"Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes" or, What the Nobel Peace Prize is For.


Here's a December 2009 statement from Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao, the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Read it and weep. And then honor his sacrifice by doing something today to expand peace and freedom.

I have no enemies, and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I'm unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities…..

I firmly believe that China's political progress will never stop, and I'm full of optimistic expectations of freedom coming to China in the future, because no force can block the human desire for freedom. China will eventually become a country of the rule of law in which human rights are supreme. I'm also looking forward to such progress being reflected in the trial of this case, and look forward to the full court's just verdict ——one that can stand the test of history.

Ask me what has been my most fortunate experience of the past two decades, and I'd say it was gaining the selfless love of my wife, Liu Xia. She cannot be present in the courtroom today, but I still want to tell you, my sweetheart, that I'm confident that your love for me will be as always. Over the years, in my non-free life, our love has contained bitterness imposed by the external environment, but is boundless in afterthought. 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 every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough hobble my steps. 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….

I hope to be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisition, and that after this no one else will ever be jailed for their speech.

Freedom of expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth. To block freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, to strangle humanity and to suppress the truth.

I do not feel guilty for following my constitutional right to freedom of expression, for fulfilling my social responsibility as a Chinese citizen. Even if accused of it, I would have no complaints.

Full statement here.

Strangely, this year's inspirational choice makes last year's selection of Barack Obama even more of a joke, the sort of international gadflying that has helped diminish the struggles of countless millions (billions?) around the globe.

In 2003, on the occasion of Reason's 35th anniversary, we named the anonymous Tiananmen Square "tank man" martyr one of our 35 Heroes of Freedom, noting "By putting his life on the line in front of his government's tanks, he provided not only one of the most memorable images of the last 35 years but one of the most inspiring too. The free China of the future owes him a statue or two." And, needless to say, Liu Xiaobao as well.

Some years back, I had the incredible and undeserved honor of introducing another one of our heroes of freedom, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who literally saved billions of people from starvation by developing high-yield crops and, more important, making sure that they were distributed throughout the developing world (read Ron Bailey's amazing interview with him here). 

People like Borlaug and Liu Xiaobao should remind us not only that individual actions and ideas can and do make a huge difference but that we all owe them a massive debt for the inspiration they provide and the possibilities they create.

NEXT: Reason Writers Around Town: Samuel Staley on America's Newly Defined Middle Class

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  1. Dammit, I don't come here to cry!

    1. +1

      That brought a tear to my eye.

      1. "Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes...."

        This line did it for me. People think libertarians are heartless cruel bastards who want to see everyone else suffer but their own productive selves. Not true. Xiaobo's capacity for expression reveals the heart of a person who loves not only a woman he considers remarkable, but it reveals something deeper to me: a determination to embrace a humanity with the same ashes into which humanity ground him.

        And when asked how much he loved the human race, he spread out his arms, and died...

        1. Same here.

        2. Yeah, what is so often called "selfishness" by the haters is much better described as a trust in the virtue of the human spirit and mind.

  2. I am humbled.

  3. Absolutely heartbreaking. And inspirational. Thanks to brave men like this, some of us live in a freer world. And for those of us living under harsh oppression, people like this give hope of a better future.

    Never surrender!

  4. "By putting his life on the line in front of his government's tanks, he provided not only one of the most memorable images of the last 35 years but one of the most inspiring too. The free China of the future owes him a statue or two."

    Inspiring to whom? Very few people in China even know about that picture. On an episode of Frontline a couple of years ago, they showed the "Tank Man" picture to a bunch of Chinese college students and asked them what they thought was happening in the picture. The response: they thought it was taken at a military parade.

    1. I didn't read that as inspiring Chinese, but inspiring in general. Maybe the fact people still in China don't know of the incident like the rest of the world is just as inspiring, or telling. Maybe it inspires others not to let this path be taken where they live, maybe it inspires others to do what they can to help those who have been shielded from the incident. Maybe a random dude stopping a fucking tank column after grocery shopping and never seeking credit for the action is inspiring enough.

      1. It is quite interesting to talk to Chinese people about it (if they will talk about it at all). One woman I spoke with once said that she was there because she was a student at the U of Beijing. She also said that nothing happened, or nothing violent anyway. You know, just people out hanging around and celebrating democracy not demanding it. I just looked at her stupid. Others just say "I don't want to talk about it."

        1. The three T's that Chinese nationals studying in the West are trained not to listen to Westerners talk about:


          My understanding from a Chinese colleague who wound up staying in the US and didn't follow this training is: they make prospective grad students attend training on staying loyal to China while living among Westerners. They train them to think that Westerners are trying to break up Chinese unity, just as in the "sphere of influence" era, and are willing to spread lies about the government to that effect.

