A Genocidal War Waged by a Gigantic Empire Against a Tiny Poet

Liao Yiwu, October 6, 2020 

As of today, poet Wang Zang (王藏) has been incarcerated for 130 days and his wife (王丽芹) for 112 days. It’s unclear who is taking care of their four children. It appears that all news about them has been cut off. — The Editors

Wang Zang

In the middle of the night on May 30, 2020, more than fifty armed police surrounded an ordinary residential building in Chuxiong City, Yunnan Province (云南楚雄), and arrested Wang Zang, an avant-garde poet of the post-1985 generation, on charges of being suspected of “inciting subversion of state power.”

The sky was full of stars, and downstairs the courtyard was full of police cars. The militarized lackeys of the state swarmed through the corridors and elevator of Wang’s stairwell, as well as those on the left and right of his, surging upwards like a tide, forming an all-encompassing dragnet within a few minutes. When loud banging rang out at his door, Wang Zang and his wife Wang Liqin, who had just laid down to sleep, sprang out of bed and hurriedly got dressed. Their four children were also jolted awake, their panicked crying  so loud as to shake the roof. Wang Zang rushed out of the bedroom, leaned against the door, took out his phone and started filming, while his wife, Wang Liqin, hugged the children tightly.

Those outside called for the door to be opened, but Wang Zang wouldn’t. There was loud banging on the door. Wang Zang cursed them as robbers. Before he’d finished yelling “robber” a fifth time, the door came out of its frame and slammed down on the floor with a crash. In an instant, five thugs pinned Wang Zang to the ground, twisting his arms behind his back and handcuffing them together. As the police  held him down with their elbows and knees, Wang Zang cried in pain and momentarily passed out. When Liqin saw this she was filled with terror, screaming “all you—”,  only to be cut off as she was pushed to the ground and gagged. The children, having lost their mother’s sheltering embrace, hid in the floor-to-ceiling curtains and continued to cry loudly. And this was all just too much. The entire building, the entire residential block, which had been absolutely silent up till then, now suddenly awakened and seemed to be boiling up like an extinct volcano coming to life, as hundreds of people rapidly got out of bed to see what was happening. So as to warn everyone to not come close, police sirens now ripped through the night.

Wang Zang’s mother, his younger brother, and his wife’s younger sister, rushed to help but were also arrested. The whole family, six adults, and four children, were all sent to the police station to spend the night with Wang Zang. Everyone had their mobile phones confiscated and their WeChat accounts deleted to prevent contact with the outside world. When released the next afternoon, the station chief was sure to warn everyone: “You’re forbidden to disclose any information about Wang Zang; if you do, you’ll be severely punished.”

But as the mother of four children, and with their father—the pillar of the family—locked up, Wang Liqin had little choice but to ask for outside help. As her cell phone had been seized, she used Wang Zang’s brother’s spare cell phone to send an SOS message over the Great Firewall on Twitter, to which she also appended a video of their four children (the youngest is three years old and the oldest ten) shouting “Daddy come home” in unison — as she had done six years before, when Wang Zang was imprisoned for nine months for gathering together a dozen artists in Beijing’s Songzhuang district and holding an umbrella to take pictures in support of the Umbrella Revolution during the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. Then he was not allowed to sleep for five days and four nights, torture that caused a heart attack from which he almost died. When news of this came out, Wang Liqin was thunderstruck and in desperation, she dangled her then infant child from her chest, held high a placard with “Wang Zang is not guilty” written on it, and together with their other two children, called out the slogan “Return our dad” in the Art Village of Songzhuang. The demonstration alarmed the authorities. We don’t know who it was in the leadership who briefly located his consciences, but Wang Zang, who already had charges brought against him, was released a few days later.

But this time, during the extraordinary period of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the police say “it won’t go so easy.”

On June 7 of this year, one week after Wang Zang was arrested, Wang Liqin was also arrested on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power. The evidence against Wang Zang is his online texts from 2014 to the present, including a large number of modern poems, one of which has only two lines:

I’d like to detain you a little longer
that little longer gives rise to feelings of home

There’s also “A Homicidal Maniac,” from his collection of poems, “I’ve Finally Come Down With a Mental Illness”:

As a homicidal maniac
incessantly killing one self’s
the best thing ever
thus dodging severe legal punishment
and the police baton
while still triumphantly
winning a new life

There’s also the poem “A Loathing of Breathing”:

I hate the air
The air contains
blades I can’t see
I loathe breathing
Each breath of each moment of each day
forever inhaling
invisible blades
carving out wounds
to the heart

