Issue 189, Summer 2009
June 4, 1989
A massacre took place in the capital city of the People’s Republic of China. The size of it shocked the world. Nobody knows precisely how many innocent people lost their lives. The government put the number of “collateral deaths” at two hundred or less. But many Chinese believe that it was more like three thousand innocent students and residents who were slain.
I didn’t witness the killings in Tiananmen Square. I was home in Fuling, a small mountain town well known for its pickled and shredded turnips. When I heard the news, I was outraged. I composed an epic poem, “Massacre,” to commemorate the government’s brutality against its people. With the help of a visiting Canadian friend, I made a tape, chanting my poem into an old toothless tape recorder. My wife Axia was also present.
June 4, 1990
It was a sultry, gloomy day. I was locked up inside a detention center operated by the Chongqing Municipal Public Security Bureau. I had survived the initial blitz of constant interrogations, which had lasted twenty days. I was packed into a cell with several dozen common criminals. My head had gone bald on the top. Waves of lightning cut across the sky like giant saws. I muttered to myself: “Time flies. It’s been a year already.”
A detainee who had been assigned to clean the hallway came in and hastily slipped me a tiny piece of folded-up paper. I unfolded it. It was a note from Liu Daheng: “Bearded Liao, I’m hungry. Could you scrounge a wheat bun and pass it on to me? It would be even better if you could get me two cigarettes.” Liu was in my crew. They arrested us while we were making a movie about the Tiananmen massacre. I don’t remember what I was able to get for him to eat. I think it was half of a cold bun that I had saved.
June 4, 1991
I lay stuck between two death-row inmates. Their shackles clanked loudly each time they turned their bodies. All night long, I floated in and out of bad dreams.
It had been a bad year for prisoners. The flood in Anhui Province affected food supplies nationally. At the detention center in Chongqing, our food portions became smaller. Eventually, our daily meal was reduced to two pieces of sweet potato and some pumpkin or plain potato, which had been boiled to a gruel. We would close our eyes and stuff it into our throats. There was neither oil nor salt. The pumpkins were yellowish and the potatoes were white. Soon, the stuff would exit from the other end, undigested. We were hungry all the time. Two dozen detainees were crammed into a cell as small as thirty or forty feet square, so we didn’t have room to do anything else except sit side by side on a long wooden plank all day long. Our waists had thickened from malnutrition, as if we were corrupt government officials who had been wined and dined all the time. Each time we stood up, we wobbled, our legs shaking.
June 4, 1992
I lay half awake and half asleep, still stuck between two death-row inmates. I had gotten used to them. No matter how frequently they turned around with their clanking shackles, I slept as soundly as a pig.
Several inmates had been released earlier for good behavior. My charges had been reduced. I was no longer charged with organizing a large-scale counterrevolutionary group. My crimes had been changed to “engaging in individual counterrevolutionary activities,” and the government had sentenced me to four years in jail. If I could deduct the time I had already served at the detention center, freedom seemed to be not too far away.
I had attempted two suicides. The guards had punished me many times by tying both of my hands behind my back and leaving me in a dark cell for as long as twenty-three consecutive days. They prodded me with their electric batons. They also tortured me by poking my asshole with their batons while kicking and punching me. I was constantly on edge as death-row inmates were taken away to the execution ground. I looked like a ghost.