19 days


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.”

More from Liao Yiwu at The Paris Review here.