Liao Yiwu is a Chinese poet, novelist, musician and screenwriter currently living in exile in Germany because of government suppression of his work in China. Imprisoned for four years following publication of his poem ‘Massacre’, his non-fiction works include The Corpse Walker and Other True Stories of Life in China. He speaks, via translator, with Alex Landragin.
Yiwu begins with a traditional song from China’s west, ‘The Yellow River is Dry’, and plays another on his flute. As he soon explains, the first reflects his disenchantment with a spiritually corrupt homeland.
The dissident writer has been strongly influenced by his time in prison, where he learned to play music from an old monk and ruminated on the nature of freedom in China (“society is a big prison; this is a small prison”). Now based in Berlin, he still feels keenly a sense of intellectual imprisonment, and spends much of his time thinking of his home; however, through reading books close to his heart, he says he can “always return home”.
Elsewhere, he discusses the true spirit of China, the paradox of his sense of responsibility and his growing sense of futility, the superficial sense of prosperity in the Middle Kingdom and his thoughts on the self-immolation protests of Tibetan monks.
Finally, Yiwu closes the session by reading one of his poems, accompanying himself on thumb piano.
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