The Magazine

Chinese Lesson

The other side of life in the People's Republic.

Jul 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 43 • By ELLEN BORK
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The title comes from stories Liao has heard about "corpse walkers," people hired to return bodies to their home provinces for burial. Liao remained skeptical until an old family friend assured him the stories are true. In the 1950s, he tells Liao, "I was strolling along the village road when a bulky, black object suddenly passed me, sending a chill down my spine. The thing was covered with a huge inky-colored robe." A guide walked ahead with a lantern, strewing fake money to ease the way into the next world. Underneath the robe "there are two bodies: the corpse and a living person who carries the dead one on his back."

Does the corpse walker of the title represent the Chinese people, carrying the putrefying corpse of the Communist party, or the souls of its dead victims? It's not hard to see why the party has found an enemy in Liao. Unlike him, however, it does not see its enemies as teachers.

Ellen Bork works on human rights at Freedom House.