Catalogue


The corpse walker : real life stories, China from the bottom up /
Liao Yiwu ; translated from the Chinese, and with an introduction, by Wen Huang.
edition
1st Anchor books edition.
imprint
New York : Anchor Books, c2009.
description
xiv, 328 p. ; 20 cm.
ISBN
9780307388377
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Anchor Books, c2009.
isbn
9780307388377
contents note
The professional mourner -- The human trafficker -- The public restroom manager -- The corpse walkers -- The leper -- The peasant emperor -- The Feng Shui master -- The Abbot -- The composer -- The rightist -- The retired official -- The former landowner -- The Yi district chief's wife -- The village teacher -- The mortician -- The neighborhood committee director -- The former red guard -- The counterrevolutionary -- The Tiananmen father -- The Falun gong practitioner -- The illegal border crosser -- The grave robber -- The safecracker -- The blind Erhu player -- The street singer -- The sleepwalker -- the migrant worker.
general note
"This translation composed of ten new piees and sixteen pieces that were originally pulished in Chinese in Taiwan as part of 'Interviews with People from the Bottom Rung of Society,' published by Rye Field Publishing Co., Taipei, in 2002"--Colophon.
abstract
A compilation of twenty-seven extraordinary oral histories that opens a window, unlike any other, onto the lives of ordinary, often outcast, Chinese men and women. Liao Yiwu (one of the best-known writers in China because he is also one of the most censored) chose his subjects from the bottom of Chinese society: people for whom the "new" China--the China of economic growth and globalization--is no more beneficial than the old. Here are a professional mourner, a trafficker in humans, a leper, an abbot, a retired government official, a former landowner, a mortician, a feng shui master, a former Red Guard, a political prisoner, a village teacher, a blind street musician, a Falun Gong practitioner, and many others--people who have been battered by life but who have managed to retain their dignity, their humor, and their essential, complex humanity. Liao's interviews were given from 1990 to 2003.--From amazon.com.
catalogue key
10178710
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Foreword To hear a new voice is one of the great excitements that a book can offer--and through Liao Yiwu we hear more than two dozen original voices that have a great deal to say. Liao is at once an unflinching observer and recorder, a shoe-leather reporter and an artful storyteller, an oral historian and deft mimic, a folklorist and satirist. Above all, he is a medium for whole muzzled swathes of Chinese society that the Party would like to pretend do not exist: hustlers and drifters, outlaws and street performers, the officially renegade and the physically handicapped, those who deal with human waste and with the wasting of humans, artists and shamans, crooks, even cannibals--and every one of them speaks more honestly than the official chronicles of Chinese life that are put out by the state in the name of "the people." Liao was shaped as a writer by the harshest of experiences: he nearly starved to death as a child and his father was branded an enemy of the people; he was thrown in jail for writing poems that spoke truthfully about China's Communist Party and he was beaten in jail for refusing to shut up; and he discovered in jail the enormous value of listening to others like him whom the authorities wanted to keep forever unheard. So Liao writes with the courage of a man who knows loss and doesn't fear it. There is nothing to make him take notice like an official injunction against noticing, nothing to make him listen like official deafness, nothing that drives him to make us see than the blindness that Communist officialdom seeks to impose. But it is not merely defiance, and it is hardly political polemic, that drives the vitality of the stories in this collection. What makes Liao's encounters with his characters so powerful is the fact that he clearly delights in their humanity, however twisted its expression, and he shows his respect for his subjects in the most fundamental way: he lets them speak for themselves. There is no question that Liao Yiwu is one of the most original and remarkable Chinese writers of our time. It is, however, truer to say that he is one of the most original and remarkable writers of our time, and that he is from China. Yes, his language is Chinese, his country and its people are his subject, and his stories originate from intensely local encounters. But even to someone who has never been to China, and who can know Liao's work only through Wen Huang's translations, these stories have an immediacy and an intimacy that crosses all boundaries and classifications. They belong to the great common inheritance of world literature. Liao Yiwu is an original, but it seems a very good bet that writers as diverse as Mark Twain and Jack London, Nikolai Gogol and George Orwell, Francois Rabelais and Primo Levi would have recognized him at once as a brother in spirit and in letters. He is a ringmaster of the human circus, and his work serves as a powerful reminder--as vital and necessary in open societies lulled by their freedoms as it is in closed societies where telling truthful stories can be a crime--that it is not only in the visible and noisy wielders of power but equally in the marginalized, overlooked, and unheard that the history of our kind is most tellingly inscribed. Philip Gourevitch November 2007
First Chapter
Foreword

