'Even Now, I Don't Want to Admit That Xiaobo is Gone'

china-liuxiaberlin2-050719.jpg Liu Xia (C), widow of democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, opens an exhibition of her photography in Frankfurt, Germany, May 3, 2019.

Chinese poet and photographer Liu Xia, widow of late Nobel peace laureate and prisoner of conscience Liu Xiaobo, has launched her first exhibition since beginning a new life in Germany following eight years under house arrest in Beijing.

Liu, who has now been living in Germany for nearly a year, attended the launch of an exhibition in Frankfurt of her personal photography, which will mark the start of her career as a professional photographer.

In a public dialogue with dissident artist Ai Weiwei at Frankfurt's Peter West Gallery, Liu spoke for the first time about her grief over the loss of her jailed husband to late-stage liver cancer in July 2017.

"I don't want to face up to it," she told Ai at the event. "Even now, I don't want to admit that Xiaobo is gone."

"All of the funeral ceremonies for Xiaobo felt to me fake, as if I was just putting on an acting performance," she said. "Maybe the day will come when I can spell it out, word by word, [and write down] what I want to say to Xiaobo."

Liu said she and her husband had little chance to speak to each other in the weeks before his death at Shenyang No. 1 Hospital of the China Medical University, where he was under heavy police guard.

"There were a lot of things that we didn't get chance to say to each other," Liu said. "Maybe I will be able to accept that he is no longer here when I have written it all down."

'Memories stayed behind'

Asked about how she feels living in a state of relative freedom compared with house arrest back in Beijing, Liu said that she hasn't settled in well at all, and feels "extremely uncomfortable," and often thinks about buying a ticket back home.

Her body may have arrived in Berlin, but her thoughts and emotions are all back in Beijing, she said, where her home is still filled with memories from their marriage.

"I actually promised Xiaobo that I would take him wherever I went, always, but actually I wasn't allowed to take his ashes in the end, so I came here," she said. "I may be here, but my memories stayed behind, and will always be there."

Liu also spoke about how she had married Liu Xiaobo in a simple ceremony at a labor camp where he was  serving a sentence at Chinese New Year in 1996, finally enabling her the visiting rights accorded to a wife.

Later, when he was preparing to publish Charter 08, a document he co-authored calling for constitutional government in China, she warned him that he would end up in prison over it.

But she said she hadn't stood in his way, saying that people have to decide for themselves how to spend the few decades they have to live.

Liu said she continues to take antidepressant medication to help her combat the depression she faces, the legacy of eight years under house arrest during which time the police locked her into her own apartment.

Ai called on Liu to write down her story, as a form of therapy for someone whose every move has been monitored by the police in recent years.

Struggles of the people

The exhibition, titled "Please Close Your Eyes," showcases black-and-white photographs taken by Liu Xia between 1996 and 1999.

One series of photographs titled "Ugly Baby," has been said to represent the struggles and screams of people in today's China, where strict controls exist on thoughts and speech.

One of the most prominent works in the exhibit is a portrait titled simply "Liu Xiaobo's Hands."

Liu arrived in Germany in July 2018, after months of uncertainty over her fate.

She had been held by China's state security police under house arrest from the time her then-jailed husband's Nobel Prize was announced in October 2010, and was only seen briefly in public at Liu Xiaobo's funeral in July 2017.

Liu Xiaobo died on July 13, 2017 of late-stage liver cancer, while serving an 11-year jail term for subversion, and the authorities denied requests for him and Liu Xia to travel overseas to seek medical treatment.

He was detained in 2008 after the publication of Charter 08, and sentenced a year later, on Christmas Day, 2009.

Eyewitnesses say he played a crucial role in negotiating a truce between student protesters and People's Liberation Army troops sent in to end the protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4, 1989, enabling hundreds to leave safely.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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