Today in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu. Says Leach:
The Corpse Walker is comprised of 27 stories of Chinese life told by those living “on the bottom rung.” The notion of a “bottom rung” is anathema to Communist Chinese, who insist everyone lives prosperously thanks to the Party. Liao, who collected these tales orally over several years, demonstrates this is far from the case. We hear from 27 people, including a professional mourner, a human trafficker, a public restroom attendant, a composer, a teacher and a retired party official. Their stories are a near-identical recitation of horrors: starvation, arrests, beatings, denunciations by neighbors, friends, and relatives at the endless “speak bitterness” meetings held by party officials. We hear about the famine that left people killing their youngest daughters and eating them, correctly observing that the children would have starved anyway. We hear from the mortuary worker who prepared many bodies for cremation, bodies missing chunks of flesh consumed by villagers so crazed with hunger they were willing eat of deceased neighbors. We hear from the retired party official, who witnessed peasants eating white clay, falling ill, and ingesting tung oil as a curative. We read of wholesale destruction of temples and ancient religious statuary.The full review is here.
Liao intends to inform as well as sicken us. He succeeds, but at a cost, for the book ultimately collapses beneath the weight of its message.