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Remembering Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo died in Shenyang China on July 13, 2017. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was 61 years old.
Remembering Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo
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Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died Thursday after a battle with liver cancer.

He was 61 years old.

Liu spent his last eight years in prison. He died at a hospital in the city of Shenyang, where he had been moved after doctors learned of his condition.

Chinese officials listed the cause of death as “multiple organ failure.”

His final days were marked by a public dispute over his medical care. The Chinese government refused a family request that he be sent to the United States or Germany for treatment. Hospital officials said he was too sick to travel.

A dissident known around the world

Liu Xiaobo was one of China’s most famous dissidents.

In his early years, Liu worked as a teacher and became a popular writer. He was known for his criticism of traditional Chinese culture. He called on Chinese intellectuals to show more individualism.

In 1989, he cut short a visiting scholarship at Columbia University in New York City to return to China. There, he joined student-led protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

After the Chinese military crushed the protests, Liu was jailed. The government began calling him a “black hand” for his part in the demonstrations.

He was released from detention in 1991. He continued to call for political reforms, but was later arrested. He was sentenced to three years in a labor camp.

In 2008, Liu and other dissidents released a document known as Charter 08. It called for China to end one-party rule and establish a new republic made up of a “federation” of areas and political communities.

Liu knew the document might lead to his imprisonment once again. He told reporters from Hong Kong:

“For those of us in the opposition movement under dictatorships, part of our job is confronting police, and spending time in prison. So, a dissident not only needs to learn how to oppose oppression, but also how to face the crackdowns, and time in prison.”

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his part in the Charter 08 movement and other “subversive” activities.

The Norwegian Nobel committee consisting of chairman Thorbjoern Jagland, Kaci K. Five, Sissel Roenbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, Aagot Valle and committee secretary Geir Lundestad (L-R) sit during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
The Norwegian Nobel committee consisting of chairman Thorbjoern Jagland, Kaci K. Five, Sissel Roenbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, Aagot Valle and committee secretary Geir Lundestad (L-R) sit during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

However, worldwide fame came a short time later when he was named the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

Liu learned of the honor from his wife during one of the limited prison visits she was permitted. He told her that the prize should be dedicated to those who died in the 1989 mass protests and the government’s campaign against dissidents.

Liu supported changing China through reasoned, non-violent methods. Shortly before being sentenced in 2009, Liu praised parts of the country’s legal system. He praised the polite treatment he received in jail, in a speech called “I have no enemies.”

Doctors identify cancer

Liu had three years remaining of his prison term when he died in the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang.

Two doctors -- one German and one American -- were permitted to see him during his last days. They reported that he, days before his death, had clearly communicated his wish to leave China for treatment.

Liu Xiaobo is survived by a son and his wife of 21 years, Liu Xia. She is reported to have said that she was sure of her decision to marry the "enemy of the state."

Thinking back on their lives in a poem, she said: “I like to draw trees; why? I like the image of it standing. A life spent standing must be tiresome, you say; I answer, yes, but still I must.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

Natalie Liu reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

multiple –adj. more than one

intellectuals –n. educated people whose opinions are considered smart or thoughtful

scholarship –n. an opportunity to study that is paid for by a university or other group

confront –v. to face, to deal with

crackdown –n. a campaign by the government to suppress or stop a movement

fundamental –adj. very basic

dedicated –adj. done in honor of

polite –adj. observing good manners