June Fourth Elegies: Poems


The first publication of the poetry of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, with a Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Liu Xiaobo has become the foremost symbol of the struggle for human rights in China. He was a leading activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of June 4, 1989, and a prime supporter of Charter 08, the manifesto of fundamental human rights published in 2008. In 2009, Liu was imprisoned for “inciting subversion of state power,” and he is currently ...

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The first publication of the poetry of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, with a Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Liu Xiaobo has become the foremost symbol of the struggle for human rights in China. He was a leading activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of June 4, 1989, and a prime supporter of Charter 08, the manifesto of fundamental human rights published in 2008. In 2009, Liu was imprisoned for “inciting subversion of state power,” and he is currently serving an eleven-year sentence. He was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for “his prolonged non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Liu dedicated his Peace Prize to “the lost souls from the Fourth of June.”

June Fourth Elegies presents Liu’s poems written across twenty years in memory of fellow protestors at Tiananmen Square, as well as poems addressed to his wife, Liu Xia. In this bilingual volume, Liu’s poetry is for the first time published freely in both English translation and in the Chinese original.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but could not visit Sweden to collect it: he was then, and remains, in prison in China for the human rights activism that began with his part in the demonstrations of 1989 at Tiananmen Square and continued, in and out of jails and labor camps, for the next 20 years. Each spring—whether incarcerated or “at home in Beijing”—Xiaobo wrote a poem to commemorate the Tiananmen victims. Those raw, yet reflective, sometimes nightmarish elegies make up the bulk of this bilingual edition, put into clear English by the poet Yang (Vanishing-Line), whose extraordinarily useful afterword puts Xiaobo’s sharp and sometimes allusive lines into both Chinese literary and historical context. Xiaobo rebukes his nation, “used to memorializing tombs as palaces,” and his “city of near perfect/ shamelessness.” He also casts a harsh eye on himself: “Self-consciousness is disaster’s survivor,” he reflects; “I’ll strive to feel astonishment or shame.” “Even if I have the courage/ to be jailed again,” Xiaobo writes, “it isn’t courage enough/ to excavate memories of the dead.” Yang also includes other works by Xiaobo: an outraged essay about “the road of resistance I’ve chosen” and the materialism of modern China, penned in 2000; at the back, five quiet love poems to Xiaobo’s wife, herself now under house arrest. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“It’s the nature of language to pitch itself against the smothering oneness of the state. Words want to be free. Liu Xiaobo’s crime is called ‘an incitement to subvert state power.’ This is an administrative term for the exercise of free speech—the very activity, Liu writes, that is the mother of truth . . . We try to imagine the nightmarish reality of the closed trial, the confiscated life. We feel the force of Liu Xiaobo’s efforts to transcend what he calls ‘a paralysis of spirit.’ And we see his face in his words.” Don DeLillo
Library Journal
Currently a political prisoner in China, human rights activist and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu wrote an annual elegy for 20 years in homage to victims of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square Massacre. Characterized by passion, sorrow, guilt, and anger against the ongoing repression masked by China's rhetoric of democratization and economic growth ("Life's little comforts have pardoned the crimes"), the poems are emotionally direct and unadorned. They are cries from the heart of despair, and their imagery (helmets, handcuffs, bayonets, tanks, blood) is stark, derived from the events of that day. Despite the dehumanization he has witnessed, the poet struggles to maintain his sense of self ("my soul that's been exiled is still mine") as well as preserve a cultural and historical memory his government would like to erase. VERDICT The urgency and truly risky candor of these poems outweigh their occasional repetition and flat diction. They remind us that poetry remains a dangerous practice in some parts of the world, and that although poets may be silenced, their poems will still be heard ("One letter is enough/ for me to transcend and face/ you to speak"). Recommended for most collections.—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976101
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Language: Chinese
  • Edition description: Bilingual Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,010,469
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Liu Xiaobo is a political activist and writer. He was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Jeffrey Yang is the author of two poetry collections and an editor at New Directions Publishing.

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Read an Excerpt

June Fourth Elegies

By Liu Xiaobo

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2012 Liu Xiaobo
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-610-1

Chapter One


    Monument waves of weeping
    marble grain fused with blood-stained veins
    Belief and youth beaten beneath
    a tank's rust-chained treads
    Ancient story of the East
    leaks out new hope unexpectedly

    The glorious crowds have little by little disappeared
    like a river that slowly, steadily dries away
    landscape on both shores transformed to stone
    Every throat has been strangled by fear, every
    trembling has traced the dissipated niter smoke
    Only the executioner's steel
    helmet glints, luminous glints


    I cannot recognize the flag anymore
    The flag like an unknowing child
    who's flung upon Mother's corpse
    returns home weeping
    I cannot tell day from night anymore
    Time has been petrified by gunshots
    like a paralytic without memory
    Gun's muzzle presses into my back
    I've lost my passport and identity card

    In the bayonet-inflamed dawn
    that once familiar world
    cannot find a handful of dirt
    to bury itself in

