He uses his life to write and his writing to sustain life. During the four years he spent in prison, the avant-garde Chinese poet Liao Yiwu wrote the book June 4: My Testimony, which expresses a deep sense of literary consciousness. “I recovered my dignity by writing this book,” he says.
Liao was never involved in politics, yet because he recited his poem “Massacre” on the day of the Tiananmen Square Massacre he was arrested and imprisoned. During his four years in prison, Liao tried to commit suicide twice. In January 1994, with the efforts of former British prime minister Sir John Major and Amnesty International, Liao was released 43 days early. After enduring China for many years, he escaped last year via the strange route of Yunnan Province, Vietnam and Poland, and finally settled in Germany in exile. Liao published June 4: My Testimony, which has been banned in China. “I left China so I could publish this book,” Liao says.
His first visit here, Liao recently arrived in Taiwan for a two-month residency. He says the original manuscript for the first two volumes of June 4: My Testimony were written in prison. “I wrote as much as I could on a single piece of paper, sometimes more than 10,000 characters. Even the punctuation was pulsating. I couldn’t even decipher my own handwriting.” He would often have to memorize what he was writing as he wrote it because the manuscripts were frequently confiscated, and he would rewrite them as they were confiscated. He continued writing and being monitored after his release, and just as he was about to finish the entire book, the manuscript was confiscated again and the book became one that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tried extremely hard to keep out of print. “I had no other option but to rewrite the book, which took three more years.”
1. avant-garde adj.
先鋒派的 (xian1 feng1 pai4 de5)
例: Pablo Picasso is considered an avant-garde painter and sculptor.
2. politics n.
政治 (zheng4 zhi4)
例: Politics can be a nasty game to play.
3. commit suicide v. phr.
自殺 (zi4 sha1)
例: More teenagers commit suicide than any other age group.
Liao said, “I am not a dissident. I am an author and a poet.” Liao says that China was thoroughly transformed by the CCP’s suppression. “Perhaps the Chinese once held certain ideals toward their nation and the Chinese people, but beginning at that very moment, they knew the nation could no longer be loved, because if you love it too much, it will undoubtedly deal with you using bullets and guns.” The experience left an indelible impression on Liao.
Carrying The Great Records of the Grand Historian, or Shiji, with him at all times, he would also carry a hsiao flute and use his voice to sometimes work as a street performer to make money. Liao will be attending the Taipei International Book Exhibition in early February. He is set to publish June 4: Group Testimony sometime around the middle of the year, which is a collection of interviews with dozens of people who were also imprisoned after Tiananmen — people at the bottom that Chinese society has already forgotten.
“I am lucky that I am still alive and was able to write these words and release them to the public, luckier than Sima Qian, because I was not castrated.” Liao says he unconditionally refuses to return to China. “The only ones willing to accept their conditions are business people and politicians.”
(LIBERTY TIMES, TRANSLATED BY KYLE JEFFCOAT)