‘I’m Not Interested in Them; I Wish They Weren’t Interested in Me’: An Interview with Liao Yiwu

In the New York Review of Books, Ian Johnson interviews author Liao Yiwu, who recently moved to Berlin in order to be able to publish his works:

Ian Johnson: The Chinese newspaper Global Times said Liao Yiwu is not in exile. It said you’re just on holiday and that nowadays it’s not so strange for Chinese to go abroad for extended stays. They say your decision to go to Germany has to do with marketing your books. Are you really in exile?

Liao Yiwu: I never said I wanted to go into exile or flee. It’s just because if I didn’t my books wouldn’t get published. I guess I won’t go back for a while. I’m doing publicity for the prison book now, then I’ll go to the US for my Christianity book. Then Taiwan for the Chinese edition of the prison book. Then back to Germany, where I have a one-year DAAD fellowship in Berlin. So when that’s all over, I’ll see if they haven’t forgotten me.

What did the authorities tell you?

They said, “two books of yours can’t be published overseas.” One is the prison book. The other is the God book. They said both are unacceptable. So I talked with them and asked why. They asked me to sign a paper [promising not to publish]. They said these were “illegal cultural products.” They said these two books disclosed secrets.

Is political repression more severe than it has been in the past?

Yes, especially the first half of the year. Ahhh, I don’t know. I think it’s the government’s own problem. That call for a Jasmine Revolution. They took it so seriously but it was just something someone posted on the Internet. It didn’t exist, but after it was posted they came by all the time, asking and asking. No one had heard of it! They’re nervous.

My writing is illegal…I don’t know. I’m just writing something and now have broken their law. I don’t want to break their laws. I am not interested in them and wish they weren’t interested in me.

A previous article in the New York Times looks at why Chinese artists and writers are drawn to Berlin:

“Berlin is a witness to modern German history,” said Tienchi Martin-Liao, the German-based president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center.

“That’s extremely interesting for Liao Yiwu, because he wants to be a chronicler, to write the history and memories of his people,” said Ms. Martin-Liao, who is not related to Mr. Liao.

“This is really important for Chinese, because the government tries systematically to delete all the memories,” she said. “I do admire writers who say, ‘If you want us to forget, then no, we won’t.’ And Berlin is a good place for not forgetting.”

Why, is easy to see.

From major, state-financed sites dedicated to the victims of dictatorship — including the vast Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe near the Brandenburg Gate and the labyrinthine Stasi, or secret police, archives of the former East Germany — to small, artist-citizen initiatives such as the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks, brass plaques set in sidewalks to mark the homes of people who were deported and executed by the Nazis, this city’s reverence for history is inescapable.

Read more by and about Liao Yiwu via CDT.