It’s impossible for the Independent Chinese PEN Center to meet in China, but they still hold an annual conference and award ceremony in Hong Kong.
Updated on October 18, 2020
June 4 marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 and has become a day of commemoration and demonstration against the communist dictatorship worldwide. In Hong Kong hundred thousands of citizens hold each year peaceful protest and impressive vigil on this day. This year there was also demonstration on June 4, because of the social-distancing rules for COVID-19, the assembly was unauthorised, 13 activists, including Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, are charged for their participation of the vigil. They are accused of inciting people to take part in the “illegal” assembly.
Since July 1, the Chinese “security law” has been imposed to Hong Kong,
people are worried that there will be no vigil for June 4 in future.
The Independent Chinese PEN Center has held its literature conference in Hong Kong in April 2019. I am also afraid that it would be the last time that we are allowed to have this kind of meeting as well as award ceremony in Hong Kong. Freedom of expression is fading away rapidly in recent years. With the “security law”, any writer or journalist could meant a dangerous factor to the Chinese and Hong Kong authority.
Ten of our Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) members did not make it to the conference we recently held on May 25 in Hong Kong. The police warned our members that they shouldn’t make the trip, but not all of them obeyed. Some were held back at the airport, some on the border in Shenzhen. The same thing happened to the three speakers we invited, and none of them were present at the panel. Yet, in the conference room at Hong Kong City University, we still had around 20 colleagues from mainland China, each with a story to tell about how they made it to the free harbor. It is my pleasure to share some of their stories with you.
Lin is an editor from Hunan, but he is also the founder of an NGO which promotes “he-culture.” The Chinese word he means harmony, unification, republic etc. While that concept might seem loose, “One has to be ambiguous to survive in China,” Lin has said. Recently his organization helped 100 families in Changsha who have lost their only child—victims of the one-child policy. Volunteers gave a package of daily necessities valuing 500 RMB ($70) to each of the heart-broken parents. Lin’s supervisor gave him permission to attend the Hong Kong conference under the following conditions: Keep your mouth shut, participate in no other activities, and meet no reporters.
Another attendee, Yi, is a writer and English teacher in Henan province—or, I should say, he used to be. Since the social criticism that he writes doesn’t please the school’s authorities, he has been fired as a teacher and assigned a new duty: Water delivery boy. Now he has to boil water and deliver hot tea to the school’s staff. But Yi has a philosophical attitude towards his new “mission.” Smiling, he says, “I can serve the people even better if I operate from the working class.” To make a living, Yi cultivates a small piece of land and plants grains. He also founded an NGO for environmental protection. “Polluted water and poisoned food—people need to know why they become ill and die early,” Yi said, no longer smiling.
The ICPC gives three awards annually, mainly to outspoken authors who write in Chinese. Since it’s been impossible for the organization to hold any meetings inside China over the past 10 years, none of the awardees (nor their representatives) have been allowed to attend the award ceremony in Hong Kong, with only one exception in 2011. Instead, empty chairs with the writers’ portraits on them are set up on stage. The hope that the new Party leader Xi Jinpin and Premier Li Keqiang would be more tolerant to dissenters has turned out to be wishful thinking.
Now the situation is even worse. You can smell the tension and anxiety building in the air as the anniversary of June 4th quickly approaches.
On May 13, several pro-government mouthpieces, such as Hong Kong’s Phoenix CCTV, published an article entitled “Central Government: Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere.” Since its release on the mainland, Chinese universities have distributed a notice to their teachers outlining “seven speak-nots”—seven topics they are not permitted to speak about with students: Universal values, freedom of expression, civil society, civil rights, the party’s historical mistakes, the bourgeoisie elite, and judicial independence.
This news has been circulated through our Internet like wildfire, although the information was deleted soon after it was posted online. It is said that a chilly winter is approaching.
Julie Mei, a girl of thirty from Chongqing, enjoys the privilege of traveling to Hong Kong and participated at the ICPC conference this year. She is a new member and did not draw much attention from the security police, although they know who she is. Julie refused to go to university after she graduated high school, claiming that “twelve years of brain-washing education is enough.” Instead of pursuing school she has become an autodidactic, learning web-design and writing her own literary criticism. In October 2010, she was exited and encouraged by the news that Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize. She posted one sentence on Twitter: “Congratulations, Uncle Xiaobo.” On the 26th of that month, four or five policemen came to her house at night, dragged her from bed, and confiscated her computer and cell-phone. She was detained in the police station.
“Well, that was when Bo Xilai was at the peak of power in Sichuan, but even he did not want to lose face in front of world media, so I was released after 24 hours,” she said.
Julie is an exception in China’s society, where the majority follows convention obediently. One needs not only self-confidence and courage to stand against the trend but also a supportive family. Julie’s father was a rightist and her mother belonged to the “black five,” a political category of people who are “not to be trusted.” Yet they are open-minded with their daughter. “My mother did not mind when she was tailed by police while doing her daily grocery shopping,” Julie said. With a smirk, she explained to me how the Jasmine Revolution had an impact on her life in the spring of 2011. A guard was placed in front of their house and sometimes she was told not to leave her home; once she wasn’t allowed to cross the threshold for a whole week. Could a slim young woman be that dangerous to society? Was she scared? “Not really,” she said before continuing in a soft voice. “If one has fear, the state has one hundred times more fear.” Together we joined the commemoration march for June 4 in Hong Kong; it was the first time she had been a part of a political demonstration, and I saw the happiness and pride on her face, a beautiful face with a beautiful mind.
First published at Sampsoniaway.org on June 5, 2013.