A Hero of the China Underground

In the New York Review of Books, Howard French reviews The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China From the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu (full article available with subscription only):

As a poet and chronicler of other people’s lives, is a singular figure among the generation of Chinese intellectuals who emerged after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Unlike the leaders of Beijing’s student movement, people like Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi, Liao had no part in organizing street demonstrations and has never explicitly engaged in political activism. Also unlike them, he never fled the country, a fact that has doubtless helped preserve him from becoming irrelevant within China, the fate of a great many émigré dissidents and authors. Moreover, Liao made his name not in Beijing but near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where on the night of the Tiananmen crackdown he composed “Massacre,” a long, impassioned epic poem of protest.

Although he was already known as a rising young poet, Liao was sure that a poem like “Massacre” was too controversial to be published, and so, ignoring friends’ warnings for his safety, he decided to recite it into a cassette recorder, along with his own ritualistic chanting and howling. He then gave copies of the recording to his friends and others in the literary world, who in turn made and distributed many more copies, resulting in the rapid circulation around the country of the poem’s powerful descriptions of violence.

Read also an article from the New Yorker about Liao Yiwu’s recent trip to Germany to attend literary festivals, via CDT.