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A Poet's Journey Through a Chinese Prison

by Liao Yiwu translated by Wenguang Huang

Pub Date: June 4th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-89263-4
Publisher: Amazon/New Harvest

In this third translation of Liao’s work (The Corpse Walker, God Is Red), Wenguang Huang renders a lively, vernacular, fluent sense of the poet’s angry depiction of being abruptly apprended by police in 1990 while making a protest film after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

A somewhat listless poet, at the time living in Fuling, whose family had been uprooted during the Cultural Revolution (involving the horribly traumatic death of the author’s older sister in a bus accident), Liao was radicalized by the government’s barbarous treatment of the student demonstrators in 1989, when he penned the incendiary poem “Massacre.” A harsh and arbitrary detention ensued over two months at the Song Mountain center, where he was brutally initiated into the hierarchical system of the inmates, such as the “menu” of “dishes” meted out as sadistic punishment among the prisoners—e.g., “Stewed Pig’s Nose,” in which “the enforcer squeezes the inmate’s lips between chopsticks until they swell up”; or “Barbequed Pig’s Chin,” when “the enforcer delivers a blow to the unsuspecting inmate’s chin from below, crushing his teeth together.” Educated and considered “intellectual,” however, the author seems to have skirted the worst of the treatment, likely due to the fact that he was literate and able to help others write letters and read. Yet he was also recalcitrant and refused to sign a confession, prolonging his incarceration. Fighting lice, the brutality of the “enforcers,” horrific deprivation of privacy and basic human needs, suicidal urges and the deep contemplation of death, the author survived by the sheer goodwill and kindness of others, such as the aged Buddhist monk who taught him to play the flute. Liao’s work is an amazing testament to the people who are battling the Chinese police state.

A rare eyewitness account by a Chinese dissident who managed to flee to the West to gain his freedom and tell his story.