cover image For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison

For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison

Liao Yiwu, trans. from the Chinese by Wenguang Huang. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/

Exiled Chinese poet Liao (God Is Red) recounts in redolent prose his politicization and imprisonment in the wake of the 1989 government crackdown on the democracy movement centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Liao was leading a bohemian life amid a lively literary scene in Sichuan Province when news of Tiananmen provoked him to record and distribute his spontaneous protest poem, “Massacre.” He soon launched a film project, Requiem, with a handful of colleagues, most of whom were netted in the aftermath of his 1990 arrest, along with other artists. The bulk of the memoir concerns Liao’s four-year imprisonment at a series of facilities in the harrowing Chongqing prison system, in which he is usually the rare “’89er” among underprivileged and uneducated criminals. Liao fiercely struggles to maintain his dignity and merely endure, despite little information from his wife (pregnant at the time of his arrest) and family. As his case limps along, scenes of cruelty and degradation are juxtaposed with acts of compassion and moments of release, as in portraits of cellmates and episodes such as the marathon of forced singing that gives the book its title. This vivid and lyrical memoir, a future classic, should have wide appeal as a consummate insider account of Chinese state terror. Agent: Peter W. Bernstein, Bernstein Literary Agency. (June)