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Outspoken Chinese writer, Murong Xuecun delivered an astonishing speech in Oslo this week. Delivered during Chinese literature week, an extract of the translated speech by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz is posted below.
I am a Chinese writer. Allow me to say a few words about my country. Everyone knows that in the past thirty years China has built countless skyscrapers, commissioned countless airports, and paved countless freeways. My country’s GDP is the world’s second largest and her products are sold in every corner of the planet. My compatriots can be seen ontour in London, New York and Tokyo wearing expensive clothes, chattering raucously. My compatriots also fill up casinos and line up to buy LV bags. People exclaim in amazement: China is rising, the Chinese are rich! But behind this facade of power and prosperity there are details of which many people are unaware, and it is precisely these details that make mycountry a very strange place.…
Living in China is like watching a play in a giant theatre. The plots are absurd and the scenarios are unbelievable— so absurd, so unbelievable that they are beyond any writer’s imagination.…
In my country, many innocent people disappear, and some people lose their freedom without ever being sentenced by a court. Some people attempt to have their grievances addressed at a higher level by following procedures prescribed in law. These people are branded “petitioners.” In my country, the word petitioner conveys the sense of a nuisance, a mentally ill person, a terrorist. To deal with these petitioners, the government mobilises a huge amount of resources to herd them home, jail them, and in a particularly creative measure, incarcerate them in insane asylums
Make the time to read the rest of the speech here.
This has been cross-posted from the New York Times with permission.
Word Crimes from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.
“The worst effect of the censorship is the psychological impact on writers,” Murong said. “When I was working on my first book, I didn’t care whether it would be published, so I wrote whatever I wanted. Now, after I have published a few books, I can clearly feel the impact of censorship when I write. For example, I’ll think of a sentence, and then realize that it will for sure get deleted. Then I won’t even write it down. This self-censoring is the worst.”
Censorship and its fear-fed sibling, self-censorship, frequently take on farcical qualities in China. One of the most eloquent speeches on this subject for a long time was given by a young Chinese writer, Murong Xuecun, last week. The 30-something author gave his talk after winning the 2010 People’s Literature Prize for his latest work in which he went underground to expose a pyramid scheme. Ironically he was blocked from speaking on the mainland, so he gave it several days later in Hong Kong.
In the speech he talked about how his prize-winning book, “The Missing Ingredient,” was delayed by several months because of a “rather peculiar editor” who in an effort to render the book politically safe required many farcical cuts and changes so much so that “readers of my book may think I’m mad,” he said.
Terms such as “Chinese peasants”, “stealth drone”, “Indian-flavoured farts”, and “South China” all, absurdly, had to go.
“I believe I am not alone; this is the situation faced by all of China’s writers,” he told his Hong Kong press audience. “The fear I feel is not just the fear felt by one writer, but by all of our writers.
“Our language has been cut into two parts: one safe, and the other risky. Some words are revolutionary, and others are reactionary; some words we may use, and others belong to our enemies.
“The only speakable truth is that we cannot speak the truth. The only acceptable viewpoint is that we cannot express a viewpoint. We cannot criticize the system, we cannot discuss current affairs, we cannot even mention distant Ethiopia. Sometimes I can’t help wondering: Is the Cultural Revolution really over?”
The speech in Chinese can be read on his blog here and in English translation here.