Do you share our disdain for censorship? If so, it’s not too late to check out last week’s PEN International report on Chinese censorship, “Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China.” Launched on World Press Freedom Day as a culmination of five years of work, “the report is a frank assessment of the climate of freedom of expression in the world’s most populous state,” featuring firsthand accounts and essays from 10 Chinese dissident writers.
Murong Xuecun was one of the writers. Here’s an excerpt of his essay as it appeared in the Atlantic:
In 1931, the magazine Middle School Students asked Lu Xun what he would say if he had a chance to talk with one of its readers.
Lu Xun answered that he would tell the student, “Let me ask you: do we have freedom of speech? If the answer is no, don’t blame me for not saying anything. If I must say something, I would say that the first step is to fight for freedom of speech.”
81 years after Lu Xun’s death, his works have been deleted from textbooks and the mission he passed on to future generations has yet to be accomplished. Generations of Chinese have fallen on this narrow and thorny road — but when they look back, they realize they haven’t walked far. When we open our mouths and talk what we’re fighting for is still the very right to speak.
Preach on, Murong.
Salman Rushdie, who appeared at the release of PEN’s report, was interviewed by the Atlantic last week and had this to say:
But I feel that, in the end, China does want to have a more significant role in international affairs, it does want to be seen as a big player in the world, it wants to have authority, it wants to have respect, it wants to be treated as one of the great voices in the world today. They’re beginning to be aware that their behavior is damaging their reputation, though, and I think if you put sufficient pressure on authoritarian regimes they often see that it is in their own self-interest to ease up on repression.
The report is accompanied by an open letter undersigned by more than 100 literary and cultural figures, including Ai Weiwei, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, which states in part:
We cannot, however, listen to China’s great and emerging creative voices without hearing the silence of those whose voices are forcibly restrained…. We cannot appreciate the accomplishments of Chinese creators across disciplines without thinking of the works we are not able to enjoy because of censorship in the arts, in the press, and on the Internet—or of the many otherworks that cannot be imagined or created because of these constraints….
Our plea to China’s new leaders is simple. Respect and protect the right of our colleagues, and all of China’s citizens, to freedom of expression. Respect and protect the right of Chinese citizens to a free and independent press. Respect and protect the right of writers to write, publishers to publish, and artists of all disciplines to create and present their work without fear ofreprisal. Release all those unjustly imprisoned for exercising this most fundamental right.
Modern China is big, contradictory, heterogeneous, and protean. It deserves nuanced appraisal and, often, patience and understanding from those who study it. But not on this issue.
It is unbecoming for organizations to impose restrictions on creative and artistic expression; it is deplorable for governments to decree blanket embargos on topics they deem sensitive; yet in these cases, it is at least somewhat understandable, if not entirely justifiable, because freedom of speech, in the grander scheme of things, is a privilege rather than a right, one that only a minority of the world’s citizens can count themselves lucky to have. But it is downright dastardly and criminal for those with power to deprive a citizen of his or her livelihood simply for expressing an opinion. There is no room for nuance here. There is no understanding for those who would argue for Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment, or his wife’s house arrest. We will continue to reserve our worst — our crudest language, most visceral anger — for those who are deepest in the sordid, stinking praxis of censorship, those who would eviscerate ideas, cyberbully, and bowderlize content. Yes, freedom of speech has its limits and is a privilege, but we believe in and will fight for, even in this smallest of ways.
PEN International Launches Report on Creative Freedom in China (PEN)
The full report via ChinaFile
Amen, brother! Well said.
Absolutely goddamn right.
Anthony, this is one of the better articles you wrote!
Well said. The extra-legal house arrest of families of those imprisoned is in particular shameful. Guilty by association?
Premier Wen needs to be shut away then.
What Communist regime in history has ever allowed full, unrestricted freedom of speech?
The two are fundamentally at odds with one another and cannot coexist.
Either one or the other has to go. It’s that simple.
When has a communist regime ever allowed any freedom of speech at all? If they did, the first thing that would happen would be everyone complaining about the corrupt government and the way those in power exploit the people.
Then, either freedom of speech goes or the government goes.
“The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free.
In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.”
