Chinese writer and political prisoner who won the Nobel peace prize in 2010

It was China’s decision to jail Liu Xiaobo for 11 years over a call for peaceful democratic reform that spurred the Norwegian Nobel committee to honour him with its peace prize in 2010 and propelled him to international renown. But his first nomination had come two decades earlier, after the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989, in which the author and intellectual played a key role, first as one of the prominent “four gentlemen” who launched a hunger strike in support of the students; then by helping to broker a peaceful exit from the square for remaining demonstrators amid the bloody crackdown.

The events were the turning point in Liu’s life. The writer, who has died aged 61 of cancer, was abroad when the movement erupted and he went home despite the risks. It brought jail, an end to his career as a brilliant young literary professor, and the ending of his first marriage to Tao Li; thereafter his contact with his son, Liu Tao, was limited. But the transformation was internal too. He never forgave himself for writing the confession that shortened his sentence. He believed he had not only sold out his dignity, but also the souls of the dead.

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