Yesterday morning, when a friend told me about the recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, my first reaction was “oh good, not Helmut Kohl” (the former German chancellor who’s been nominated several times and would have been, in the minds of many, another unfortunate choice). No, my friend said, it’s the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo who’s long been a critic of his government’s human rights practices; the one who’s been in prison for seven of the last 20 years and who was a leader of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. We recognized his name but neither of us knew how to pronounce it. This morning Scott Simon of NPR News paid tribute to 刘晓波, pronouncing his name as Liu Sha Bo. Simon read from a letter Mr. Liu sent to his wife, the painter Liu Xia:
“Sweetheart … I am sentenced to a visible prison while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning.
Given your love, sweetheart, I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where … all views will be spread in the sunlight for people to choose without fear. I hope to be the last victim.
I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.”