Ten Million Troublesome Characters

By | May 15, 2013 at 9:36 am | No comments | Blog | Tags: , ,

The following remarks were made by the Chinese human rights activist Yu Jie during PEN International’s launch of the report Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York on May 3, 2013. According to the latest figures compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, China imprisons more writers than any other country except Turkey.

China’s Nightmarish Censorship

I’m very honored to be invited by PEN American Center to attend today’s meeting.

As a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), a close friend of Liu Xiaobo, and a writer who yearns for freedom of expression, I’ve experienced great changes in the past ten years of my life.

I was honoured to be vice-president of ICPC when Liu Xiaobo was the president. In defiance of the Chinese Communist Party’s restrictions on freedom of association and assembly, we held meetings with our colleagues. We provided many kinds of support to imprisoned writers.

If we forget our brothers and sisters who lose their freedom due to their words, we don’t deserve to enjoy freedom

Today, there are many writers and journalists in China’s jails. Liu Xiaobo, who tried hard to save imprisoned writers, is now imprisoned himself. As for myself, I almost lost my life after experiencing torture. I was forced to leave my home country and come here to continue writing. In the one year since leaving China, I have completed two new books, one of which is a biography of Liu Xiaobo. We shouldn’t forget this hero who is like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, rolling a huge stone up the hill.

We also shouldn’t forget those imprisoned writers who are not as famous as Liu Xiaobo. Their names appear in the report to be released today. While they are in prison and don’t know about the release of this report, they certainly know that so many fellow writers around the world are concerned about them. Thank you very much to everyone who has participated in and supports this work.

The ICPC can still exist in China because it is a member of PEN International. If the Chinese Communist Party publicly announced that the ICPC is an illegal organization, it would be as though they announced that PEN International is an illegal organization. They would not dare to do so for the time being. Over the years, many governments and non-governmental organizations, big companies and tycoons have given in to the Chinese government’s soft and hard measures, because they are only concerned about doing business with China and pretend that they don’t see the increasingly serious human rights problems. However, PEN International isn’t like that. Instead, it continues to support the freedom of expression and other basic human rights of Chinese writers.

This makes me think of American writer Hemingway’s famous book For Whom the Bell Tolls. The bell tolls for every one of us. If we forget our brothers and sisters who lose their freedom due to their words, we don’t deserve to enjoy freedom.

Liu Xiaobo has said that you can imprison my body but you can’t imprison my soul

Liu Xiaobo has said that you can imprison my body but you can’t imprison my soul. In the Bible, it says that those who kill your body cannot kill your soul. Don’t be afraid. Last year, when I was given the Civil Courage Prize in New York, my five-year-old son Justin asked me: “Dad, you write in front of the computer every day, unlike my best friend’s father who is a fireman. Why can you win this award about courage?”

I can’t answer this complicated question for the moment. I can’t tell him that the Chinese Communist Party’s secret police hooded me and kidnapped me. And that they bent back my fingers one by one and said that as my fingers typed 10 million characters in articles on the computer opposing the Chinese Communist Party, all ten of my fingers should be broken. They said that they only needed to make a phone call to their senior, and then they could dig a hole and bury me alive in half an hour. In numerous nightmares, I have dreamed of the torture I experienced. That is China. A writer who speaks the truth needs to endure such pain. He needs courage to do so.

I hope that when my son grows up, he won’t have to listen to such a horrifying answer. By that time, I hope that all Chinese writers can think and write freely. By that time, Liu Xiaobo and I will meet each other again in Beijing and invite you all to hold a conference for PEN International.

In order for that day to come sooner, let us all work hard together!

Thank you!

Photocredit: Matt Chase

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