London Book Fair (c) ehlingmedia 2008

London Book Fair (c) ehlingmedia 2008

In an open letter to the British Council, the Independent Chinese PEN Centre has protested against the invitation of the Chinese censorship authority to organise the Chinese participation in the London Book Fair. We document this letter and join in the protest.

Dear Madams/Sirs

It has come to our attention that for this month’s London Book Fair that you have invited the Administration of Press and Publication of the People’s Republic of China (GAPP-PRC), which has long banned the works written by a large number of dissident writers, among them Dr. Liu Xiaobo, laureate of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The GAPP-PRC has carefully selected 180 publishers and 21 official writers to present its own achievement in government-approved and censored literatures. In order to give English authors and readers a broader understanding of the situation of Chinese literature and Chinese writers, we would like name only a few writers whose works have been completely banned and who had to serve in prison for their writings in China. Like Liu Xiaobo, they have lost their freedom to write as well as their personal freedom, which is why we believe they need all more the support from the British Council. We hope that through your support to introduce, cite and spread their literary works – fiction, verse and prose, as well as their writings which have been labelled and condemned as crimes – to their British colleagues and the British public. Among them are many PEN members and honorary PEN members, including the literary critic and poet Liu Xiaobo, presently serving his 11-year imprisonment, and his wife Liu Xia, a poet who has been held under house arrest for a year and a half; Zhu Yufu, a writer recently sentenced to seven years in prison mainly for a poem he wrote after his release from a 9-year imprisonment; Yang Tongyan (aka Yang Tianshui), a novelist and poet serving his 12-year sentence in jail after a previous 10-year imprisonment; Shi Tao, a journalist and poet serving his 10-year imprisonment; Nurmuhemmet Yasin, an Uighur novelist and poet serving his 10-year imprisonment; Tan Zuoren, an environmentalist and writer serving his 5-year imprisonment; Zhang Jianhong (aka Li Hong), a poet and novelist who died soon after his release on medical parole after suffering complete paralysis due to his stay in prison; Dr. David Tsui (aka Xu Zerong), an Oxford scholar who was released last year after serving 11 years in prison; Yu Jie, an author who has been forced to take asylum in the United States this year after he was silenced by brutal beatings and tortures for his book for a period of over one year; Liao Yiwu, a poet and author who has been forced into exile in Germany last year; Zhou Qing, a writer of Munich City whose works have been banned in China; Jiao Guobiao, a Beijing-based author whose works have been banned in China, and many others. Particularly, we wish British and international writers and visitors of the London Book Fair to hear the voice of Ms. Woeser, a Tibetan writer restricted at her home in Beijing, to help the general public understand the tragic events of continuous and large-scale self-immolations in Tibet, while dozens of Tibetan writers and scholars who have raised their voice about the political situation in Tibet, have been imprisoned there, including Domal Kyab, Tashi Rabten, Jangtse Donkho, Buddha, Kalsang Jinpa, Dokru Tsultrim, Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang and Kunga Tseyang. In PEN’s case lists alone there are over 40 writers imprisoned in China for their writings.

The British Council has emphasized that the Chinese writers are being invited for their writings in and about China, in order to broaden the understanding of Chinese literature in Britain and to promote cultural exchange between the two countries. We cannot but ask: to understand Chinese literature, should the British people rely on the recommendations by the Chinese government alone? Is there no need to learn about the authors who will never be able to get a recommendation from the government and whose works have been banned in China? Should Václav Havel have been ignored because he was imprisoned while his works had been banned by the former Czechoslovakian authorities? Should Joseph Brodsky’s creations not have been considered a part of Russian literature when he was jailed in the former Soviet Union or after he was forced into exile? Should Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie no longer be able to promote cultural exchange between the United Kingdom and India? We believe that such a view, which the British Council is now running the risk of emphasizing, is unfair to the many writers who have been banned, imprisoned in, or exiled from China. London is the birthplace of PEN International. It is in the British tradition of humanism to be concerned about all the writers who are politically persecuted and to promote their release from prison. It is on this basis that we sincerely request the British Council to draw attention to the situation of the writers whose works are banned in China.

We have also noted that you are using the term “Chinese literature”. As the official, government approved writers generally represent the government, the official literature allowed by GAPP-PRC is only a very limited part of Chinese literature, mainly representing so-called “socialist literature with Chinese characteristics”. It cannot but reflect far less than a full view of Chinese literature. Chinese literature must include independent literature, beyond official censorship and banning, heretical literature, underground literature, prison literature and exile literature. Therefore, please do not support the Chinese government’s GAPP-PRC’s misleading presentation for British authors and readers.

A society where writers have lost their human rights and professional freedom under the conditions restricted by their government is not a free society. If the British Council wishes to promote an authentic cultural exchange in a free and civilized way, please do not disregard the independent writers whose works are dedicated to shaping a Chinese civil society, especially those who has lost freedom and whose works have been banned by GAPP-PRC to present at the Book Fair.

We are looking forward to hearing from you.
Kind regards,

Signed by
Independent Chinese PEN Centre