Review Blog

Sep 22 2011

The corpse walker and other true stories of life in China by Liao Yiwu

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Text, 2011. ISBN 9781921656514.
(Age: Senior school) Recommended. Liao Yiwu is a Chinese writer and performer who was imprisoned for his poem Massacre, written and performed in response to the suppression of the Tienanamen Square student protests. In this collection of twenty-seven interviews translated by Wen Huang, Liao presents a view of a complex and multi-layered society, in which threads from the past inform the present. Some of the interviewees, the Human Trafficker and the Corpse Walker, were chosen because of their connections with traditional life while others, the Rightist and the Former Red Guard, because their lives epitomize the experiences of many during the cataclysmic events of the last century. The Corpse Walker describes the traditional practice of 'walking', by carrying on one's back, a corpse back to its home and family. Corpse walking becomes a metaphor for the burden of history carried by many of the interviewees in this collection. Chairman Mao is a dominant figure in the stories of these ordinary people's lives.The deprivations suffered during the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the Tienanmen Square massacre are described in a number of interviews, The Rightist, The Former Landowner and The Yi district Chief's Wife for example. The hunger, the loss of family members, the destruction of personal dignity, and the waste of years spent in unproductive activity are clearly revealed, as is the stoical bewilderment caused by living in a society where the political values were unpredictable. What is also clear is the extent to which traditional life and values exist; the family is important, and above all, a robust sense of humour that helps ensure and sweeten survival. This collection is recommended for any reader interested in China, and in the great events of the twentieth century in Asia.
Jenny Hamilton

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