poems in English translation is the PEN American Center Web site. There are four poems from its magazine, PEN America (all translated by Jeffrey Yang), as well as audio recordings of those poems read at the December 31, 2009 Writers Rally for the Release of Liu Xiaobo on the steps of the New York Public Library:

PEN America has also posted his poem “Greed’s Prisoner,” “for the dispossessed wife,” also in a translation by Jeffrey Yang.
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