Writer’s BlockThe government tightens the leash on the Internet.
There is a Chinese idiom about a man who buried a sum of silver underground and, worried that passersby would find it, placed a sign next to the plot that read “ci di wu yin san bai liang,” or “There is not 300 liang of silver here.” Needless to say, the next day his silver was gone.
I wonder if the censorship bureau understands this parable because one thing everyone in China should know by now is that if you ever come across a website that terminates your Internet connection, start digging.
Recently, many writers have been weighing in on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and the 20th anniversary of an event that’s received much less publicity. NPR has three interviews with writers from three very different generations: Jiang Rong, 63 (“I criticized China’s politics, but not directly. What I criticized was deeper, and that was acceptable to the authorities.”), Yu Hua, 49 (“[I use] absurdity to describe absurd times.”), and Guo Jingming, 25 (“I don’t know much about my parents’ generation, and I don’t want to know.”), who, for better or worse, are representative of their time and the events that have shaped them.
Currently, the fastest way to get your Amazon.com connection terminated is to click on the link to Zhao Ziyang’s memoir. In all fairness, China has been surprisingly open about the things you can read on Amazon. But this apparently strikes a nerve, even though the government has formally and publicly dismissed the memoir:
“Our Party and government long ago reached a clear conclusion about the events in China of the late 1980s, the political disturbances then and all related issues,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu, speaking hesitantly, told a regular news briefing.
Ironically, by not offering a reasonable account of the events in June, the government is basically making Zhao’s take on events the only primary source from within the Party. The memoir, however, is banned in every place in China except Hong Kong. Look for it on counterfeit book carts starting next week.
In the past week, more and more sites, including Twitter, Flickr, Hotmail, have been blocked. The Guardian has some guesses about why. The Washington Post has also been blocked, perhaps because of an op-ed by Dan Southerland, Beijing bureau chief for the Post in ’89, that gives his account of that night. The New York Times also has a passionate op-ed by Ha Jin about why he chose to live in America and write in English. Excerpt:
To some Chinese, my choice of English is a kind of betrayal. But loyalty is a two-way street. I feel I have been betrayed by China, which has suppressed its people and made artistic freedom unavailable.
Both are worth a read but the crown goes to Ma Jian, author of Beijing Coma, who wrote one for The Guardian. It is a condemnation, told though experience and stories from eyewitnesses. (Yes, I know some of these links will be blocked—use a proxy.) Excerpt:
“It happened right here,” he told me, “just by these white railings. A tank charged down Changan Avenue, and sprayed tear gas into the air. There was a big crowd of us. We were coughing and choking. We rushed on to the pavement, and I was squashed back against these railings. A girl dropped to her knees. I was grasping the railings with one hand to stop myself falling and with the other I offered her a handkerchief and told her to use it as a mask. Just as I was leaning over to hand it to her, another tank roared up and careered into us. Thirteen people were crushed to death but I only lost my arm. The tank commander knew exactly what he was doing.”
In these few days leading up to the 20th anniversary we are bound to hear more voices speak out in the Western media about what transpired that night. We’ll hear stories, calls for openness, attacks on the government’s response, appeals to the disinterested youth of today. But the question that worries the Chinese government is, will any of it be in Mandarin?