Empty Chairs

Empty Chairs
Selected Poems
Liu Xia; Translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern; Introduction by Liao Yiwu; Foreword by Herta Müller

A World Literature Today Best Translation of 2015
One of Medium’s Best Human Rights Books of 2015
Finalist for the Best Translated Book Award in Poetry


“A testament to the human spirit when that spirit is confined. . . . Bold and vital.”The Washington Post

About the Book

The first publication of the poetry of Liu Xia, wife of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo
I didn’t have a chance

to say a word before you became

a character in the news,

everyone looking up to you

as I was worn down

at the edge of the crowd

just smoking

and watching the sky.


A new myth, maybe, was forming

there, but the sun was so bright

I couldn’t see it.


—from “June 2nd, 1989 (for Xiaobo)”
Empty Chairs presents the poetry of Liu Xia for the first time freely in both English translation and in the Chinese original. Selected from thirty years of her work, and including some of her haunting photography, this book creates a portrait of a life lived under duress, a voice in danger of being silenced, and a spirit that is shaken but so far indomitable. Liu Xia's poems are potent, acute moments of inquiry that peel back to expose the fraught complexity of an interior world. They are felt and insightful, colored through with political constraints even as they seep beyond those constraints and toward love. 

Additional Reviews

"Each poem is a container that bursts with breath like glass. . . . The words are delicately drawn, the perception is elegant, yet silk is stronger than steel and this delicate voice brings an immense capacity for a sense of self in an absurd world. She's able to articulate all the things we cannot hold onto. There's an essential seriousness in each line, even grief, but because of her inventiveness, there's a fine understanding of language's play as well."Washington Independent Review of Books

“The poetry of Liu Xia . . . employs delicate practical phrases that nonetheless deliver a gut-wrenching punch. . . . Rendered in Ming Di and Jennifer Stern’s deft translations, her phrases reveal the ordinary and corporeal effects of harrowing political circumstances.”Boston Review

"Liu Xia . . . lends an intimate voice to the experiences of a life stolen by government surveillance, repression, and house arrest. . . . The translations . . . balance craft and inventiveness with loyalty to the original. . . . Liu kindles hope and companionship, even when all is lost."Publishers Weekly

"Liu's collection resides in a place of isolation, a place brimming with shadows, specters, and half-issued words. . . . While her poems are deeply personal, they reveal an ever-present awareness of the perils of relentlessly pursuing art in the midst of an authoritarian government. . . . Deprived of full freedom and with her everyday life economized by the state, Liu [Xia] subtly militates against forgetting with each poem."Words Without Borders

“That [Liu Xia's] grief and poetry can be both full of love and resentment, strength and vulnerability, fierceness and tenderness, is a testament to her humanity. It is what places her body of work and these translations of that work above all discussions of political context and into the realm of universality.”Consequence Magazine

“[Empty Chairs is] illuminated by an indomitable interior light that refuses to be extinguished.”Three Percent