Translated by Wenguang Huang
This is the extraordinary prison memoir of one of China’s most prominent dissidents and author of the internationally acclaimed The Corpse Walker.
Introduction by Herta Muller, recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature.
In China, the government continues to erase and distort the collective memory of the country to suit its all-encompassing political agenda. However, an individual’s memory, with its psychic encoding and indelible scars of oppression, will forever hide a deeply etched record in blood and intellect. Its imprint, like history, can never be erased.
In June 1989, Liao Yiwu witnessed the Tiananmen Square protest. The young poet, who had until then led an apolitical bohemian existence, found his voice in that moment and proclaimed his outrage in the poem ‘Massacre’.
For a Song and a Hundred Songs captures the four brutal years Liao spent in jail for writing his incendiary poem. He reveals the bleak reality of crowded Chinese prisons—the harassment from guards and fellow prisoners, the torture, the conflicts among human beings in close confinement, and the boredom of everyday life. But even in his darkest hours, Liao manages to find the fundamental humanity in his cellmates.
Liao Yiwu presents a stark and devastating portrait of a nation in flux, exposing a side of China that outsiders rarely get to see. For a Song and a Hundred Songs will forever change the way you view the rising superpower.
‘For a Song and a Hundred Songs is a superhuman feat of memory…Inmates argue, fight, philosophise, manipulate and torment others but in all of them Liao Yiwu reveals an individual personality and voice. His writing switches from the sarcastic to the reflective, from the descriptive to the immediacy of quick-fire dialogue. His interactions with prisoners on death row…are especially poignant, as he recalls their desperate wish to live…’
‘Yiwu’s style is earthy and frank. It is painfully honest, recording how sometimes his own response to the brutality was to be occasionally weak, cruel, self-serving, or violent. But although he also records the savagery of other prisoners he shows too that there are poignant moments of tenderness and that the spark of humanity is never extinguished.’
‘Liao Yiwu’s unflinching account of his years in the Chinese gulag rises above the merely sadistically gothic…because of his self-deprecating honesty and his poet’s gift for the devastating image.’
‘Liao’s book reminds us that the current prosperity in China has been hard won, and his palpable pain as he records a troubled and even tragic life is evidence of the shortcomings of art to cope with some of the harsher realities of history.’