All Assange is doing is channelling Chomsky from a generation or two earlier. Read Manufacturing Consent for how we are all deluded by the media. I read it years ago, and believe it to some extent.
But, I don’t know what your point is. The reason people are allowed to go into the streets and protest about the shitty government but don’t in the US is basically because the government isn’t that shitty. In China, the government really is that shitty, that’s a pretty big difference.
In China, people would be out in the streets in a millisecond if they knew they would not be arrested, millions of them. The government is scared shitless of the people because they know that rage is right below the surface and could erupt at any time. And they create more rage with their policies and their actions all the time. Winning!
Remember the huge protests in the US 3 years ago of Hispanic workers? They are getting their amnesty bill here in a couple months, so the government is responsive. Remember the Occupy protesters? They have had effects in multiple areas.
In China one protest means people imprisoned and maybe tortured and no change in government policies except more repression. Pls stop with the false equivalence.
RhZ you’ve summed it up perfectly in your response.
And this: “The reason people are allowed to go into the streets and protest about the shitty government but don’t in the US is basically because the government isn’t that shitty. In China, the government really is that shitty, that’s a pretty big difference.”
This (almost verbatim) is something I say to people all time because it’s true. It’s like the flag burning controversy in the USA; the reason you wouldn’t want to burn the flag is because you can.
No body is saying the US is flawless but there is a qualitative difference with China. I also have a lot of sympathy for Chomsky and I admire the shit out of Assange, but let’s not try to replace one idealistic political utopia with another.
False equivalence is one of the major tactics of the 50 cent gang peeps. And its really irritating.
You know what else is really irritating? You always insinuating that I am 50 cent army. Are you really that stupid? Do you have any idea what my job is? I make a video show about underground rock music in Beijing, and I’d say it’s in the running for the most subversive program in China. Do you think I moonlight as a propagandist for 50 cents a post? Or even five dollars? Seriously, are you that fucking dumb?
I’m not making a false equivalency. I’m pointing out a) why freedom of speech is ALLOWED – that’s right, allowed – in the USA, and why it probably won’t be allowed in the same degree in China any time soon.
“In China, people would be out in the streets in a millisecond if they knew they would not be arrested, millions of them.”
That’s exactly right, and that’s exactly why it’s not going to happen in our lifetime. So put the pipe down and get real. Sure, in a perfect world everyone would be free to tell the government to fuck off, and the government would listen. But, um, look around you. Look at the horrible events that take place every goddamn day that are reported on right here on this blog. ‘Hey, let’s just lift censorship and make it all go away! Gee, if only Xi Jinping would read my comments, there would be real change!’
“Remember the huge protests in the US 3 years ago of Hispanic workers? They are getting their amnesty bill here in a couple months, so the government is responsive. Remember the Occupy protesters? They have had effects in multiple areas.”
You’re an idiot. The only “change” that happens in response to protests are scraps and lip service, the bare minimum that the government has to do to get people feel like they accomplished something. Then they go back to their jobs and their television sets until the next fashionable cause gets them off their asses. Rinse and repeat. Nothing important actually gets done or changes. You think the Mexicans have it all sorted out now? Or the banks? Haha, please. The banks get more blatant with their criminal activity by the day.
I agree with you 100% that China would be way better off with freedom of speech and a free press, but I’m not going to act like I and my home country are so superior because we were smart enough to have implemented those rights. Open your eyes and you’ll see that all countries are playing the same fucking game, they’re just in different positions on the board.
Well well someone is certainly quite sensitive. Who said anything about you? And what the fuck was that quote supposed to add to the debate if it was not a false equivalence? You make vague comments, don’t be surprised when they are interpreted. You don’t like it, be clearer then.
Meanwhile in the past 12 years the US has been quickly catching up, and don’t tell me I’m wrong. The US is sending militarized cops into people’s homes and the citizens just stand to the side and pat them on the back.
Sure you are right, but it will never ever be able to rise to the level of China, thank god. Basically because we are allowed to talk about it and complain and discuss and reach a conclusion, and if the government violates someone’s rights they can be sued and if the government pisses us off enough we can vote the suckers out. All the stuff that’s forbidden in China.