To exiled Chinese poet and essayist Bei Ling (貝嶺), censorship and self-censorship are like a fatal disease. They destroy an author’s feelings, critical faculties and creative power, he said.
The remark came in the
wake of a decision by organizers of a symposium titled China and the World, which took place on Saturday and yesterday in Frankfurt, to meet Chinese participants’ demands and not invite him and Dai Qing (戴晴),
a journalist critical of the
The snub is “disgraceful” and tantamount to censorship, Bei said.
He traveled to Frankfurt anyway. Precisely censorship — the insidious and in part unconscious way it spreads — was to be his subject at the symposium, which aims to promote better understanding of China and its writers ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair from Oct. 14 to Oct. 18.
Bei had plenty to say in Frankfurt about the lack of freedom of expression in China, and the official Chinese guests want to prevent him from doing so.
“There still isn’t a single non-government television station, radio station, newspaper or publishing house that is completely independent of the state,” read a statement he prepared for the symposium.
“During the past 20 years in China, a very subtle and extensive system of checks at various levels has been developed,” Bei wrote. “The responsible departments in the publishing houses scrutinize works once, twice, three times — sometimes as many as five or six times.”
After that, municipal and provincial press offices have to approve publication. If an author’s book fails just one examination, it cannot be printed. Publishing houses bringing out books that are “politically incorrect,” “banned” or “a threat to state security” are punished or even shut down.
“To get a book published, authors have to choose their words carefully and censor their topics themselves,” noted Bei, who was arrested in 2000 for “publishing illegally,” released with the help of the US and expelled from China.
“Self-censorship by Chinese authors, journalists and editors kills the innocence of their souls and harms their creativity,” Bei said, adding that he too had had a pair of scissors in his mind when he worked in China.
“Every author in China knows exactly what he’s permitted to write and what he’s not permitted to write,” he said, including those authors whose books will be displayed at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest. China is the guest of honor this year.
“Self-censorship is the prerequisite for writers’ survival and success, particularly novelists,’” Bei remarked. Authors, journalists and editors who go along with the system are “consciously or unconsciously being accomplices” to the state supervision, he said.
Bei knows from personal experience that an author, once blacklisted, can never publish again in China. Today he lives in Boston and publishes Tendency (傾向), a Chinese exile literary journal, in Taiwan.
Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China will practically have dueling stands at the book fair. Taiwan’s stand will be carefully separated from China’s despite Chinese leaders’ insistence that the country is a part of China.
The Taiwanese section of the fair will display books not published in China. There will be hundreds of them by people including Gao Xingjian (高行健), the only writer in Chinese to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (2000) and now a French citizen. And Wang Lixiong (王力雄), who with his wife, Woeser, a Tibetan writer critical of the Chinese government, lives in Beijing under the watchful eye of the state security apparatus.
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