The cathartic effect of Liu's writing brought him two huge waves of popularity, once in 1956 and again in the early 1980s. But his truth-telling cost him dearly. He lived 22 of his 80 years (1957-1979) in domestic exile, and another 17 years (1988-2005) in forced exile abroad. Chinese leaders ignored his requests to come home during his waning years. Why did he opt for such a life? In a 1979 speech, Liu said, "I have awoken to a hard fact: in today's China, if one speaks or writes and does not incur somebody's opposition, one might as well not have spoken or written at all. The only alternative is to cower in a corner and fall silent. But if we do that, why live?"
Honesty was not his only virtue. He wrote meticulously and had incisive analytic powers. Few could rival his grasp of Chinese society, or his abiding affection for China's common folk. The day after Liu died at the age of 80, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, announced that the government had nothing to say about him or his requests to return to China. "We have already reached our conclusions about him." Those conclusions, ironically, only strengthen Liu's legacy. They show that "two kinds of truth" are still with us.