Liao Yiwu was born in 1958, when Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward launched 30 million starving Chinese peasants into their early graves, and he has spent his life trying to uncover the stories of the forgotten souls that have been left behind during China’s tumultuous modern history.
In The Corpse Walker, Liao Yiwu interviews the Chinese downtrodden, the Professional Mourner, the Leper, the Corpse Walkers, the Tiananmen Father, the Grave Robber, the Migrant Worker, and many others whose lives have been torn apart and obliterated by the Chinese authority.
Liao Yiwu’s interviews are pieced together from his memory and notes, some from discussions over time with fellow inmates when he was politically imprisoned, others from oppressed elders who have nothing left to hide.
Their stories are stunning, sorrowful, and spectacular all at once, and they offer a true glimpse into the mourning heart of a Chinese culture that few Westerners could ever understand and most of the modern Chinese society would rather forget.
Liao Yiwu unleashes the immeasurable scale of recent Chinese history through the words of the oppressed people that the Chinese government never wanted to be heard, and although these stories are all true, they are even more unbelievable because of that fact.
Words from The Professional Mourner:
In the old days, there were people who specialized in walking the corpse. They normally traveled in the evenings, two guys at a time. One walked in the front and the other at the back. Like carrying a sedan chair, they pulled the body to walk along, as fast as wind. They would utter in unison, “Yo ho, yo ho.”
If you looked from a distance, you would see that the dead and the living march to the same steps. They used gravity to keep the corpse walking to the same rhythm. It was hard for the trio to change gait and make a turn, never a sharp turn. If you happened to see a walking corpse coming, you got out of the way. Otherwise, it could walk right into you.
I saw this in 1949. A local merchant was accidentally shot by a group of army deserters in Jiangxi Province. This merchant’s name was Lu. I helped arrange his funeral. At that time, there was no easy means of water or land transportation to bring his body back home. His friends couldn’t bear to bury him in another land. They paid money to those professionals to get his body home. It took them over a week, and when they got there his body looked as if he were alive.
Liao Yiwu still lives in China, risking his life to hear the stories that were never supposed to be told, and even while he is awarded for his efforts, he is persecuted just the same, as are those who would dare to listen.