Liao Yiwu [ China ]
Liao Yiwu was born in 1958 in the Sichuan province in western China. When his father was charged with being a counter-revolutionary at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, his parents separated to protect the children. He was raised by his single mother, who maintained the family with odd jobs. After completing high school Liao worked in various jobs, including as a chef and as a lorry driver. At the same time his interest in literature, and especially poetry, was growing.
In the 1980s he became one of the most important avant garde poets in China. The majority of his poems were published in unofficial periodicals and underground anthologies. With increasing fame it became possible for Liao to publish his work in official journals. In 1987, following the publication of his vast epic »si cheng« (tr: City of Death), which was critical of the Cultural Revolution, and reminiscent of the style of Saint-John Perse, Liao became the victim of a political campaign against him. But he refused to censor himself, and did not consider giving up writing. 1989 saw the publication of further critical pieces in official magazines. When he wrote poems condemning the Chinese government crackdown on the democratic movement following the Tiananmen Square massacre he was sentenced to four years in prison. In 1994, in response to international pressure, he was freed 50 days before the end of his prison sentence. When his family and friends distanced themselves from him, he made a living as a busker and took whatever jobs he could in Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu. He tried without success to get published in China. Pushed in this manner to the very edges of society, he developed a new approach to writing, and distilled his experiences in »Interviews with People from the Bottom Rung of Society« (2002). The book at a stroke made Liao one of the most famous contemporary Chinese writers.
After the Chinese government granted him permission to leave the country for the first time in his life, Liao went to Germany in 2010, where he was a guest at the international literature festival berlin and at LiteraturRaum. In July 2011 Liao came back to Germany to publish his latest work »My Testimony«, in which he writes about his time in prison from 1990–1994. His very pictorial and haunting descriptions show the brutality of the conditions in jail. In 2012, »Die Kugel und das Opium« (tr: Bullets and Opim) will be published, containing interviews with eye witnesses as well as friends and relations of those massacred on Tiananmen Square – a moving report of what happened on 4 June 1989.
The author has been awarded numerous literary and civil rights prizes, including the Freedom to Write Award of the Chinese P.E.N., the Geschwister Scholl Prize and the Ryszard Kapuściński Prize. In 2012 he receives the Peace Prize of the German Book. Trade Liao currently lives in Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin-Program.