Liao Yiwu

Liao Yiwu

What the Monk Taught Me

“He taught me to play the flute. He also taught me a lot about life.” Watch one of China’s most controversial authors, Liao Yiwu, play the flute and tell the story of how a monk taught him something invaluable while he was imprisoned for his writing.

The Buddhist monk, who was a fellow inmate, was a tough anti-government prisoner, who felt that it was no use striking. Though he was a man of few words, he altered Yiwu’s perception of his situation: “One time when we were talking, he said: "The world is one big prison.” People outside live in a prison without walls and we live in one with walls. The key is whether or not your heart is free. If your heart isn’t free then you will always be imprisoned.”

Liao Yiwu (b. 1958) is a Chinese author, reporter, musician and poet. Yiwu is an avid critic of the Chinese regime, and between 1990 and 1994 he was imprisoned for writing and performing the poem ‘Massacre’, which was a memorial to the thousands of people killed during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. In prison he was subjected to extreme torture and suffered several mental breakdowns, but in spite of this, he also managed to interview other prisoners about their lives, which later resulted in the book ‘Testimonials’ (2002). At his release, he was subject to frequent harassment from the authorities and was placed on the Chinese government’s blacklist. He lived for a period of time as a homeless street musician, collecting stories – several of Yiwu’s books are in fact collections of interviews with people from the lower rungs of Chinese society, such as his multi-volume ‘Interviews with People from the Bottom Rung of Society’ (2001). Yiwu – whose books are banned in China (excluding Taiwan and Hong Kong) – has received prestigious awards such as a Human Rights Watch Helmann-Hammet Grant (2003), a Freedom to Write Award from the Independent Chinese PEN Center (2007), the German Geschwister-Scholl-Preis (2011) and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2012). He has resided in Germany since 2011.

Liao Yiwu was interviewed by Christian Lund at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in July 2015.

Camera: Julie Madsen
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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