Nobel laureate and poet fell in love after meeting in the 1980s and have endured persecution, detention and now, his critical illness, together
Not long after Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in jail, he discovered two items had vanished from his correspondence with his wife. To their astonishment and amusement, the couple realised the only letters censors had blocked were the love poems that each had penned to the other.
Perhaps authorities feared they were arousing and would get the inmate too fired up, Liu Xia later joked. But there was nothing funny about the states unrelenting interference in even the most intimate parts of their life nor about the unchecked force of their devotion in the face of every obstacle.
Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer in May, the Nobel peace laureate is at the centre of a geopolitical tug-of-war with western governments urging China to show humanity by letting him travel overseas for treatment and Beijing accusing the world of meddling in its domestic affairs. Images the first of him since police took him from the couples flat in Beijing over eight years ago show a skeletal figure.
Friends, however, say it is a secondary, yet in some ways even more disturbing tragedy that troubles them most: that of the dissident writers wife, the poet Liu Xia.
She has been physically and mentally destroyed, said Ye Du, a poet who has known her for over a decade.
Liu Xia has never been accused of an offence, still less tried or convicted: But when you live with such a person, even if you dont care about politics, politics will care about you, she once told the Guardian.
She has been almost entirely cut off from the outside world, to prevent her speaking out about her husband. There is growing concern that unless the couple are allowed to leave the country together her invisible prison will endure long after his death.
In a way Xiaobo chose his life and has been living exactly as he thought he should, said Jean-Philippe Bja, an academic and friend of 25 years. But for his wife, for his friends, for his family, it is different.
Xiaobo chose his work. Liu Xia chose Xiaobo. And they have taken revenge on her, which is absolutely terrible.
Liu Xia was a civil servant and a budding young poet when the couple first met in the mid-1980s; they were married to other people, but part of a bohemian intellectual circle which often gathered at her home.