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

On October 14, 2012, the Chinese writer Liao Yiwu was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today at a ceremony held in front of 1,000 invited guests at Frankfurt’s Church of St. Paul. Among those in attendance were Federal President Joachim Gauck and Bundestag President Norbert Lammert. The laudatory speech was given by journalist, literary critic and author Felicitas von Lovenberg.

2012 Liao Yiwu

“This empire must break apart”, argued Liao Yiwu in his acceptance speech. “A country that massacres little children must break apart – that is in keeping with the Chinese tradition”. According to Liao, people throughout the world are convinced that China’s   economic boom will necessarily bring with it political reforms, turning a dictatorship into a democracy. “As a result, all countries that once imposed sanctions on China because of the Tiananmen massacre now want to be the first to shake hands and make deals with the executioners. Even though these very executioners are still detaining and killing people, new blood stains are still being added to the old ones, and new atrocities are still being committed that make the old ones pale in comparison. In the process, simple people, who must live their lives between blood and atrocity, lose what little is left of decency”, maintained Liao Yiwu.

And his critique went further: “Under the guise of free trade, Western consortia make common cause with the executioners, piling up more and more dirt. The influence of this value system of dirt, which places profit ahead of everything else, is getting out of hand around the world”. Liao argued that China‘s value system has long since collapsed in on itself, and the only thing still holding it together is the profit incentive. “At the same time, these vile chains of profit are so far-reaching and intertwined that the free world of economic globalisation is bound to become hopelessly entangled in them”, he noted.

In her laudatory remarks honouring Liao Yiwu, Felicitas von Lovenberg argued that “Liao Yiwu embodies a resistance performed by heart. Indeed, it is based ‘on a terror located at a deeper level than the long confinement and the physical agony’. It is the fear of being forgotten, of having lived and suffered in vain – a fear he shares with all those affected by the events on Tiananmen Square”. She went on to call his way of writing an act of self-respect and a means of reclaiming his own dignity. “His work being widely read is the only guarantee that his dignity can never again be taken from him”, noted Felicitas von Lovenberg. 

“For the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, it is a special pleasure to be able to honour Liao Yiwu as a ‘writer of the people’ in the truest sense of the word. He is someone who has eloquently and unflinchingly given voice to those among his people who suffer repression and oppression”, noted Prof. Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder, Chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, in his welcome speech. He argued further that peace is created whenever the “right” word is found – and this word is always one that leads out into the open, a word that does not at all intimidate, restrict, denounce or destroy. “And wherever such words are present, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association sees plenty of reason to bolster them by awarding the Peach Prize”, argued Honnefelder.

The German Publishers and Booksellers Association has handed out the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair each year since 1950. Among the previous recipients are Amos Oz, Teddy Kollek, Albert Schweitzer, Astrid Lindgren, Václav Havel, Siegfried Lenz, Assia Djebar, Susan Sontag, David Grossman and, last year, Boualem Sansal. The prize carries a purse of €25,000.