Tue, Nov 02, 2010 - Page 8 News List

No other choice: Remembering Liu

By Bei Ling 貝嶺

I first wrote this in New York in June 1989, after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and after I heard that Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) had been arrested in Beijing. I had to vent my feelings.

The Liu in this article is the highly individual literary critic Liu from more than 20 years ago. We were all very young then, and the world did not seem as complicated as it seems today; what I’ve written here feels rather green behind the ears to me now.

At the end of 1993, when I went back to Beijing, he was already out of jail. We went through many things together in the years after, but I have never shown this text to my old friend.

In 2000, I was jailed and deported. In 2001, I founded the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) in exile, with Meng Lang’s (孟良) assistance in Boston and Liu’s help in Beijing. After Liu became chairman of the ICPC in 2004, his role in China grew in importance, but we also had a lot of differences and disappointments.

At the end of 2008 he was jailed again, because he co-authored Charter ’08. On Christmas Day last year my friend was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “subversion.”

I am sad and incensed; I miss him very much and can hardly express my feelings. This is why I’ve updated this article. When this is published, at least Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia (劉霞), will be able to read it.

Liu Xiaobo is very gentle, but he cannot stand any false kindness; he emphasizes individualism, though in daily life he needs his friends very much ... His unique personality highlights exactly the kind of character that is so extremely rare among Chinese intellectuals.

I am trying to describe him with simple words, because he is such a man of flesh and blood, a very resolute man; a man of action who is also deeply immersed in thinking. Some people go to jail, and what they leave behind are their deeds and opinions, while their personality and their image become more and more blurred. But he, a man of such strong opinions, has left us so much character and spirit, so many stories — and for me there is also a kind of silent frustration, when I think back to more relaxed times, which makes me not at all relaxed now.

This is my friend, my good friend Liu. He is a very fidgety professor, pacing back and forth through a room, cigarette in his mouth, absent-mindedly trying to brush off some dirt from his shirt with one hand, with the most inane expression on his face, asking me the most trivial questions about my daily life. He gets on my nerves, my face may even begin to show it. I am trying to answer him, to somehow enter his system, so I can develop my anxiety within his stammering questions. Or maybe I can change the subject, ask him a few metaphysical questions and make him go on talking till morning.

As long as you are with him, you have no rest anyway; you have to travel along the way of his thoughts. He will expound on Kant, and in the next moment he has jumped to Camus. I have often heard him repeat that sentence from The Myth of Sisyphus, where Camus says: “I have never heard of anyone who died for ontology.” He even told me that at his home in Beijing he would recite his favorite classical books from the West to his wife, his son and the walls. He said he had recited A Hundred Years of Solitude three times all the way through, and he can make you believe that he has recited Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation), also three times.

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