          He's also not worried about China becoming a legitimate economic power in the long term, at least not with the current system. The combination of Chinese culture's traditionalist bent and government-enforced paranoia creates an environment where true innovation is unlikely. Thus far their economic gains have mostly come from copying knowledge and technology that the West developed and making it more cheaply. You can only do that for so long.

          1. You can get Chinese in China to talk about Tibet and Taiwan. I've found very little diversity of opinion there though. Even amongst people who complain about the government and the party there most accept the party line about Tibet and Taiwan. But, they're willing to discuss it. Tienanmen Square, on the other hand, never happened.

          2. I like to call Taiwan "The other of the two Chinas" just to watch mainland Chinese have an apoplectic fit.

          3. We had a lot of Chinese students at my undergrad school, it was one of the top international business schools, and I never had any problem discussing most of those topics. The opinions were varied, but none of them seemed taboo in any way.

            There was often a need to read between the lines with comments and responses, but that is as much cultural as it is training imo.

            1. Well, after a couple of irate conversations on these topics with Chinese students, I pretty much gave up trying to talk about them. And I could probably get in bigger trouble now if I brought up something like that with a Chinese student in my current position and it didn't go well.

      2. The reason he hasn't sought credit for it is because he was probably hauled off and shot immediately afterwards.

        1. There's actually a suspicion he was never found by the government, much less punished. He was hauled away, not by soldiers or police, but by other concerned citizens who didn't want him to die. There may not be a billion Chinese that know of his story or what happened that day but there are some, maybe only 100, but they exist.

          The reason he hasn't sought credit is probably not because he's dead but because his intention was to stop someone else from getting killed that day, not to martyr himself.

          1. Expressing massive ignorance here, but I thought there was bloodshed (massacre) after this picture and it was assumed he was dead. Was there bloodshed there? Isn't that a plausible theory? Do I remember the 90s at all?

            1. I'm in this boat. Hundreds of protesters were killed, based off of the extant evidence (which is scant).

              The 2 competing theories are that he was either executed a few days later or that he still remains in hiding.

              If I had to guess, I'd say that he was killed.

    2. I'm a grad student and work with a few who just came here from China. I discussed Tienanmen Square with one of them and he said that everybody knows about it because their parents teach them that it happened. At his university, many of the professors actually took part, and so they discuss it.

  5. There should be a Nobel for Freedom.

    Even better, there should be an X-Prize for Freedom, given to someone who is most responsible for achieving a specific goal, like ending the primacy of the Communist Party in China or ending Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

    1. ending the primacy of the Communist Party in China or ending Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

      I'm thinking those don't really belong in the same sentence . . . . Both laudable goals, to be sure, but, c'mon, a little perspective here.

      I do like the idea of an X-prize for freedom, though.

      1. The idea being that they could be for major or minor goals. $100K to end DADT, $20 Million to end communist party primacy.

    2. There is a "Nobel Prize for Freedom", the Cato Institute Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. The last winner was Akbar Ganji from Iran, who was jailed and tortured by the regime there. http://www.cato.org/special/friedman/about.html

  6. I read the whole statement. What's interesting is that he notes that the fight for freedom in China has managed to lift the boot of oppression ever so slightly.

  7. Vargas and now Xiaobo get Nobels, what's in the water at the Nobel Prize Institute?

    Were there some hanging chads on the ballots and they voted for the wrong guy or something? I don't get it.

    This is one of the best Nobel classes in a while in terms of people who actually deserve it, which goes against the standard choices for Nobel prizes of leftist peaceniks and celebrities.

    1. I'm going on a hunger strike until Bono gets a Nobel Prize.

      In physics.

      1. "Then stop clapping, you fookin' idiot."

        1. Very funny. I like the Edge's snake oil.

          Here's a cartoon I found (and posted) that says it all.

          1. I enjoyed the "Coldplay Modestly Inoffensive Vanilla Ice Cream" myself.

            Althought the personal note from Yorke "Hang in There!- Thom" was a nice touch.

        2. Thanks!

    2. Methinks they're compensating for last year's selection. Hopefully, this is the beginning of reforming how much the committee has cheapened the Peace Prize so over the years.

      1. No. They just realized that their credibility was in deficit. Also, there is no cause c?lebre for them to kowtow to this year.

        1. Bush has been gone long enough that even the Nobel committee decided to dispense with the 'anti-Bush' prize this year.

        2. they could give another prize to obama.

          1. The plan is to give him one of each while he's in office. He's getting the quasi-Nobel in Economics, next.

          2. I'm shocked they didn't. Or maybe they are waiting until 2012.

      2. I'd like to think so. After last year's selection, I'd say Liu Xiaobao deserves better - not to be associated with the likes of Obama.

