Liao Yiwu spent the early 1990s in prison for writing the poem Massacre, about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. His account of these four years will be published in English this summer as For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey through a Chinese Prison, and was released in French this month under the title Dans l’empire des ténèbres (In the Empire of Darkness). From the AFP:
The book was a long time in the making and has come at huge personal cost. Faced with the threat of more prison if he had it published abroad, he decided to flee China in 2011, leaving his mother and others behind.
“They were watching my emails and they knew I was in touch with editors in Germany and Taiwan,” he said at the launch of For a Song and a Hundred Songs in Paris.
“They said I couldn’t publish the book, and if I did, they would put me in prison again, this time for at least 10 years … The German and Taiwan editors got worried about my safety and they pushed back the publication date.
“All in all, they pushed it back three times. The third time, I decided to escape.”
Liao discussed the book’s origins with Mariana Grépinet (article in French) at Paris Match:
This book almost never saw the light of day. Why is that?
I started writing it upon leaving prison. I’d formed the habit of scribbling poems in very small writing, because they only gave us pencil and paper for a couple of hours each month. The first time, it took a little over a year. I had over 300,000 characters! On April 4th, 1995, the police came and confiscated my manuscript. At that point, I wasn’t using a computer, I wrote
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