A Couple (Apart) in China

by Jay Nordlinger

Earlier today, Jillian Kay Melchior had a post on China. (By the way, I believe our Jill is the greatest Melchior since Lauritz. Whether she can sing, I don’t know.) She linked to an Associated Press story by Isolda Morillo and Alexa Olesen. This is the most unexpected and affecting news story I have read in a long time. I wish there were some sort of prize it could win. Maybe there is. Is there some Pulitzer category?

The authors write,

Breathless from disbelief at receiving unexpected visitors into her home and with a shaking voice, Liu spoke in her first interview in 26 months — a brief conversation with journalists . . . who managed to visit her apartment while the guards who watch it apparently stepped away for lunch.

The Liu in question is Liu Xia, wife of the Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel peace laureate. She has been under very strict house arrest for two years. Later in the article, the reporters write,

Dressed in a track suit and slippers, Liu was visibly shaken to find several Associated Press journalists at her door. Her first reaction was to put her hands to her head and ask several times, “How did you manage to come up, how did you manage?”

When many foreigners think of China, they think of a gleaming Shanghai, and lots of business to transact. That is one China, yes — but there is another China, from which many suffer. “We live in such an absurd place,” Liu Xia told the reporters. “I really never imagined that after [Liu Xiaobo] won, I would not be able to leave my home. This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this.”

For a taste of what the ruling Communists are like, try this bit of info, from the AP story: “[Liu Xia] was denied visits [with her husband] for more than a year after she saw him two days after his Nobel win and emerged to tell the world that he had dedicated the award to those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.”

Today, my friends at Initiatives for China, a.k.a. Citizen Power for China, released a four-minute film, Waiting for Liu. Find it here.

Liu Xiaobo is a leader of Charter 08, which drew its inspiration from Charter 77, the Czechoslovakian movement for democracy in which Václav Havel was prominently involved. The late Havel was one of those who nominated Liu for the peace prize. Havel himself never got it, perhaps because the Nobel committee had already given the prize to an Eastern European democracy leader, Lech Walesa (in 1983).

For my November 2010 piece on Liu Xiaobo and his prize, go here.

Certainly, Liu, as he sits in his cell, knows that many people around the world care about his fate, even if the world’s main concern is getting along with his jailers. Liu is also a lucky prisoner, protected, to a degree, by his Nobel prize. Many, many anonymous others are not so lucky.