British Council colludes with China’s censors
Jonathan Mirsky writes in the current New York Review concerning the actions of the organizers of the London Book Fair (16–18 April) in cooperating with the Chinese General Administration to exclude dissident writers, both those still in China and those who have been exiled, from their official presence at the Fair (“Bringing censors to the Book Fair”, NYRB 59.9, 24 May 2012).He is drawing on the work of Nick Cohen at the Observer and also perhaps of Richard Lea at the Guardian.
This is one of those cases where the statements of the people in charge suffice to exhibit their abjectness. In a press release of 21 March, Susie Nicklin of the British Council writes:
The authors taking part in the British Council Cultural programme are internationally recognised as the leading voices writing from China today. Mo Yan, the veteran writer, Han Dong and Li Er, both of whom missed ten years’ schooling during the Cultural Revolution, Annie Baobei who became an internet sensation at the age of 24, Sheng Keyi (published by Penguin China) who writes about new migrations and the metropolis – these authors are writing their best work in contemporary China.
As the British reading public is aware, the situation for writers in China is not the same as it is in the UK.[…]
There was no disagreement with the Chinese government about the final list of British Council writers who regularly appear on well-respected lists of the best novelists and poets in China. These writers live in China and write their books there; other writers have left. The British Council respects both groups and there will be plenty of opportunities for both sets of writers to put their views across in the UK.
“Not the same ”: to show how inadequate—not to say callous—that bland phrase is, I will mention just one case. Yu Jie, author of Wen Jiabao: China's Greatest Actor, after a long campaign of harassment by the state, was abducted and beaten until he was unconscious; his family was placed under house arrest, their phone and internet connections severed; eventually he decided to leave. He is now finishing a book on a fellow dissident, the Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who has is serving an 11-year jail sentence for having urged an end to one-party government in China (Tania Branigan, “Chinese dissident who fled to US tells of beatings and harassment”, Guardian