The brilliant author and intellectual was abroad during the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989 and decided to return to his country and be part of the uprising, despite all the risks. He played a key role in being one of the "four gentleman" who launched a hunger strike in support of the students and then helped to negotiate a peaceful exit from the square for remaining demonstrators amid the bloody crackdown. This incident got him his first nomination for the Nobel peace prize.
Ten years later three hundred Chinese intellectuals and activists were poised to publish Charter 08, a political manifesto calling for peaceful political reform in China. Xiaobo had not initiated it, but co-authored it, gathered signatures for it and, say friends, volunteered to take the fall hoping his international fame would spare him too harsh a punishment.
On Christmas Day 2009, a strategic date chosen to minimise international media coverage, Xiaobo was jailed for 11 years for inciting subversion. In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel peace prize to which China's swift reaction was to place his wife, Liu Xia, a poet, under house arrest. She was isolated from the world, with no internet or telephone connection, in order not to be able to speak out about her husband and his condition. Still his in absentia acceptance speech for the Nobel, Xiaobo reaffirms his belief in love as the way to dissipate hate, and shows the expression of a forgiving and spiritually generous man, speaking kindly of the police, prosecutors and judges.
"I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.
Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love."
As the end of the 11 year sentence was coming closer, the final blow came. Xiaobo discovered he was terminally ill, diagnosed with liver cancer. Despite international pressure for him to be treated abroad, the Chinese government rejected all efforts even though they finally allowed international doctors to fly in to treat him. But it was too late. The government had already done it's part in silencing and contributing to the death of this brave man.
Even more moving than the compassion and respect he felt even for those who judged him and incarcerated him, was the love he had for his second wife, some of which can be felt in his Nobel speech:
"The most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.
My dear, with your love I can calmly face my impending trial, having no regrets about the choices I've made and optimistically awaiting tomorrow. I look forward to [the day] when my country is a land with freedom of expression, where the speech of every citizen will be treated equally well; where different values, ideas, beliefs, and political views ... can both compete with each other and peacefully coexist; where both majority and minority views will be equally guaranteed, and where the political views that differ from those currently in power, in particular, will be fully respected and protected; where all political views will spread out under the sun for people to choose from, where every citizen can state political views without fear, and where no one can under any circumstances suffer political persecution for voicing divergent political views. I hope that I will be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech."