…from the quill of Antisthenes the Younger
Liao Yiwu, also known as Lao Wei (born 1958), is a Chinese author, reporter, musician, and poet. His books, several of which are collections of interviews with ordinary people from the lower rungs of Chinese society, all banned in Communist China, were published in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Some have been translated into English, French, German and Polish. For A Song and One Hundred Songs, a memoir of his four years in the Communist prison is to be published in June 2013.
In 2003, he was awarded a Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Grant. In 2007, he received a Freedom to Write Award from the Independent Chinese PEN Center. He managed to leave China in 2011 and in the same year he was awarded the German Geschwister-Scholl-Preis. Last month he received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and in his forceful speech at the price ceremony Liao Yiwu described China as “the source of global disasters” and an “ever-expanding garbage dump” and suggested that “for the peaceful well-being of all humanity, this empire must break apart”.
The following is a part of his address, translated by Siobhan O’Leary.[see entire The Wall Street Journal article]
“Once upon a time, there was a nine-year-old boy called Lu Peng, who was in the third grade at Shun Cheng Jie primary school in Beijing. On the night of June 3-4, 1989, curiosity led him to sneak out of the house, behind his parents’ backs. Riots were raging in the streets. Lu Peng was hit and struck down by a bullet head on.
Many others died at that same moment in the hail of bullets. But he was the youngest. According to the eyewitness reports of a group around Ding Zilin, who as leader of the Tiananmen Mothers has made it her mission to shed light upon the events of that night, Lu Peng was also the youngest of all of the victims of the Tiananmen massacre.
He will forever be nine years old. I would like us never to forget that. Which is why I have recorded the news of his death. But here, today, I would like to announce the news of another death, that of the Chinese empire. A country that massacres little children must break apart. That is in keeping with the Chinese tradition.
Over 2,500 years ago in his work “The Tao Te Ching,” the philosopher Laozi spoke often of two entities at once weak and yet superlative: a newborn child and water. The newborn stands for the propagation of the human race, and water for the expansion of nature. Looking after a child means preserving the primary energy, the qi of humankind.
Accordingly, in the Chinese healing practice qigong, it is essential to begin by freeing oneself of all troubling thoughts and gathering the qi life-energy in one’s abdomen in order to return to the original state of an embryo in the womb. Laozi goes one step further, describing humanity’s desire for home, for the return to the native land, which is as important to old people as a mother’s breast is to an infant. Satisfying this basic human desire requires no “great nation.” Rather, what is needed is a country divided into small units.
The dictatorial Chinese empire of today was originally composed of countless smaller splinter states, up until the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States period. It is true that, during that time, the fires of war raged constantly and one state was always occupying or annexing the other. Yet historians agree that it was a previously unsurpassed time of glory, a time of unprecedented political, economic and cultural blossoming. Never since has there been the same degree of freedom of speech and debate, with science and the arts engaged in eager competition.
And today? Today, after having turned every aspect of tradition on its head, the Communist Party goes forth, usurping and shamelessly distorting this intellectual legacy, setting up Confucius Institutes around the world. Haven’t they read the classics? Don’t they know that Confucius wasn’t a “Chinese nationalist” but an inhabitant of the small state of Lu?
Confucius was 56 years old when he picked an argument over political questions with the ruler of his state. Fearing for his life, he took flight in a mad rush, only to remain living in exile, roving through a whole range of states on his travels. Seen in this light, Confucius should be considered the spiritual forefather of the politically persecuted, and what are called “Confucius Institutes” today should be known as “Confucius Institutes for Exiles.”
The nominally united Chinese empire has left enormous bloody trails through history. The empire’s first unifying figure, Qin Shi Huang, spent his entire life waging wars in every direction and swallowing up neighbouring states to expand his territory. It is said that the population of this territory shrank by two-thirds under his rule. His two major deeds will ensure that the name of the first Emperor of Qin will stink to high heaven for all eternity: the building of the Great Wall and the burning of books, which went hand-in-hand with the murdering of scholars.
The erection of the Great Wall was meant to prevent people from having contact with the outside world, turning China into the ultimate prison. To this end, the entire country was forced into slave labor in the service of this massive project. In turn, the burning of books and murdering of scholars were intended to cut people off from their own traditions. The Emperor of Qin cunningly published a “Call to All Scholars,” with which he lured 460 philosophers from all parts of the country to the capital, only to have them buried alive.
Two thousand years later, he won great praise from a new despot by the name of Mao Zedong. Mao boasted: Qin Shi Huang interred just 460 Confucians, whereas we have done away with tens of thousands of counter-revolutionaries.
Murdering people. That was the method upon which the new state was founded. It was tacitly understood, from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping. During the great famine from 1959-62, nearly 40 million people starved to death across the country. In June 1989, once again feeling that its power was at risk, the Communist Party mobilized 200,000 soldiers to massacre the city of Beijing.
It seems just a heartbeat ago that, because of the dissemination of my poem “Massacre” after that night, I wandered into and back out of prison. I once encountered another old writer by the name of Liu Shahe, whom—in 1957, long before I was born—Mao Zedong had also suspected of “denigrating the Party,” declared an enemy and thrown into prison because of a poem. He told me that the wounds that a stroke of fate like that inflicts upon you never heal. We are no longer poets; we have become witnesses of history.
That means preserving the truth for future generations. Children and the truth have always been closely connected in history. A dynasty that is so degenerate that it massacres children and tortures the truth—such a dynasty’s days are numbered.
This inhuman empire with bloody hands, at the root of so much suffering in the world, this infinitely large pile of rubbish must break apart. So that no more innocent children die, it must break apart. So that no new mother blamelessly loses her child, it must break apart. So that China’s helpless and homeless migrant workers no longer need to toil as the world’s slaves, it must break apart. So that we may finally return to the home of our ancestors and watch over their legacy and graves in the future, it must break apart. This empire must break apart, for the sake of peace and the peace of mind of all humanity—and for the mothers of Tiananmen Square.”