“Walking Out on China”

Chinese wrtier Liao Yiwu made news a few months ago by going into exile in Germany during the tail end of the Jasmine Crackdown here in China. In the New York Times he relates the story of his escape- the entire thing is worth a read, but here are some bits:

Until earlier this year, I had resisted the urge to escape. Instead, I chose to stay in China, continuing to document the lives of those occupying the bottom rung of society. Then, democratic protests swept across the Arab world, and posts began appearing on the Internet calling for similar street protests in China.

An old-fashioned writer, I seldom surf the Web, and the Arab Spring simply passed me by. Staying on the sidelines did not spare me police harassment, though. When public security officers learned that my books would be published in Germany, Taiwan and the United States, they began phoning and visiting me frequently.

In March, my police handlers stationed themselves outside my apartment to monitor my daily activities. “Publishing in the West is a violation of Chinese law,” they told me. “The prison memoir tarnishes the reputation of China’s prison system and ‘God Is Red’ distorts the party’s policy on religion and promotes underground churches.” If I refused to cancel my contract with Western publishers, they said, I’d face legal consequences.

Then an invitation from Salman Rushdie arrived, asking me to attend the PEN World Voices Festival in New York. I immediately contacted the local authorities to apply for permission to leave China, and booked my plane ticket. However, the day before my scheduled departure, a police officer called me to “have tea,” informing me that my request had been denied. If I insisted on going to the airport, the officer told me, they would make me disappear, just like Ai Weiwei.

I kept my plan to myself. I didn’t follow my usual routine of asking my police handlers for permission. Instead, I packed some clothes, my Chinese flute, a Tibetan singing bowl and two of my prized books, “The Records of the Grand Historian” and the “I Ching.” Then I left home while the police were not watching, and traveled to Yunnan. Even though it was sweltering there, I felt like a rat in winter, lying still to save my energy. I spent most of my time with street people. I knew that if I dug around, I could eventually find an exit.

WITH my passport and valid visas from Germany, the United States and Vietnam, I began to move. I shut off my cellphone after making brief contacts with my friends in the West, who had collaborated on the plan.

At 10 a.m. on July 2, I walked 100 yards to the border post, fully prepared for the worst, but a miracle occurred. The officer checked my papers, stared at me momentarily and then stamped my passport. Without stopping, I traveled to Hanoi and boarded a flight to Poland and then to Germany.

After I settled in, I called my family and girlfriend, who were questioned by the authorities. News about my escape spread fast. A painter friend told me that he had gone to visit Ai Weiwei, who is still closely watched. When my friend mentioned that I had mysteriously landed in Germany, Old Ai’s eyes widened. He howled with disbelief, “Really? Really? Really?”

China’s loss, Germany’s gain.

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Filed under exile, Jasmine Revolution

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