To hear a new voice is one of the great excitements that a book can offer--and through Liao Yiwu we hear more than two dozen original voices that have a great deal to say. Liao is at once an unflinching observer and recorder, a shoe-leather reporter and an artful storyteller, an oral historian and deft mimic, a folklorist and satirist. Above all, he is a medium for whole muzzled swathes of Chinese society that the Party would like to pretend do not exist: hustlers and drifters, outlaws and street performers, the officially renegade and the physically handicapped, those who deal with human waste and with the wasting of humans, artists and shamans, crooks, even cannibals--and every one of them speaks more honestly than the official chronicles of Chinese life that are put out by the state in the name of "the people."

Liao was shaped as a writer by the harshest of experiences: he nearly starved to death as a child and his father was branded an enemy of the people; he was thrown in jail for writing poems that spoke truthfully about China's Communist Party and he was beaten in jail for refusing to shut up; and he discovered in jail the enormous value of listening to others like him whom the authorities wanted to keep forever unheard. So Liao writes with the courage of a man who knows loss and doesn't fear it. There is nothing to make him take notice like an official injunction against noticing, nothing to make him listen like official deafness, nothing that drives him to make us see than the blindness that Communist officialdom seeks to impose. But it is not merely defiance, and it is hardly political polemic, that drives the vitality of the stories in this collection. What makes Liao's encounters with his characters so powerful is the fact that he clearly delights in their humanity, however twisted its expression, and he shows his respect for his subjects in the most fundamental way: he lets them speak for themselves.

There is no question that Liao Yiwu is one of the most original and remarkable Chinese writers of our time. It is, however, truer to say that he is one of the most original and remarkable writers of our time, and that he is from China. Yes, his language is Chinese, his country and its people are his subject, and his stories originate from intensely local encounters. But even to someone who has never been to China, and who can know Liao's work only through Wen Huang's translations, these stories have an immediacy and an intimacy that crosses all boundaries and classifications. They belong to the great common inheritance of world literature.

Liao Yiwu is an original, but it seems a very good bet that writers as diverse as Mark Twain and Jack London, Nikolai Gogol and George Orwell, François Rabelais and Primo Levi would have recognized him at once as a brother in spirit and in letters. He is a ringmaster of the human circus, and his work serves as a powerful reminder--as vital and necessary in open societies lulled by their freedoms as it is in closed societies where telling truthful stories can be a crime--that it is not only in the visible and noisy wielders of power but equally in the marginalized, overlooked, and unheard that the history of our kind is most tellingly inscribed.

