Li Bifeng’s story, told by Liao Yiwu

selected form Testimonials (《六四--我的證詞》2011)

On a regular day, our dinner was served at five o’clock and between afterwards, inmates could relax and move about inside our compound freely. Those with music talents used the time to indulge in their hobbies inside the dorm. A middle-aged flautist performed his usual “Soldiers Return from Shooting Practice,” a revolutionary tune from the Cultural Revolution. A much older man played erhu, a two-stringed fiddle and his favorite was “The Water in the River,” a legendary piece about a heartbroken woman who mourned the death of her husband in ancient China. The erhu player swayed his head and looked caught up in the music, as if he were playing it for the first time. Two inmates liked to amuse others by singing contemporary love songs, most of which were written for female vocalists. When the sex-starved prisoners belted them out in their hoarse voices, it gave me goose bumps.

During this time, LBF and I would stay away from the chaotic entertainment center and trot around in the yard, where a small group of inmates were strolling or squatting in the corners for chats. We soon made the daily trot our compulsory homework. In the early summer evenings, I spent hours in the heat outside, the moon splattering on the walls like pieces of sparking shards of glasses. In one of those leisure moments, I asked about his face, one side of which was slightly misshapen causing his chin to tilt at an odd angle. “Were you born this way?” I said, but he shook his head.

“Those are souvenirs from my various border-crossing adventures,” LBF said dismissively.

“During the student protest movement,” he continued, “I delivered speeches on the street in Chengdu and distributed many of my anti-government poems. After the crackdown, I escaped but the local government put me on its most wanted list. So, I fled to Yunnan province with several friends. While seeking shelter in a temple, we became acquainted with a monk, who constantly took people across the border to Myanmar. We paid him money and he promised to take us. After hiking through the mountains for several days, we finally stepped out of China. But, after the monk left, we got lost inside a forest in Myanmar. Soon, my friends also inexplicably disappeared. I was left alone in the dark woods, and for hours, I couldn’t even see the sky. I went around in circles and couldn’t find a way out. I was soaked with sweat, and clouds of mosquitoes attacked me like little hand grenades. When the mosquitoes showed up, I knew it was approaching evening and I was sure that I would be eaten alive by wild beasts. Then, a voice sounded in the thick leaves. ‘Don’t move,’ it said. I couldn’t believe someone was speaking Mandarin to me. I felt my head exploding–I was shaking all over and my poor legs suddenly lost control and buckled. I knelt on the ground. But, don’t laugh when I tell you this, I was so scared that I had peed my pants. After spending all that money and effort, I ended up getting caught. Suddenly I heard the same voice again: ‘Raise your hands above your shoulders. Bow your head. Toss out your weapons.’”

“So, you ran around in circles and accidentally stepped back into China?” I asked. “No, I wasn’t that stupid. I was still in Myanmar.”
“How come the guard spoke Mandarin?” I asked.

“I ran into the ‘People’s Army,’ a guerilla group affiliated with the Myanmar Communist Party. It was very active in the 1960s and 70s and attracted many young radical Chinese who were sent down to the rural areas in Yunnan province. They crossed the border and joined the guerrilla forces, hoping to overthrow the government in Myanmar and spread Communism in the region,” LBF explained. “”The ‘People’s Army’ kept close contacts with the Chinese border police. My captors tied me up, blindfolded me and handed me over to the Chinese border police on the same night. I was detained in an office first, where the mosquitoes continued to feast on my flesh. The next morning, a Chinese soldier used one end of a long rope to tie up both of my hands and connect the other end with the back of a tractor. Just like that, I ran after the tractor on the winding mountain path, like a trafficked slave.” He held up his wrists as an illustration, and continued. “Sometimes, when I tripped over a bump, the tractor would drag me along for a long period, my body scraping against the muddy surface. I wouldn’t be able to get up until the tractor slowed down on an uphill road. One time, I was knocked out by a roadblock. When I woke up again, I was at a detention center, where the border police turned me over to the local police. Four men pulled me to an empty space in the yard and punched me in the face over and over again. That’s how my good looks were ruined.”

LBF would retell this horrific story often. He was a performance artist, and craved public attention.

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2 thoughts on “Li Bifeng’s story, told by Liao Yiwu

  1. Pingback: African/Black America - Liberal writer Li Chengpeng was punched and threatened with a knife at his …

  2. Pingback: New York - Liberal writer Li Chengpeng was punched and threatened with a knife at his …

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