2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Still in Jail

“I dedicate this prize to all those lost souls who have sacrificed their lives in non-violent struggle for peace, democracy and freedom.” – Liu Xiaobo, upon learning in prison that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 


Liu Xiaobo who was the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, is still in jail in China.  In  2009 he

Liu Xiaobo with his wife Liu Xia who is currently under house arrest in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Amnesty International

was charged with writing articles which were termed by the court to be ‘rumor mongering, slander and smear.’  Dr. Liu’s original articles which got him arrested decried the current corruption and censorship in China, and advocated a democratic and multi-party system.  The 11-year sentence meted out to him on Christmas Day, 2009, is one of the heaviest ever for the crime of “incitement to subvert the state”.

Born in December 1955, Liu Xiaobo’s life was, at first, an ordinary one.  The son of a university professor, during the Cultural Revolution he followed his parents to the Inner Mongolian countryside, after which he spent more than two years in a rural people’s commune in his home province of Jilin.  He worked as a construction worker for a year in 1976.  In 1977, Xiaobo was admitted to the Chinese department of Jilin University, where he graduated in 1982.   He entered Beijing Normal University where he was awarded his Ph.D. in Literature in 1988.

Liu Xiaobo did not take part in the pro-democracy movement of the late 1970s. While Wei Jingsheng and his comrades were fighting for democracy, Liu was interested only in literature, writing poems, and reading Western philosophy.  During the early 1980’s and the vibrant cultural growth within China, Liu Xiaobo’s writing and provocative ideas garnered him national and international attention and he travelled and spoke worldwide.

In 1986, Xiaobo made a name as a literary critic when he wrote an article denouncing Chinese writers’ dependence on the state and their inability to think for themselves. The article had an enormous impact and he was labeled the “black horse” of China’s literary scene. He was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York when the 1989 pro-democracy movement erupted in China. Whereas many of his colleagues at home were seeking ways to leave, Liu immediately returned home and spent most of his time in Tiananmen Square. Although he kept criticizing them, the student leaders respected him and debated with him. On the eve of the massacre, he launched a hunger strike with three comrades to protest the imminent repression by the People’s Liberation Army. On the night of 3 June, he negotiated a peaceful evacuation of Tiananmen Square with the army.

Though Liu Xiaobo found refuge in a diplomatic compound, he did not want to be safe while his fellow Beijing citizens and students were persecuted.  He made the fateful decision to leave his apartment and was subsequently arrested on 6 June 1989.  Labeled a “black hand” behind the movement, he spent 20 months at Qincheng jail in Beijing.  Upon his release, Liu Xiaobo had a change of heart.  He wrote no more literature; instead he joined the pro-democracy struggle in China.  He published articles in Hong Kong media which criticized his government, and organized petitions to denounce human rights violations.

The June 4th 1989 massacre in Tienamen Square changed Liu Xiaobo in many ways – in his outlook on life, his new found concern for the common people and his dedication to the preservation of the memory of those who died that day – now over 20 years ago.  Liu Xiaobo, very much like Vaclav Havel, is convinced that the most effective weapon against the government was “living in truth”.   “To refuse to lie in public life represents the most effective force to undermine tyranny,” he said.

Since his release from jail in 1991 until his most recent arrest in 2009, Liu Xiaobo has lived under constant surveillance.  But this hasn’t kept him from acting in accordance with his ideals.  He has worked closely with the Tiananmen Mothers, whose objective is to force the government to acknowledge the massacre and rehabilitate the victims. He has organized actions against the arrest of writers imprisoned for the texts they have posted on the internet. He has written in defense of workers who protested the corruption of their factory managers, and has organized appeals to defend the rights of migrant workers.  In short – Liu Xiaobo is the man you would want in your corner, in a tough situation.  Which is what human rights activism in China is.

When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo in absentia on December 10, 2010, he first learned of the honor from his guards at Jinzhou Prison in northeast China.  His wife, Liu Xia  an artist and poet and was placed under house arrest immediately following the announcement.  She’d been living in enforced isolation in their Beijing home since October 2010, with all forms of communication severed.  That same evening, the police took her to Liaoning province to keep her away from the media, and to have her meet with her husband in prison.  After this meeting, Liu Xia tweeted that during their meeting, Liu Xiaobo had broken into tears and dedicated his Nobel Prize to all of those who have sacrificed their lives in non-violent struggle for peace, democracy and freedom.

Liu Xiaobo was one of the featured cases during Amnesty’s worldwide write-a-thon in December 2011.  As such, people worldwide wrote letters not only on his behalf to the Chinese government, but also letters of support to both Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, who at last report was still under illegal house arrest.  Amnesty International again called for their release on December 10, 2011 – one year from the date when Liu Xiaobo was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.