Poet Tanikawa dedicates work to Chinese under house arrest

A poem by Shuntaro Tanikawa was included in a clandestine mission to send a message to Liu Xia, a Chinese poet who has been under house arrest in Beijing for more than seven years.

Liu Xia, 57, is the widow of Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison in 2010.

Although the poets have never met, Tanikawa, 86, felt he had to send Liu Xia a message after his surprise discovery that she had composed a poem inspired by one of his old works.

Concerned for her well-being, Tanikawa dedicated a poem titled “Liu Xia ni” (To Liu Xia), which found its way to the widow.

“We Japanese poets must take a stronger interest in her,” Tanikawa said.

In 1989, Liu Xiaobo joined the student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. After the government crackdown, he continued calling for democratic reforms and was repeatedly incarcerated.

Liu Xia married Liu Xiaobo in 1996 while he was in prison.

He played a leading role in writing a petition known as “Charter 08,” calling for freedom of speech and other reforms.

Liu Xia supported her husband’s activities before his death in July last year.

When Tanikawa was reading the Japanese translation of a collection of Liu Xia’s poems titled “Dokuyaku” (Poison) published in March this year from Shoshi Kankanbo, he came across a work titled “Mudai: Tanikawa Shuntaro ni Narai” (Untitled: following the lead of Shuntaro Tanikawa).

Part of the poem reads:

“I’m sick of the road visible but not walkable

I’m sick of the tainted blue sky

I’m sick of shedding tears …”

The composition follows the format of Tanikawa’s poem titled “Mudai” (Untitled). Liu Xia writes of her feelings about being deprived of freedom while under house arrest.

The poem was included in handwritten manuscripts that she sent to Germany-based writer Liao Yiwu in 2016, after managing to evade Chinese authorities’ surveillance.

“I was very surprised that she has expressed sympathy as a poet for my old poem,” Tanikawa said. “We are separated by states and languages, but I felt sure that I am connected with her even though I have never met her before.”

Before the day was out, Tanikawa wrote a poem titled, “Liu Xia ni,” part of which reads:

“I can neither console you with words

Nor encourage you

All I want to do is enfold you with music …”

Tanikawa puts special thought into the word “music.” He explains that language tends to view the world in dichotomies, such as “good and evil” or “beauty and ugliness,” but music encompasses the whole world without drawing lines.

“I have always hoped to create a world like that with poems,” he said.

In March, Tanikawa sent the finished poem to Yasue Tajima, 72, head of Shoshi Kankanbo and co-translator of Liu Xia’s “Dokuyaku.”

The other translator, Osaka-based writer Liu Yanzi, 52, translated “Liu Xia ni” into Chinese before it was entrusted to a collaborator working in China.

Tanikawa’s poem seemed to have eluded authorities and made it to Liu Xia. Liu Yanzi said she heard from the collaborator in April that the mission was accomplished.

Literary figures across the world have intensified their criticism of the Chinese government for continuing Liu Xia’s house arrest without any legal basis.

Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and other writers posted a video on YouTube in May, in which they recite Liu Xia’s poems to call for her early release.

“The ‘silence’ of Liu Xia who is silenced by the authorities is also a message,” Liu Yanzi, who is also her friend, said. “I hope voices calling for her release also come from Japan.”

Asahi.com,June 27, 2018


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