Liao Yiwu: Walking Out on China

At The New York Times, writer Liao Yiwu describes his escape from China:

Yunnan province, in southwestern China, has long been the exit point for Chinese who yearn for a new life outside the country. There, one can sneak out of China by land, passing through pristine forests, or one can go by water, floating all the way down the Lancang River until it becomes the Mekong, which meanders into Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

So each time I set foot there, in a land where red soil gleams in the sun, I turned restless; my imagination ran wild. After all, having been imprisoned for four years after I wrote a poem that condemned the Chinese government’s brutal suppression of student protesters in 1989, I had been denied permission to leave China 16 times.

I felt very tempted. It doesn’t matter if you have a passport or visa. All that counts is the amount of cash in your pocket. You toss your cellphone, cut off communications with the outside world and sneak into a village, where you can easily locate a peasant or a smuggler willing to help you. After settling on the right price, you are led out of China on a secret path that lies beyond the knowledge of humans and ghosts.

The Huffington Post, meanwhile, has posted Liao’s account of an earlier visit to Yunnan to research his most recent book, ‘God is Red’. (The book’s review in Christian Science Monitor was featured on CDT yesterday.)

“Every inch of soil beneath my feet was red, glittering under the frail winter sun, as if it had been soaked with blood.”

I jotted down this observation in my journal in the winter of 2005 while trekking on a narrow mountain path in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan.

I had met a Christian, known among local villagers as Dr. Sun, a medical doctor. Following his conversion, he quit his position as the dean of a large medical school near Shanghai and came to the rural areas of Yunnan, healing the sick and spreading the gospel. After learning that I was writing a book about Christianity, he promised to take me to the mountainous villages, where he said I could discover extraordinary stories.

Dr. Sun and I set out on a month-long journey that took us deep into the mountains, first by bus and then on a small tractors along perilous mountain paths paved with small rocks. Then, we trudged along on winding red mud trails and reached a cluster of small villages hemmed in by tall mountains. According to Dr. Sun, there was a vibrant Christian community there.

See also news of Liao’s departure from China and a later interview about his reasons for it, via CDT.


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