Liao Yiwu

China, PR

Writer, holder of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2012

Liao Yiwu Elke Wetzig CC-by-sa

He is a steadfast chronicler, a powerfully eloquent poet. The writer Liao Yiwu has been a champion of inalienable human rights for many years and has not been allowed to publish in his native country for a long time.

The DAAD is my best refuge.
Liao Yiwu

In July 2011 Liao Yiwu managed to leave his home and travel to Germany. Now, in 2012, he is living in Berlin at the invitation of the DAAD Artists in Berlin Programme. He says: “The DAAD is my best refuge.” He is very glad that he is finally living in freedom and can now write freely. Liao Yiwu was born in Sichuan province in 1958 and his books and poems document the injustice that many Chinese have experienced since the foundation of the People’s Republic in 1949. For Massacre, his poem about the suppression of the democratic protests at Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, Liao Yiwu was sentenced to four years in prison for “disseminating counterrevolutionary propaganda”. He suffered imprisonment, torture and oppression at first hand. In For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison Liao Yiwu depicts the systematic dehumanisation soberly as a chronicler, but with the harrowing imagery of a poet. “Anyone who has ever been imprisoned has the eternal fear that these prison experiences will be forgotten and society will abandon them.” That’s why he began to write down his experiences immediately after his release. However, the Chinese leadership confiscated the manuscript, so that Liao Yiwu had to produce a second and third version before his report could be published in Germany and Taiwan in 2011.

He views the 2012 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, which is awarded during the Frankfurt Book Fair, much more as an obligation to stand up against oppression and violence: “Since I have known about the jury’s decision I have championed the freedom of others at many events and with many appeals.” He also hopes that the Peace Prize can contribute to spreading the truth about the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. His book Bullets and Opium, which was published in Germany in October 2012, reports on eye witnesses and relatives of victims. More recent books, published in German and English, also take a critical look at China: for example, Die Dongdong-Tänzerin und der Sichuan-Koch: Geschichten aus der chinesischen Wirklichkeit and God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China. In 2015 Liao Yiwu met the Chinese concept artist Ai Weiwei at a panel discussion in Berlin: the two dissidents discussed China at the International Literature Festival.