Chinese Writer Prevented From Visiting Sydney

Liao Yiwu, photographed in Cologne last year, via Wikipedia

Liao Yiwu, photographed in Cologne last year, via Wikipedia

Meet Liao Yiwu, an author and musician from China’s Sichuan province, which borders Tibet in central China. In his guise as musician, he plays the Chinese flute. In his guise as a writer, he’s a poet, novelist and reporter of some distinction. Not to mention courage. A poem he wrote following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 - simply entitled ‘Massacre’ - landed him in prison for four years. While in prison, he earned the nickname ‘the Big Idiot’ from fellow inmates for his stubborn defiance of prison authorities. On the 20th anniversary of the massacre, the Paris Review published an essay called ‘Nineteen Days’, in which Liao chronicles how he’d spent the day of the massacre and each of its anniversaries since.

A collection of interviews he recorded with 27 Chinese people on the fringes of society - The Corpse Walker - was a best-seller in Germany (here’s an excerpt, and here’s a review). It was published in Australia by Text last week. Liao had been scheduled to visit Australia to appear in the Sydney Writers' Festival, but has been prevented from travelling to Sydney by Chinese authorities. Festival director Chip Rolley was quoted as saying in The Age’s report that, in addition, Liao has been ordered to desist from publishing his works internationally.

In March 2010, Liao was on his way to a literary festival in Cologne when he was dragged off a plane in Chengdu and placed under house arrest. (After 14 attempts, Liao was eventually permitted to travel to Germany in September, where the above photograph was taken.) Chinese authorities seem to have a thing for airport drama. As we’ve covered before, leading artist Ai Weiwei was arrested at an airport on April 3 this year before he disappeared. He is still missing. After his release from house arrest last year, Liao sent out an email which read, in part:

“Words alone cannot express my outrage. I never considered myself to be a political dissident. I had no interest in politics or in drafting any political manifestos, but my friend Liu Xiaobo was right when he said, ‘To gain and preserve your freedom and dignity, there is no other way except to fight.’

“I will continue to write, document, and broadcast the stories of people living at the bottom rung of society, despite the fact that my stories won’t please the Communist Party of China. I have the responsibility to make people understand the true spirit of the Chinese, which will outlast the rule of the totalitarian government.”

Liu Xiaobo was prevented from travelling to Norway last year to accept his Nobel Prize for Peace, and China has demanded Norway issue an apology for awarding the prize to the writer.

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