        But focusing this sort of attention on him may help him to be freed earlier than he otherwise would have been.

    3. Remember Barack Obama and Al Gore? We learned from our mistakes.

  8. "Strangely, this year's inspirational choice makes last year's selection of Barack Obama even more of a joke, the sort of international gadflying that has helped diminish the struggles of countless millions (billions?) around the globe."

    Yeah, the prize committee should make it a point to avoid giving the prize to heads of state.

  9. I don't know from what well that people of Xiaobao's caliber drink from to draw on the magnitude of such wisdom and enlightened benevolence, but I wish I could get a taste.

    1. All it is in the yearning for freedom. Many of us share that yearning, but the major difference is that we don't live in (insert oppressive regime here).

  10. Hmm, so we went from Yasser Arafat, Al Gore, and Barack Obama to Liu Xiaobao and Mario Vargas Llosa. Maybe there is hope after all.

    1. David Henderson had a good column on that Weds. You need to start a war to bring peace.


  11. What if Peace and Freedom, at least in the short-term, are mutually exclusive?

    1. Peace without freedom is just totalitarianism accomplished.

    2. Then Michael Gorbachev would win.

      1. He did. In 1990.

  12. The Chinese government's reaction to this news, of course, demonstrates their collective maturity level pretty clearly.

  13. "China will eventually become a country of the rule of law in which human rights are supreme."

    There's that weird expression again - "rule of law".

    Is this guy in the tea party? Or a Glenn beck fan? I don't understand...

    1. Took me a second until I saw the handle.

      Well played.

    2. "Rule of law" just means that everyone is subject to the same rules, including those who make them (and the strong implication that those rules are reasonably fair and logical) - it's the idea that nobody should be subjected to punishment on the arbitrary whim of the authorities.

  14. Epic alt-text!

  15. What poetry, even in translation.

    I actually think the Nobel Committee redeemed itself after last year's fiasco with this and Llosa's selection.

    1. Please. This might have paid for the crappy Carter decision, but they still owe for (at least) Gore, Obama, ElBaradei, aand Kofi Annan. Just in the last decade.

  16. Was this written in Chinese and translated to English or actually written in English? The prose is very good but I want to know if Liu should get credit or the translator?

    1. It was translated to English by a "Prof. David Kelly of the China Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney."

  17. Maybe he has accomplished so much because he doesn't spend hours a day reading how if he hates government so much he should move to Somalia?

  18. Maybe someone has already linked to this, but the Chinese are throwing a hissy fit today about honoring a "criminal" and now it looks like they want to throw the wife in prison to keep her from talking to foreigners.

    God, they are fucking tone deaf.


    1. I eagerly await Tom Friedman's defense of this act.

      1. "It's not prison, the Chinese are just offering her free room and board. Something America should be doing for everyone. Housing is a necessity and therefore outside the traditional free market. A simple tax on the rich would provide government run and managed housing for all. Someone I was sitting by on a plane told me that single-payer housing is the next step in a just America."

        1. I would like to offer simialr housing arrangements to Michelle Obama.

          And remember kids, you can't spell Michelle Obama with out hell.

          1. And remember kids, you can't spell Michelle Obama with out hell.

            Hey! What's that supposed to mean?

      2. If only our own government could be flexible to throw ________'s wife in jail, we would be able to sell plastic crap for Walmart and do our own computer recycling. Our economy doesn't have to be this bad, people. Crack some eggs!

  19. Great stuff Nick, thanks for sharing this.

  20. I hate to be the bastard (okay not really), but what did this guy's heroic efforts achieve? Not only is his Dalai lama-esqeu 'you aren't my enemy speak' wrong, it and his 'anti-violence' posturing probably have something to do with the failure of the pro-freedom movement in China.

    1. The Chinese democracy movement could not possibly win a direct battle with the government, so placing the blame on pacifists is off-base.

      If anything's keeping the democracy movement under wraps it's the economic growth. People care more about full stomachs and warm beds than freedom.

  21. For the record, the Red Dynasty are still a pack of rat bastards.


  22. Pretty ballsy decision, after last year's. This is the kind of shit that makes the lunatics that run China go extra crazier than usual - no longer "great leap forward" crazy, thank goodness - but memories are long there and WHEN there is freedom, and the folks who say this man is a "criminal" get the derision they so richly deserve... ah, that will be nice.

    "they showed the "Tank Man" picture to a bunch of Chinese college students"

    Wrong crowd. Country farmers surely have a more accurate understanding of their country than college students, being both more screwed with by the "authorities" and less brainwashed by "education".

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