Worldwide Reading

WWR Li Bifeng Plakat

In the summer of 1992, in a vegetable garden on the roof of a shed housing inmates of the Sichuan Province Prison # 1, I spent three days alone with the old prisoner Zhang Fafu, who had been transferred to this prison at Nanchong from forced labor at a coal mine. Our task was to build a wall out of plastic parts and wire at the side where the roof garden faced the bathing pool, to prevent other prisoners from secretly watching the women taking their baths down below. I got this assignment at that time because my sentence was short, I was working at the kiosk of my unit and wasn’t considered a common criminal. So the cadre chose that old prisoner from the coal mine and me.

From the second day on he told me everything about himself. From his talking, I could feel the jolts in his soul. He had attended high school before Liberation in 1949, he loved reading and understood a lot of things; he even liked poetry. He asked me so often until I had no choice but to give him one of the poems I had written. A few days later, I was transferred. After I arrived at Prison # 3, someone from # 1 came to go over my accounts. That’s when I heard something happened to Zhang Fafu. He had taken the plastic parts from our wall, tied them to is arms and jumped from a building. He wasn’t dead, but he became a vegetable.

I don’t know if he read my poem. Later, when I was released from Prison # 3 upon completion of my sentence, I stuffed the original manuscript of this poem into a bamboo flute I had got from Liao Yiwu, and blocked the hole at the bottom with soap. This way I got to take the poem with me. All these years, whenever I think of Zhang Fafu, I think of our plastic wall. It’s not the same as the wall in my poem, but now I cannot separate the poem from Zhang Fafu.

Tr. MW, 2013

Translator’s note: Li Bifeng’s NOTE and the following poem ( are part of his novel Wings In The Sky (天空中的翅膀). One chapter is available on the LIBIFENG2012 WordPress site. The main characters are an old prisoner, a bird and a woman who lives in a shed not far from the prison with her daughter. The plot is rather interesting.


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