This article was first published in ChinaChange website on May 2, 2018
The following is an essay by Liu Xia’s longtime friend Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) explaining the circumstances of the phone call and providing an excerpt of the call for the first time. — The Editors
‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom to Liu Xia
Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer in exile
On April 30, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. in Germany, I spoke to Liu Xia at her home in Beijing. She said: “Now, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of. If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo (*) is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live. Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me.”
I felt like I’d just been shocked with a jolt of electricity. I told her to wait. I know that the Chinese Ministry of State Security agents that have been holding her under house arrest, since Xiaobo passed away last July and Liu Xia was forcibly taken to Dali in Yunnan for a while, have been promising her, again and again, guaranteeing that she’d be able to leave the country and seek treatment for her deep clinical depression. First they told her to wait until the 19th Party Congress was over; next they told her to wait until the conclusion of the ‘Two Sessions’ in Beijing in March of this year. On April 1, before Liu Xia’s 57th birthday, the German Ambassador called her to convey Chancellor ’s special respects, and invited her to play badminton in Berlin before long.
According to my information, in early April the German Foreign Minister had already made specific arrangements, including as to how they’d not alert the news media, how they’d covertly collect Liu Xia at the airport, and how they’d arrange her treatment and recovery and more. In my own calls with Liu Xia, I sought Liu Xia’s opinions many times, and discussed the matter in meetings and correspondence with good friends Herta Muller, Harry Merkle, Carolin, Silvia, and the international representative of Liu Xia’s photographic art Peter Sillem. We went over every possible detail. Due to Herta Muller’s support, the Literature House in Berlin was willing to provide her an apartment for an interim period, Carolin and Silvia were going to prepare an application for a DAAD (‘Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst’) scholarship for artists, and Peter Sillem had already reached out to hospitals and experts on her behalf.
We’ve all been patiently and quietly waiting.
We’ve all quietly awaited this special patient.
Liu Xia has no criminal record, and according to the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, she has the freedom to travel wherever she wishes.
We’ve been low key about it because after Xiaobo’s death, Liu Xia has been devastated, and the clinical depression she had suffered for years came back worse than ever, driving her to the brink of mental collapse. As long as she is in China, we have no way of looking after her. When Liu Xia told Xiaobo that a special rescue squad in Germany (including the 82-year-old Wolf Biermann and wife) were working to help them, Xiaobo, dying, was moved to tears.
In my April 30 conversation with Liu Xia, I said I’d no long keep it quiet. I will take action, and I will selectively reveal some truth that I have been holding back. I said to her that I would publicize her cries, which was uncontrollable even with her taking large doses of antidepressants, in the evening of April 8, 2018. She said yes.
The following statements were transcribed from audio recordings of our conversation that evening. In the first instance, I called and poured out my concern: I feared that Liu Xia would once again be ‘disappeared.’ I worried that the Chinese government would do the same as they did last year when they announced that Xiaobo and Liu Xia didn’t want to leave the country. Luckily I had her handwriting attesting to the opposite, and remarkably this became the strongest evidence that punctured the lies.
I insisted on Liu Xia writing another application to leave the country, and at first Liu Xia demurred again and again. She then panicked, after that threw the phone down. I waited a little while and called her back, and she cried out in tears:
“The German Embassy knows all about my situation. The whole world knows. So what’s the point of me writing those things again and again?”
“But what you’re facing is very special… the German government has been in discussions about this all along…”
“I don’t have anywhere to send it from. Nor do I have a cell phone nor a computer.”
“OK. That’s OK.”
“You know we don’t have all that stuff, but you still want me to do this and do that…”
“Over here, we…”
“So I’ll write it tomorrow and hand it in tomorrow. You can record it now: I’m so fucking angry that I’m ready to die here…. If I’m dead, it’ll all be done with…. It’s obvious that I don’t have all the ways and means in hand….”
“That foreign ministry spokesperson said that you fully enjoy all the provisions of Chinese law…”
“I know all that. You don’t have to repeat it. I’m not an idiot.”
“OK. Let me tell you about the arrangements: after we get you over here, we’ve got a place called the Literature House where you stay for a while and then apply to join an arts program. At the moment, the responses everywhere are very positive, and everyone agrees that this should be done very quietly….”
I couldn’t go on, because Liu Xia was crying non-stop. The audio recording went for 16 minutes and 30 seconds. I excerpted the first seven minutes, and at about the four minute mark played over it the piano solo “Dona, Dona.” I felt waves of emotion well up inside me. When I turned the music off, I yelled out “Liu Xia!” Her crying abated and she said: “After the German Ambassador called, I started packing. I wasted no time — what more do you want me to do?”
“Dona, Dona” is a Jewish melody from the WWII period popularized by the Jewish-American writer Aaron Zeitlin in the Yiddish play Esterke.
The general meaning of the lyrics is: a calf is being brought to the butchers, a swallow is flitting around above its head. The calf thinks to itself: If only I could turn into a swallow with wings and fly away, how grand it would be. Unfortunately, the calf is not a swallow.
Like her husband Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia had a passion for works related to Holocaust. Liu Xia even said that she felt she’d been a Jewish person in her previous life.
Dona, Dona became a byword for genocide: the millions of Jewish people were the calf after calf, resigned to their fate, being led to the slaughter. Please, people, with Liu Xia, it’s Dona, Dona now, and please allow me to use Liu Xia’s sobbing as its new lyrics……
Dona, Dona, give her freedom.
Dona, Dona, please cry out loudly for her.
(*) Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia’s late husband was a Chinese blogger who died last year due to untreated cancer while in detention