NEW YORK—A recently released audio recording in which Liu Xia pleads for help to leave China underscores the injustice of her continuing detention and the urgent need for Chinese authorities to release her and allow her full freedom of movement, PEN America said today.

On May 2, exiled Chinese writer Liao Yiwu released an essay describing recent conversations he had with poet Liu Xia by phone over the past month. Yiwu included an edited and excerpted audio recording of his conversations with Liu Xia on April 8, 2018. In the recording, the two discuss having Liu Xia fill out another application to leave China. At one point in the recording, Liu Xia can be heard loudly sobbing in apparent frustration and despair.

In his essay, Liao Yiwu writes that he received Liu Xia’s permission to release the audio recording, and that he was moved to do so given his increasing concerns that back-channel conversations between the governments of Germany and China for Liu Xia’s release were apparently not succeeding. In April 11, Reuters reported that China had repeatedly postponed discussions with Western governments to allow Liu Xia to leave the country, leading diplomats to increasingly doubt whether she would be released soon. In late April, both the German and the US Embassies to China publicly reiterated their calls on Chinese authorities to remove the restrictions on Liu Xia and to allow her to leave the country. In his essay, Liao Yiwu also shared that Liu Xia had told him on April 30 that “If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home . . . It’s easier to die than live.”

“Liu Xia’s recent statements make it abundantly clear the urgent moral imperative for the Chinese government to release her immediately and unconditionally,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Every day that she is kept under house arrest is a new offense. The audio recording of Liu Xia not only makes it clear that she is in deep pain, but it yet again convincingly demonstrates that Chinese government officials are lying when they say that Liu Xia is free.”

Liu Xia, the poet and author, has been under house arrest and cut off from the world since 2010, the year that her husband—writer and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo—received the Nobel Peace Prize. In July of 2017, after Liu Xiaobo’s death from liver cancer, Liu Xia was disappeared by Chinese authorities, who insisted that Liu Xia was merely voluntarily retreating from public attention. In August of 2017, a video surfaced of Liu Xia explaining away her disappearance and requesting “time to mourn,” a claim that observers—including PEN America—believe authorities compelled her to make. Liu Xia is understood to be in poor health, and to be dealing with serious depression particularly after the death of her husband.  xia


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: