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9780375425424

Corpse Walker : Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780375425424

  • ISBN10:

    037542542X

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2008-04-15
  • Publisher: Pantheon
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Summary

The Corpse Walkeris a compilation of twenty-seven extraordinary oral histories that opens a window, unlike any other, onto the lives of ordinary, often outcast, Chinese men and women. Liao Yiwu (one of the best-known writers in China because he is also one of the most censored) chose his subjects from the bottom of Chinese society: people for whom the "new" China--the China of economic growth and globalization-is no more beneficial than the old. By asking challenging questions with respect and empathy, he manages to get his subjects to talk openly about their lives. Here are a professional mourner, a trafficker in humans, a leper, an abbot, a retired government official, a former landowner, a mortician, a feng shui master, a former Red Guard, a political prisoner, a village teacher, a blind street musician, a Falun Gong practitioner, and many otherspeople who have been battered by life but who have managed to retain their dignity, their humor, and their essential, complex humanity. Liao crafted the interviews (conducted between 1990 and 2003) with sensitivity and patience, working both from notes and from his own memory of these remarkable conversations. The result is an idiosyncratic, powerful, and richly revealing portrait of a people, a time, and a place we might otherwise have never known.

Author Biography

Liao Yiwu is a poet, novelist, and screenwriter. In 1989, he published an epic poem, "Massacre," that condemned the killings in Tiananmen Square and for which he spent four years in prison. His works include Testimonials and Report on China's Victims of Injustice. In 2003, he received a Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Grant, and in 2007, he received a Freedom to Write Award from the Independent Chinese PEN Center. He lives in China.

Wen Huang is a writer and freelance journalist whose articles and translations have appeared in The Wall Street Journal Asia, the Chicago Tribune, the South China Morning Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Paris Review.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. vii
Introduction: The Voice of China's Social Outcastsp. ix
The Professional Mournerp. 3
The Human Traffickerp. 13
The Public Restroom Managerp. 20
The Corpse Walkersp. 28
The Leperp. 40
The Peasant Emperorp. 50
The Feng Shui Masterp. 61
The Abbotp. 73
The Composerp. 93
The Rightistp. 111
The Retired Officialp. 121
The Former Landownerp. 135
The Yi District Chief's Wifep. 146
The Village Teacherp. 160
The Morticianp. 173
The Neighborhood Committee Directorp. 182
The Former Red Guardp. 193
The Counterrevolutionaryp. 203
The Tiananmen Fatherp. 214
The Falun Gong Practitionerp. 230
The Illegal Border Crosserp. 242
The Grave Robberp. 254
The Safecrackerp. 267
The Blind Erhu Playerp. 277
The Street Singerp. 284
The Sleepwalkerp. 298
The Migrant Workerp. 308
Translator's Acknowledgmentsp. 319
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

Supplemental Materials

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Excerpts

Foreword

To hear a new voice is one of the great excitements that a book can offer--and through Liao Yiwu we hear more than two dozen original voices that have a great deal to say. Liao is at once an unflinching observer and recorder, a shoe-leather reporter and an artful storyteller, an oral historian and deft mimic, a folklorist and satirist. Above all, he is a medium for whole muzzled swathes of Chinese society that the Party would like to pretend do not exist: hustlers and drifters, outlaws and street performers, the officially renegade and the physically handicapped, those who deal with human waste and with the wasting of humans, artists and shamans, crooks, even cannibals--and every one of them speaks more honestly than the official chronicles of Chinese life that are put out by the state in the name of "the people."

Liao was shaped as a writer by the harshest of experiences: he nearly starved to death as a child and his father was branded an enemy of the people; he was thrown in jail for writing poems that spoke truthfully about China's Communist Party and he was beaten in jail for refusing to shut up; and he discovered in jail the enormous value of listening to others like him whom the authorities wanted to keep forever unheard. So Liao writes with the courage of a man who knows loss and doesn't fear it. There is nothing to make him take notice like an official injunction against noticing, nothing to make him listen like official deafness, nothing that drives him to make us see than the blindness that Communist officialdom seeks to impose. But it is not merely defiance, and it is hardly political polemic, that drives the vitality of the stories in this collection. What makes Liao's encounters with his characters so powerful is the fact that he clearly delights in their humanity, however twisted its expression, and he shows his respect for his subjects in the most fundamental way: he lets them speak for themselves.

There is no question that Liao Yiwu is one of the most original and remarkable Chinese writers of our time. It is, however, truer to say that he is one of the most original and remarkable writers of our time, and that he is from China. Yes, his language is Chinese, his country and its people are his subject, and his stories originate from intensely local encounters. But even to someone who has never been to China, and who can know Liao's work only through Wen Huang's translations, these stories have an immediacy and an intimacy that crosses all boundaries and classifications. They belong to the great common inheritance of world literature.

Liao Yiwu is an original, but it seems a very good bet that writers as diverse as Mark Twain and Jack London, Nikolai Gogol and George Orwell, François Rabelais and Primo Levi would have recognized him at once as a brother in spirit and in letters. He is a ringmaster of the human circus, and his work serves as a powerful reminder--as vital and necessary in open societies lulled by their freedoms as it is in closed societies where telling truthful stories can be a crime--that it is not only in the visible and noisy wielders of power but equally in the marginalized, overlooked, and unheard that the history of our kind is most tellingly inscribed.

Philip Gourevitch
November 2007

Excerpted from The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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