Chinese poet in exile has many more stories to tell | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.09.2011
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Chinese poet in exile has many more stories to tell

Having fled to Germany in July, the Chinese poet Liao Yiwu plans to go to the US and Australia to promote a new book about Christians in China. He is also planning a literary treatment of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Liao Yiwu

Liao Yiwu is fascinated by the losers of the Chinese boom

Liao Yiwu told a German cultural gathering in Erlangen at the weekend that he was planning a literary treatment of the June 1989 massacre on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He also accused the Chinese government of systematically seeking to suppress any recollection of the incident.

It is a poem about the massacre that first landed him in jail 20 years ago. He describes his four years of detention in "For a Song and a Hundred Songs: An eye-witness report about life in Chinese prisons" that was recently published in Germany. The 57-year-old told Deutsche Welle in an interview that the publication of this book had been the final straw that convinced him to leave China. He had been threatened with re-imprisonment several times if the book was published – now the authorities no longer have a hold on him.

"It is my most important book," he said. "It describes my time in the labor camp. Before these experiences I was a poet. I was put in the camp for reeducation and I was reeducated! I went from being a poet to being a chronicler, one who records history."

He laughed as he recalled all the state prizes he had received for his poetry - today his works are banned in China and after his release from jail the authorities played cat and mouse with him for years, threatening him, putting him under house arrest, detaining him temporarily.

On June 4, 1989 troops rolled into Tiananmen Square. The number of deaths is unknown.

Liao Yiwu is angry about the government's campaign to make the people forget the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989

Losers of Chinese society

In his book he also talks about the cruelty of the prisoners towards each other, the brutality of the interrogations and the sadism of the guards. One of them was nicknamed Soft Liu and he was particularly nasty. One of the guards’ favorite games was to order prisoners to sing a hundred songs if he heard them humming. Soft Liu would start off the game in the same way – a smile and a comment on the prisoner’s good mood – but then he would start using his electric baton to change the tune.

Liao Yiwu no longer writes poems. He documents the lives of losers in Chinese society, those who have not profited from the modernization process. The protagonists of "The Corpse Walker" with which he first became famous in the West, are human traffickers, prostitutes, gravediggers, or the victims of various political campaigns.

"When I interviewed these people I didn’t have the status of a writer anymore," he told Deutsche Welle. "For them, I was even lower than they were. I’m twice-divorced, I’ve been arrested, sent to jail. People don’t mind talking to me because they think I am one rung lower."

'China is a rubbish heap'

Chairman Mao

Liao Yiwu's protagonists are the underdogs of society, including the victims of Mao's political campaigns

He also pointed out that the China that Western visitors see is only a façade. The real China is the filthy country he describes in his book, he said.

"What fascinates me about China is that there are so many stories. China is the biggest rubbish heap in the world. A rubbish heap has many stories to tell. Wherever you look in Germany, it’s clean. The air, the streets are clean. But there aren’t so many stories as in China. Of course, it’s not nice on a rubbish heap but my job is to find stories."

Liao Yiwu who is about to go on tour to the US and Australia isn’t worried about not finding stories in exile. He has enough material for three further books on his laptop, including accounts given by witnesses and victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Author: Mathias Bölinger / act
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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