Banned Books Week 2022: In conversation with Xinran

Xinran has dedicated her career to highlighting the stories of Chinese people – and in particular Chinese women – set against the backdrop of an ever-changing political landscape. She started her career as the host of a call-in radio programme entitled “Words on the Night Breeze” which mainly focused on women’s stories. She has since gone on to publish nine books which have been translated into more than 40 languages. 

Her writing focuses on Chinese realities in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation (2008) gives first-hand accounts of historical events in an attempt to counteract the destruction of historical documents during the Cultural Revolution. Her most recent release The Promise: Tales of Love and Loss in Modern China (2019) follows Chinese women through four generations. 

Xinran has both experienced and observed censorship. And she highlights the ways in which Chinese censorship has changed over time with the introduction of new technologies and changing political dynamics.

The theme for Banned Books Week 2022 is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The initiative was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries in the United States. Throughout the week, partner organisations come together to highlight the value of free and open access to information. We unite in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. XINRAN’S READING LIST

Xinran has also shared this reading list for those who want to learn more about the current realities in mainland China. 

Feng Jicai

Born in Tianjin in 1942, Feng Jicai is a contemporary author, artist and cultural scholar who rose to prominence as a pioneer of China’s Scar Literature movement that emerged after the Cultural Revolution. 

Yu Hua

Yu Hua grew up during the Cultural Revolution and this is a recurring topic in his writing. His writing often includes detailed descriptions of violence. Yu Hua’s most prominent novels include Chronicle of a Blood Merchant and To Live. The latter was adapted for film by Zhang Yimou but it was subsequently banned in China. Adding to this, his nonfiction collection, China in Ten Words (2010), cannot be distributed legally in mainland China because of its edgy political content.

Feng Tang

Through novels and poetry, Feng Tang describes life in contemporary Beijing. is best known for his novels Trilogy of Beijing (2021)  and Oneness (2011). The latter explores the interplay between sexuality and religion. 

Fan Wu 

Fan Wu is a Chinese-American novelist and short story writer. She writes about China as well as Chinese immigrants in the US, with a focus on female characters. Her debut novel titled February Flowers (2007) is set on a Chinese college campus. 

Index’s summer magazine launch party takes a look at the Weimar Republic and the lessons for today


“What is said and what is written is unbelievably important,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the board of Index on Censorship, at the close of the recent launch party for the Summer 2019 edition of Index Magazine.

The summer 2019 edition, Judged: How Governments Use Power to Undermine Justice and Freedom, looks at attempts to undermine freedom of expression through attacks on the judiciary. The magazine covers issues ranging from new laws in Venezuela intended to limit freedom of the press to instances of self-censorship due to government control of content-sharing platforms in China to new technology created by journalists to check back against threats from politicians regarding the coverage of recent elections in South Africa.

Rachael Jolley, editor of Index magazine, explained that the idea behind the theme came from conversations she had with journalists in Italy covering areas with limited press freedom and hostile environments for journalists. She said, “one of the things that [the journalists] said kept them going was that there were still lawyers who were willing to stand up with them and defend them when they were attacked, when they had libel suits against them, when all the things that happen to them mean that they end up having to stand before a judge.”

This inspired Jolley to curate the latest edition of the magazine around legal issues, to address the legal fight for free speech behind the work of journalists to liberate the media under repressive regimes.

The keynote speaker of the evening was German writer Regula Venske, whose article What Does Weimar Mean to us 100 Years On? was published in the issue. Venske spoke about the history and ultimate downfall of the Weimar Republic, which is now known for fraught democracy and the promotion of freedom of expression, though Venske spoke about how attempts to preserve free speech in the republic were often complicated or insufficient. She walked the audience through some of the influential writing and art produced before the republic’s fall to Nazism.

To conclude, Venske quoted Weimar-era author and poet Erich Kästner: “You cannot fight the avalanche once it has developed into an avalanche, you have to crush the snowball.”

Venske added: “I think that is quite a good saying for the times we are now living in, though unfortunately, he did not leave a recipe for how one could prevent this. I think we need to keep on working for it.”

Phillips, the last speaker of the evening, lamented the state of media freedom in the multiple countries where right-wing leaders have recently come to power. He mentioned specifically the rise of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, two countries covered in the summer issue. “My time at Index has been marked not by the incredible march of progress but actually a reminder, pretty much every week, why what this organisation does is so important,” he said.

He applied Kästner’s quote to the work Index on Censorship continues to do around the globe. Like Kästner, he explained, Index works to warn the people before the snowballs represented by the arrest of a journalist or the censorship of an artwork become an avalanche of fascism.

“The avalanche starts long before you hear it,” Phillips concluded. “A large part of what we do is give the avalanche warning.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”107175″ img_size=”medium”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]The summer 2019 magazine podcast, featuring interviews with best-selling author Xinran; Italian journalist and contributor to the latest issue, Stefano Pozzebon; and Steve Levitsky, the author of the New York Times best-seller How Democracies Die.

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Contents: Judged: How governments use power to undermine justice and freedom

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”With contributions from Xinran, Ahmet Altan, Stephen Woodman, Karoline Kan, Conor Foley, Robert Harris, Stefano Pozzebon and Melanio Escobar”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Judged: How governments use power to undermine justice and freedom. The summer 2019 edition of Index on Censorship magazine

The summer 2019 Index on Censorship magazine looks at the narrowing gap between a nation’s leader and its judges and lawyers. What happens when the independence of the justice system is gone and lawyers are no longer willing to stand up with journalists and activists to fight for freedom of expression?