I wonder how many Chinese people will have sympathetic responses to Wang Zang’s poems? At least it must resonate with the police comrades, headed by Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, from the Party Central to the local levels, otherwise these poems would not be evidence of “inciting subversion of the country.” More than two months before his arrest this year, Wang Zang crossed the Great Firewall to his Facebook page and sent me the poem “Kill Yourself Quick.” At the time, Tsinghua University’s  Professor Xu Zhangrun’s now famous article “Angry People No Longer Fear” had been circulating for a while, so I changed the title of the poem to “Fearful People Kill Yourselves Quickly,” which I quoted in the third chapter of my new book When the Wuhan Virus Comes:

I fear I’ll lose this one remaining right
I must kill myself quickly
otherwise one day I’ll be killed
then deemed by a judge to be
a suicide
Isn’t this what’s called
to die dissatisfied?
What’s more
only I can
kill myself completely
If someone else kills me
I’ll still come alive in his dreams

Perhaps these razor-sharp poems offended the network administrator, and so much so that the author must be punished, but the author’s wife has nothing to do with the poems and has not participated in any political activities. She was convicted only for publicly asking for help and telling others her “husband was arrested” – and this clearly showed criminal disdain of the earlier police prohibition: “You’re forbidden to disclose any information about Wang Zang, and if you do you’ll be severely punished.”

Following on, Wang Zang’s brother was arrested and has since disappeared, as he not only flouted the ban, but also argued with the police: “What should I do when, with their parents taken away, the four children starve to death?”

Then, the younger sister of Wang Zang’s wife was arrested, the only fish that had slipped through the net in “the genocidal war waged by this gigantic empire against a tiny poet.” One day, heartbroken, on the spur of the moment, she had left off caring for Wang Zang’s mother and the four children, and ventured over the Great Firewall  to publish the two “Arrest Notices” of Wang Zang and his wife on a new Twitter account, causing an uproar.

In this way, the entire family has been effectively arrested for “violating the law and leaking information,” and all communication with any of them has been cut off since then. There is also no news of Wang Zang’s mother or the couple’s four children. The material support provided by human rights activists everywhere, including rice noodles, cooking oil, salt, clothes, and socks sent to the children, has disappeared without a trace. Some have tried to approach the corridor on which the children live but have been forcibly driven off by the police. As a literary friend who has never met Wang Zang, I wrote on Facebook:

First arrest the poet; next grab the poet’s wife;

Then arrest the poet’s brother, and seize the wife’s younger sister last night;

The poet’s dad died at 57.

The poet’s mother, an old woman both poor and sick, is the four orphan’s only support.

Will they arrest the poet’s mother too?

They’ve taken everything from the children and seem to be trying to make them lose their parents forever. Don’t be surprised if one day someone finds the four of them fallen dead on a street, in a river, under a bridge, or in the middle of a field. They do this sort of thing in Hong Kong and Xinjiang…

And all this will pass. All sins will be forgotten. The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 will be forgotten (the youngest victim was all of nine years old); the Umbrella Movement of 2014 will be forgotten; the “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” of 2019 will be forgotten, thousands of Hong Kong children will be killed, raped, go missing and then be forgotten, the Xinjiang brainwashing camps will be forgotten, as will the hundreds of Buddhists in Tibet who’ve self-immolated. The people of the future will not remember the names of protestors and victims, so many names wiped away, as many names as there are stars in the sky. No one will be able to remember these stars or the names of the children sacrificed in the name of freedom…

Given their rare courage and talent, the German President Joachim Gauck and his wife once met with Wang Zang’s family at the embassy in Beijing and took a group photo with them. I saw it at the time and was happy for him—as President Gauck was once the most influential human rights pastor in the former East Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. For many years, he has enjoyed the highest prestige among the German people — in my efforts to rescue Liu Xiaobo and his wife, I frequently corresponded with President Gauck and his wife — I thought he wielded a super international umbrella of protection, but who would have thought “when the nest is overturned, no egg stays unbroken.” This empire of communism, seemingly on the verge of collapse due to the novel coronavirus, has gone crazy from top to bottom.

And the most frenzied of all is the “great, glorious and correct” emperor of our times, Xi Jinping, who has made enemies on all sides.

September 21, 2020

Liao Yiwu is a writer, musician, and poet from Sichaun, China. He is the author of The Corpse WalkerGod Is Red, and For a Song and a Hundred Songs, a memoir of the four years he spent in prison after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. His work has been published in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. He has received numerous awards, including the prestigious 2012 Peace Prize awarded by the German Book Trade and the Disturbing the Peace Award given by the Václav Havel Library Foundation. Liao escaped from China in July 2011 and currently lives in Berlin, Germany. (from Simon & Schuster)

Translated by Michael Martin Day. The original translation has been lightly edited for clarity.

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