I want to thank Andy and Mike Manatos and the Oxi Day Foundation for giving this important Oxi Courage Award to Liu Xia, a Chinese poet and photographer and a woman of unparalleled moral courage.
I had the rare privilege of meeting Liu Xia last month in New York when we were both there to take part in the presentation to the Chinese writer Liao Yiwu of an award named for the great Czech president and playwright Vaclav Havel.
Liu Xia was indirectly connected to Havel through her husband Liu Xiaobo who, like Havel, was a public intellectual and political dissident of global stature. When Liu Xiaobo was arrested in 2009 for being the lead author and organizer of Charter 08, a manifesto for democracy and constitutional government in China that was inspired by Havel’s Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, it was Havel who led the campaign to award him the Nobel Peace Prize, which Liu received in 2010.
Liu Xiaobo was in prison when the Nobel ceremony was held in Oslo, and in place of his Nobel Address, the Swedish actress Liv Ullmann read Liu’s closing statement at his trial in which he decried “the enemy mentality of the regime” that poisoned the spirit of China and declared that “there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom.”
The most moving part of Liu’s statement was his impassioned expression of love for his wife Liu Xia, whose own love, he said, “is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, … allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. … Even if I were crushed into powder,” Liu said, “I would still use my ashes to embrace you.”
Liu Xia was under house arrest during the Nobel ceremony, and she remained isolated and confined for eight years, despite insistent calls for her release by world leaders, human rights organizations, and the U.S. Congress, and even after Liu Xiaobo died in prison last year. She suffered severe depression during these years and was in extremely fragile condition when she was finally allowed to leave China last July to take refuge in Germany. She is still recovering, which is the reason she is not with us tonight.
But during these years she became world famous not just as a prisoner and the wife of Liu Xiaobo, but also as a poet and a photographer. The few visitors she was able to receive smuggled to the West 26 of her stunningly original photographs of dolls, which she called “ugly babies” because they symbolized the denial of free expression to her husband and to the people of China more generally.
These photographs were organized under the gallery name “The Silent Strength of Liu Xia,” and they were exhibited during her house imprisonment in cities across the world, including Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Taipei, Berlin, and Madrid.
The dolls have been called warriors for freedom, and that is what Liu Xia is – a warrior for freedom who has suffered greatly for the humane ideals that bound her together, in life and in death, with her beloved husband Liu Xiaobo.
In the video that you shall now see of Liu Xia accepting the Oxi Courage Award last month in New York, she graces us all by reading her hauntingly beautiful poem “Silent Strength,” which gave the name to the photo exhibit and which powerfully affirms that, in fact, “there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom.”
So let us now see this important video.