Philip Gourevitch
November 2007


From the Hardcover edition.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2008-04-15:
A popular and much-censored author in China, Laio here illuminates the lives of those at the very bottom of Chinese society--people who don't officially exist in today's modern China and who were often the most affected by the Cultural Revolution. Based on conversations Laio had between 1990 and 2001 and presented in interview format, this book offers the oral histories of 27 intriguing men and women, who range from grave robber to former Red Guard, migrant worker, political prisoner, and Buddhist abbot. One even recalls the lowly work of the title's traditional corpse walker, who returns to their homeland the bodies of those who died elsewhere. While their lives are often tragically sad, these individuals are often humorous in their reflections, and each has such a distinct voice that you are not likely to forget any of them soon. Highly recommended for larger libraries and for all libraries with Chinese collections.--Melissa Aho, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2008-02-18:
In this rich, often harrowing oral history, Chinese writer (and notorious target of censors) Liao travels to the margins of Chinese society, interviewing 27 outsiders from China's forgotten classes. The book contains an incredible cast of characters: a grave robber, a composer, a leper, a professional mourner paid to wail at funerals, a human trafficker and a delusional peasant who has anointed himself emperor. These conversations, largely recorded from memory, showcase Liao's empathy for his subjects and a particular talent for getting into tight situations; on one occasion, the author is forced to leap out of a three-story building when he fears the Communist government is targeting him for talking to a Falun Gong supporter. Liao's research took 11 years, and his final product is a stunning series of portraits of a generation and class of individuals ignored in history books and unacknowledged in the accounts of the "new" China. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Revealing. . . . full of forbearance and forgiveness. . . . Each re-created interview...captures a particular individual at a crucial time in Chinese history." The New York Times Book Review "Stunning. . . . Revealing in its incidental details. . . . Liao brings us fascinating insights into the lives of all manner of workers....an addictive book." Bookforum "ReadingThe Corpse Walkeris like walking with Liao: Even though our feet are not blistered and our bodies are not starved, in the end we are shaken and moved." San Francisco Chronicle
"Revealing. . . . full of forbearance and forgiveness. . . . Each re-created interview...captures a particular individual at a crucial time in Chinese history." The New York Times Book Review "Stunning. . . . Revealing in its incidental details. . . . Liao brings us fascinating insights into the lives of all manner of workers....an addictive book." Bookforum "Reading The Corpse Walkeris like walking with Liao: Even though our feet are not blistered and our bodies are not starved, in the end we are shaken and moved." San Francisco Chronicle
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
The Corpse Walkerintroduces us to regular men and women at the bottom of Chinese society, most of whom have been battered by life but have managed to retain their dignity: a professional mourner, a human trafficker, a public toilet manager, a leper, a grave robber, and a Falung Gong practitioner, among others. By asking challenging questions with respect and empathy, Liao Yiwu managed to get his subjects to talk openly and sometimes hilariously about their lives, desires, and vulnerabilities, creating a book that is an instance par excellence of what was once upon a time called "The New Journalism."The Corpse Walkerreveals a fascinating aspect of modern China, describing the lives of normal Chinese citizens in ways that constantly provoke and surprise.
Main Description
The Corpse Walkerintroduces us to regular men and women at the bottom of Chinese society, most of whom have been battered by life but have managed to retain their dignity: a professional mourner, a human trafficker, a public toilet manager, a leper, a grave robber, and a Falung Gong practitioner, among others. By asking challenging questions with respect and empathy, Liao Yiwu managed to get his subjects to talk openly and sometimes hilariously about their lives, desires, and vulnerabilities, creating a book that is an instance par excellence of what was once upon a time called "The New Journalism." The Corpse Walkerreveals a fascinating aspect of modern China, describing the lives of normal Chinese citizens in ways that constantly provoke and surprise.
Unpaid Annotation
A compilation of twenty-seven extraordinary oral histories that opens a window, unlike any other, onto the lives of ordinary, often outcast, Chinese men and women. Liao Yiwu (one of the best-known writers in China because he is also one of the most censored) chose his subjects from the bottom of Chinese society: people for whom the "new" China--the China of economic growth and globalization--is no more beneficial than the old. Here are a professional mourner, a trafficker in humans, a leper, an abbot, a retired government official, a former landowner, a mortician, a feng shui master, a former Red Guard, a political prisoner, a village teacher, a blind street musician, a Falun Gong practitioner, and many others--people who have been battered by life but who have managed to retain their dignity, their humor, and their essential, complex humanity. Liao's interviews were given from 1990 to 2003.--From amazon.com.
Bowker Data Service Summary
This title introduces us to regular men and women at the bottom of Chinese society, most of whom have been battered by life but have managed to retain their dignity. We meet a professional mourner, a human trafficker, a public toilet manager, a leper and a grave robber amongst others.

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