    Naked red heart
    collides with iron and steel
    Earth without water without greenness
    ravaged by sunlight


    They wait and wait
    wait for time to invent an exquisite lie
    wait for the transformation of the bestial hour
    Indeed, wait until
    fingers transform to sharpened claws
    eyes transform to a gun's mouth
    feet transform to chained treads
    air transforms to a command
    It arrives
    at last it arrives
    the five-thousand-year awaited command

    Open fire—kill people
    kill people—open fire
    Peaceful petition, hands unarmed
    an old man's cane, a child's torn jacket
    The executioner will never be swayed
    Eyes burnt to red
    Gun-barrels shot to red
    Hands dyed red
    A bullet
    A mud-thick secret spills out
    A crime
    A kind of heroic feat

    How relaxing
    death's arrival
    How easy
    bestial desires are satisfied
    Young soldiers
    recently clothed in uniform
    still haven't felt
    the intoxication of a girl's kiss
    but now in an instant
    experience the bloodthirsty pleasure
    of murder, their youth's beginnings

    They who
    cannot see the blood-soaked dress
    cannot hear the struggle's scream
    through steel helmets cannot perceive life's fragility
    They aren't aware
    of the fatuous old man
    transforming the ancient capital
    into another zone of Auschwitz

    Brutality, iniquity rise up from the earth
    like the splendor of a pyramid
    while life crumbles into the abyss
    where even the faintest echo cannot be heard
    The massacre has engraved a nation's tradition
    years, months as remote as an abandoned language
    that enacts a final farewell


    I had imagined being there beneath sunlight
    with the procession of martyrs
    using just the one thin bone
    to uphold a true conviction
    And yet, the heavenly void
    will not plate the sacrificed in gold
    A pack of wolves well-fed full of corpses
    celebrate in the warm noon air
    aflood with joy

    Faraway place
    I've exiled my life to
    this place without sun
    to flee the era of Christ's birth
    I cannot face the blinding vision on the cross
    From a wisp of smoke to a little heap of ash
    I've drained the drink of the martyrs, sense spring's
    about to break into the brocade-brilliance of myriad flowers

    Deep in the night, empty road
    I'm biking home
    I stop at a cigarette stand
    A car follows me, crashes over my bicycle
    some enormous brutes seize me
    I'm handcuffed eyes covered mouth gagged
    thrown into a prison van heading nowhere

    A blink, a trembling instant passes
    to a flash of awareness: I'm still alive
    On Central Television News
    my name's changed to "arrested black-hand"
    though those nameless white bones of the dead
    still stand in the forgetting

    I'm lifted up high by the self-invented lie
    tell everyone how I've experienced death
    so that "black-hand" becomes a hero's medal of honor

    Even if I know
    death's a mysterious unknown
    being alive, there's no way to experience death
    and once dead
    cannot experience death again
    yet I'm still
    hovering within death
    a hovering in drowning
    Countless nights behind iron-barred windows
    and the graves beneath starlight
    have exposed my nightmares

    Besides a lie
    I own nothing

Dedication: At home, you didn't listen to the protests of mother or father and escaped through the small bathroom window; then the flag you raised collapsed, age 17. I'm still alive, already 36. Now, facing your departed spirit, being alive is a crime, writing you a poem a further disgrace. The living should really shut their mouths and listen to the graves speak. Writing you a poem I'm not worthy of. Your 17th year transcends all speech and man-made structures.

    I'm still alive
    with a name of some disrepute
    I possess neither courage nor qualifications
    holding a bouquet of flowers or a poem
    walking toward the smile of 17

    I know
    17 bears no bitterness

    17 tells me
    life's simple without extravagance
    as if gazing across a boundless desert
    no need for trees no need for water
    no need for the adornments of flowers
    simply endure the tyranny of the sun

    17 collapses on the path
    the path disappears
    17's long sleep underground
    is as serene as a book
    17 comes into the world
    and is attached to nothing
    save the pure white innocence of the age


Excerpted from June Fourth Elegies by Liu Xiaobo Copyright © 2012 by Liu Xiaobo . Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama ix

Author's Introduction: From the Tremors of a Tomb xi

June Fourth Elegies

Experiencing Death 3

For 17 17

Suffocating City Square 23

A Lone Cigarette Burns 29

From the Shattered Pieces of a Stone It Begins 35

Memory 41

I Will Give My Soul Free Rein 57

That Day 73

Closing in and Breaking Through 83

Standing in the Curse of Time 89

For Su Bingxian 101

Memories of a Wooden Plank 111

June Fourth, a Tomb 119

Beneath the Gaze of the Departed Souls 129

Fifteen Years of Darkness 137

Remember the Departed Souls 145

The White Lilies in the Dark Night of June Fourth 155

The Dead Souls of Spring 161

Child-Mother-Spring 169

June Fourth in My Body 181

Five Poems for Liu Xia

Daybreak 191

A Small Rat in Prison 193

Greed's Prisoner 195

Longing to Escape 199

One Letter Is Enough 201

Notes 203

Translator's Afterword 211

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