In this issue Stephen Woodman reports from Mexico about its new government’s promise to start rebuilding the pillars of democracy; Sally Gimson speaks to best-selling novelist Robert Harris to discuss why democracy and freedom of expression must continue to prevail; Conor Foley investigates the macho politics of President Jair Bolsonaro and how he’s using the judicial system for political ends;  Jan Fox examines the impact of President Trump on US institutions; and Viktória Serdült digs into why the media and justice system in Hungary are facing increasing pressure from the government. In the rest of the magazine a short story from award-winning author Claudia PineiroXinran reflects on China’s controversial social credit rating system; actor Neil Pearson speaks out against theatre censorship; and an interview with the imprisoned best-selling Turkish author Ahmet Altan.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Special Report: Judged: How governments use power to undermine justice and freedom”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Law and the new world order by Rachael Jolley on why the independence of the justice system is in play globally, and why it must be protected

Turkey’s rule of one by Kaya Genc President Erdogan’s government is challenging the result of Istanbul’s mayoral elections. This could test further whether separation of powers exists

England, my England (and the Romans) by Sally Gimson Best-selling novelist Robert Harris on how democracy and freedom of expression are about a lot more than one person, one vote

“It’s not me, it’s the people” by Stephen Woodman Mexico’s new government promised to start rebuilding the pillars of democracy, but old habits die hard. Has anything changed?

When political debate becomes nasty, brutish and short by Jan Fox President Donald Trump has been trampling over democratic norms in the USA. How are US institutions holding up?

The party is the law by Karoline Kan In China, hundreds of human rights lawyers have been detained over the past years, leaving government critics exposed

Balls in the air by Conor Foley The macho politics of Brazil’s new president plus ex-president Dilma Rousseff’s thoughts on constitutional problems

Power and Glory by Silvia Nortes The Catholic church still wields enormous power in Spain despite the population becoming more secular

Stripsearch by Martin Rowson In Freedonia

What next for Viktor Orbán’s Hungary? Viktoria Serdult looks at what happens now that Hungary’s prime minister is pressurising the judiciary, press, parliament and electoral system

When justice goes rogue by Melanio Escobar and Stefano Pozzebon Venezuela is the worst country in the world for abuse of judicial power. With the economy in freefall, journalists struggle to bear witness

“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs…” by Caroline Muscat It’s lonely and dangerous running an independent news website in Malta, but some lawyers are still willing to stand up to help

Failing to face up to the past by Ryan McChrystal argues that belief in Northern Ireland’s institutions is low, in part because details of its history are still secret

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Global View”][vc_column_text]Small victories do count by Jodie Ginsberg The kind of individual support Index gives people living under oppressive regimes is a vital step towards wider change[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”In Focus”][vc_column_text]Sending out a message in a bottle by Rachael Jolley Actor Neil Pearson, who shot to international fame as the sexist boss in the Bridget Jones’ films, talks about book banning and how the fight against theatre censorship still goes on

Remnants of war by Zehra Dogan Photographs from the 2019 Freedom of Expression Arts Award fellow Zehra Doğan’s installation at Tate Modern in London

Six ways to remember Weimar by Regula Venske The name of this small town has mythic resonances for Germans. It was the home of many of the country’s greatest classical writers and gave its name to the Weimar Republic, which was founded 100 years ago

“Media attacks are highest since 1989” by Natasha Joseph Politicians in South Africa were issuing threats to journalists in the run-up to the recent elections. Now editors have built a tracking tool to fight back

Big Brother’s regional ripple effect by Kirsten Han Singapore’s recent “fake news” law which gives ministers the right to ban content they do not like, may encourage other regimes in south-east Asia to follow suit

Who guards the writers? Irene Caselli reports on journalists who write about the Mafia and extremist movements in Italy need round-the-clock protection. They are worried Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini will take their protection away

China in their hands by Xinran The social credit system in China risks creating an all-controlling society where young people will, like generations before them, live in fear

Playing out injustice by Lewis Jennings Ugandan songwriter and politician Bobi Wine talks about how his lyrics have inspired young people to stand up against injustice and how the government has tried to silence him[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Culture”][vc_column_text]“Watch out we’re going to disappear you” by Claudia Pineiro The horrors of DIY abortion in a country where it is still not legal are laid bare in this story from Argentina, translated into English for the first time

“Knowing that they are there, helps me keep smiling in my cell” by Ahmet Altan The best-selling Turkish author and journalist gives us a poignant interview from prison and we publish an extract from his 2005 novel The Longest Night

A rebel writer by Eman Abdelrahim An exclusive extract from a short story by a new Egyptian writer. The story deals with difficult themes of mental illness set against the violence taking place during the uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Column”][vc_column_text]Index around the world – Speak out, shut out by Lewis Jennings Index welcomed four new fellows to our 2019 programme. We were also out and about advocating for free expression around the world[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Endnote”][vc_column_text]

End note – Hanging truth out to dry by Sally Gimson Documentary maker Maxim Pozdorovkin explains why propaganda these days is all about disorientation and creating a situation where it is hard to figure out what is true

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]Music has long been a form of popular rebellion, especially in the 21st century. These songs, provide a theme tune to the new magazine and give insight into everything from the nationalism in Viktor Orban’s Hungary to the role of government-controlled social media in China to poverty in Venezuela

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]The summer 2019 magazine podcast, featuring interviews with best-selling author Xinran; Italian journalist and contributor to the latest issue, Stefano Pozzebon; and Steve Levitsky, the author of the New York Times best-seller How Democracies Die.

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]