Chinese author and dissident Liao Yiwu, who has lived in Germany since 2011, spoke with DW about his new book, Chinese society and the winner of Nobel Prize in Literature Mo Yan.
DW: Your new book titled "The Dongdong Dancer and the Cook from Sichuan" is a collection of interviews with people from the fringe of Chinese society. It is thus similar to your first book published in German under the title "Fräulein Hallo und der Bauernkaiser" (English: Miss Hello and the Emperor Farmer). What compelled you to continue with this idea?
Liao Yiwu: I have been doing this work for years. The first book, which made me popular in the West, was about important people from the past. There are many older people in it. My new book, on the other hand, is very topical. It is about things which are happening now. Both books, for example, have a chapter on a prostitue.
But Fräulein Hallo was a prostitute in bars in the 1990s. Back then, that was not common at all. The prostitute in my new book is different. She moves across the country like a migrant laborer. That is a new phenomenon. It started in the northeastern mining region and spread to Beijing before arriving to the region I am from, Sichuan. They are mobile and can be seen everywhere.
There are stories in the book which are hard to believe. For example, you speak with a man who supposedly frequents a restaurant which serves soup made from embryos …
This topic was big in Chinese media a while back. Back then, there was a Taiwanese businessman who took pictures of himself eating embryos. He turned aborted fetuses into a delicacy. He said they made him strong and agile. In my first book, I also talk about people who ate newborn girls, but that was because of a famine. Today, babies are eaten for pleasure.
So you didn't just happen to meet the people you interview for your books …
I looked for people. Of course, this restaurant doesn't officially exist. It is an illegal operation. And it was long after the story about the Taiwanese businessman. But everyone knows this restaurant exists.
Last year, you won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and gave a speech in which you said the Chinese empire must fall apart ….
Exactly. When you read my books, starting from the stories of the lower class, to stories about the penal system and the forgotten victims of the Tiananmen Massacre, it becomes obvious that a state responsible for all of these things must fall apart so that its leaders don't simply carry on this legacy. Otherwise, this China will have a bad influence on the entire world. I think it would probably be best to divide the country.
But a lot of Chinese dissidents emphasize their patriotism. Demanding a division of the country would be quite provocative, wouldn't it?
China was divided many times throughout history. It's not the case that all of the intellectuals want a division; on the other hand, there have been many intellectuals against the unity of the country. The problem really is that many people these days are not familiar with Chinese history.
The Chinese government says critics are unpatriotic. It looks like you have given them a reason to think like that, don't you think?
The government really attacked me. It's newspaper, the "Global Times" criticized me in a number of articles. But after my speech, it was discussed on the Internet for three weeks. There were people who agreed with me and also people who disagreed. But what is more important is that people were talking about it. Even people who say, 'that guy is crazy' might go out and try to get a copy of my book. The government's campaign against me was at the same time a campaign for me - it was advertising. My brother and mother, for example, learned much about my current situation in the debate.
Last year, Chinese authors in the West received a lot of attention, as have you. Mo Yan received the Nobel Peace in Literature but you really criticized him. Don't you think, though, it is a good thing that interest in China is growing?
I was happy about winning the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. It is a democratic prize. The selection process is transparent. But winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature are not selected in a democratic process. I don't want to be compared to someone like Mo Yan. He is an official of the Communist Party. Whenever he makes a public appearance, he is representing the dictatorship. So my criticism is natural.
There are writers who are members in official authors' associations whose books are nonetheless banned. Yu Hua, for example. His "China in Ten Words" was blacklisted, but he remains a member of his association. Is there no middle ground?
Of course there is a happy medium; there are authors who criticize the realities of Chinese society without being political. But they aren't on the side of the dictatorship. Mo Yan overdoes it. He describes Mao Zedong as a great historical figure – he is thus a representative of the dictatorship's culture. I don't know what Sweden was thinking, giving him the Nobel Prize.
Do you someday wish to return to China?
I hope I can some day go back to my home region. For me, China is a nightmare.
Liao Yiwu was born in 1958 and has been one of China's most prominent poets since the 1980s. He was imprisoned from 1990 to 1994 for a critical poem. In his book "For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet's Journey through a Chinese Prison" Liao writes about his suffering. For his work, he received the German Geschwister-Scholl-Preis in 2011. In 2012, he was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. He has lived in Germany in exile since 2011.
Interview conducted by Mathias Bölinger