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Liao Yiwu to Receive the 2012 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association has chosen Chinese author Liao Yiwu to be the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The announcement was made by Prof. Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder, chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, at the start of the 2012 Buchtage Berlin (Berlin Book Days). The award ceremony will take place during the Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday, October 14, 2012, in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt, Germany and be broadcast live on the German public TV channel ARD. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000.

2012 Liao Yiwu

The Board of Trustees issued the following statement with regard to their choice: “The German Publishers and Booksellers Association is awarding its 2012 Peace Prize to Liao Yiwu. In doing so, the association and its members have chosen to honor a Chinese author who continues to wage an eloquent and fearless battle against political repression and who lends a clear and unmistakable voice to the downtrodden and disenfranchised of his country. In his prose and poetry, Liao Yiwu erects an evocative literary monument to those people living on the margins of Chinese society. The author, who has experienced first-hand the effects of prison, torture and repression, is an unwavering chronicler and observer who bears witness on behalf of the outcasts of modern China.”

Liao Yiwu was born on August 4, 1958 in Chengdu, the capital of the Chinese province of Sichuan. After a difficult childhood with no possibility of attending school on a regular basis, he worked initially as a kitchen hand and a truck driver. He eventually found work at a newspaper, where his talent as a poet was immediately recognized and soon lead to many national poetry awards. Still, many of his works were such that they could only be published in the underground literary scene. In 1987, these underground poems prompted Chinese officials to place Liao Yiwu on their official “black list” and he was banned from writing on several occasions.

On one evening in 1989, against the backdrop of mass demonstrations on Tiananmen Square, Liao Yiwu wrote the poem “Massacre,” in which he anticipated the Chinese army’s brutal crackdown against protesters – a crackdown that would happen the next day, June 4, 1989. He recorded his poem on cassette that very day and distributed copies throughout the country. In February 1990, he was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison for “disseminating counterrevolutionary propaganda.”

After his release, and with his only possession – a flute he learned to play in prison – Liao Yiwu earned a living as a street musician while under constant supervision by the police. In 1998, he assembled a collection of 60 interviews, each representing an encounter with a fellow prisoner or someone he had met while working as a street musician. This collection was published in an expurgated form by a Chinese publisher in 2001 under the title “Interviews with People from the Bottom Rung of Society.” The book went on to receive much critical praise and sell very well – that is until Chinese authorities prohibited its sale. In 2002, his book was smuggled to Taiwan and published in a three-volume unabridged form. In 2009, the work was also published in Germany in its original form under the title “Fräulein Hallo und der Bauernkaiser: Chinas Gesellschaft von unten.”

Although Liao Yiwu was finally able to acquire a passport after many unsuccessful attempts, he was nevertheless denied permission to travel to the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair, at which China was the guest country. He was also not permitted to travel to the literary festival in Cologne in spring 2010. An open letter to Germany’s Chancellor Merkel eventually made it possible for him to leave the country for the first time in September. After he was once again denied permission to leave China in early 2011, Liao Yiwu decided to make his way to Germany via Vietnam. In order to protect Liao Yiwu’s life, his German publisher waited to release “Für ein Lied und hundert Lieder” until the author had successfully fled his homeland. This book is a translation of the third version of recollections from his years of imprisonment. He was forced to write it over twice after his manuscripts were confiscated on two different occasions. The book went on to receive Germany’s Geschwister Scholl Prize.

In 2012, Liao Yiwu received a one-year scholarship as part of the DAAD’s Berlin artists program. At the end of the year, his latest work will be published in German under the title “Die Kugel und das Opium – Leben und Tod am Platz des Himmlischen Friedens.”  

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Berlin / Frankfurt am Main, June 21, 2012 

Media Contact:
Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels e.V.(German Publishers and Booksellers Association)Claudia Paul, Head of PR & CommunicationsTel: +49 (0) 69 1306-293, E-Mail:
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