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He was a leading activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of June 4, , and a prime supporter of Charter 08, the manifesto of fundamental human rights published in In , Liu was imprisoned for "inciting subversion of state power," and he is currently serving an eleven-year sentence.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "his prolonged non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. 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.

Beloved my wife in this dust-weary world of so much depravity why do you choose me alone to endure The June Fourth Elegies are a powerful but limited collection.

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The strength is that they bear witness This seems a little unfair. Admittedly, Liu's poetry is always at the service of his activism, but his obsession with questions of responsibility feeds directly into his poetic concerns: faced with a brutal regime, how should we form and style our response?

What should we say, and not say? The stakes are high, and Liu's introduction is highly critical of writers who pose as rebels but avoid direct engagement with politics: "They've matured without experiencing innocence; they've given up without experiencing the pursuit. Liu's decision to stay in China may have been an attempt to atone for a confession he wrote while in Qincheng prison.

Paper Republic – Chinese Literature in Translation

He is quick to condemn himself for this: "I betrayed the blood of the departed souls. A powerful sense of history gives further depth to his observations. Liu refers repeatedly to the tomb of Qin Shi Huang , the first emperor of China. When Qin died, he had hundreds of soldiers in his Terracotta Army buried alive with him, so that he could rule another empire in the afterlife.

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Blending activism and poetry, Liu has made contravening government policy an aesthetic principle. China forbids its citizens to commemorate the massacre: Liu responds by memorialising the event with a new poem each year. China denies the existence of Aids, and later the Sars virus: Liu repeatedly uses virus imagery in his work.

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However, the tone of Yang's translation is often uncertain rather than bold. In order to translate the work into idiomatic English, Yang would have needed to take more liberties, but he was no doubt unwilling to do this, since he was unable to consult with the imprisoned Liu, or with Liu's wife Liu Xia, who is under strict house arrest.

June fourth elegies (Book, ) []

Yang says that he found translating in isolation "painful" and "unnerving", but his understandable decision to convey Liu's meaning as literally as possible leads to some stilted phrasing. It is not clear whether Liu wrote these lines in deliberately unidiomatic Chinese, or if something has been lost in translation. Yang also follows Liu's practice of using minimal punctuation: no full stops, and just a comma here or there when absolutely necessary. But in English, this has the effect of muting the anger in the voice.