Berlin ceremony marks a year since death of Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo
Friends, activists and exiled dissidents pay tribute to writer, but wife Liu Xia unable to attend
German novelist and poet Herta Müller reads some of Liu Xiaobo’s poems at a memorial service for the late Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate in Gethsemane Church in Berlin on Friday. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/EPA
Nearly 1,000 human rights supporters, exiled dissidents and friends of Liu Xiaobo attended Berlin’s Gethsemane Church for a calm but defiant ceremony to mark a year since the death of the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The literary critic and writer died of liver cancer on July 13th last year, eight years into an 11-year prison sentence for subversion of state power, and behind the altar hung a large painting of him with his wife, Liu Xia, who finally arrived in Berlin on Tuesday after seven years’ house arrest in Beijing.
Liu Xia was a key absence from the event. The artist and poet suffers from deep clinical depression and was exhausted by the swirl of events since her dramatic release and unable to attend. Speakers reminded the attendees her brother Liu Hui is being kept in Beijing on bail.
Friday’s event in the Gethsemane Church in the eastern district of Prenzlauer Berg, a focal point for dissent against the East German regime in the 1980s, acted as a proper memorial ceremony for Liu Xiaobo, whose ashes were quickly scattered at sea by Chinese authorities to avoid a grave becoming a pilgrimage site.
“We all thought Liu Xiaobo would get out after three or four years, but it never happened,” Tienchi Martin-Liao, president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, told The Irish Times.
“I saw Liu Xia for the first time since her arrival in Germany just the night before the ceremony. It was very emotional, and also sad because I knew her husband’s thoughts, his character, and his writing. I told her, I was so sorry we didn’t see her husband leave jail alive, and she consoled me. She is so very strong,” said Ms Martin-Liao.
The event was orchestrated by pastor Roland Kühne and, as well as a large media presence, especially from Hong Kong and Taiwan, it was attended by former German president Joachim Gauck and the 82-year-old songwriter Wolf Biermann, an icon of the East German dissident movement.
Herta Müller, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, read a translation of some of Liu Xia’s poems.
Trade can’t be the only factor when it comes to human rights, it can’t all be a question of selling a few more Audis
Liu Xiaobo’s life and death were in line with the fundamental conundrums facing Chinese reformers over the last century, Pulitzer prize-winning author Ian Johnson said in a eulogy.
“Not how to boost GDP or recover lost territories, but how to create a more humane and just political system,” said Mr Johnson.
Under president Xi Jinping, China’s economy and geopolitical power is taking on major global significance, but the situation has become tougher for activists seeking political reform.
Herbert Wiesner, general secretary of Germany’s PEN Centre, said politicians needed to do more on promoting human rights when dealing with the Chinese government.
“Trade can’t be the only factor when it comes to human rights, it can’t all be a question of selling a few more Audis,” the literary critic said. “The problem is the politicians arrive with our petitions in their hands, but then they get offered a factory in Saxony and human rights are forgotten.”
“Culturally speaking, we are so close, but we have such different experiences in terms of democracy and Western values,” said Ms Wu.
Liu Xiaobo’s friend the writer and dissident Liao Yiwu played a moving musical piece for the flute called Liu Xiaobo’s Last Moments, accompanied by Fabian Lukas Voigtschild on violin.
The piece was inspired by comments from Liu Xia about her husband’s last words.
“Liu Xiaobo told me I had to get out of the country . . . in the end he stopped speaking – he just kicked his leg to show what he meant. His legs kept moving, almost like he was walking, non-stop, for over an hour, both legs walking non-stop . . . without cease, without cease . . .”