If anyone thought the release of Ai Weiwei was the start of something good, this news might be disappointing:
For Chinese authors who join the international writers’ organization PEN, membership would appear to have very few privileges. Many of its members are subjected to frequent harassment; four of them are currently in prison, including one of its founders, Liu Xiaobo, the essayist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate serving 11 years for subversion. All told, the group counts 40 journalists, novelists and historians imprisoned because of their writings.
On Saturday, the authorities once again demonstrated their displeasure with the organization by barring three writers from joining Independent Chinese PEN Center’s 10th anniversary celebration in Hong Kong. Those prevented from attending were Zhuang Daohe, a Hangzhou lawyer and essayist; Jiao Guobiao, a Beijing journalism professor who lost his job after writing a critique of the Communist Party; and Cui Weiping, a poet and film scholar who was to receive an award on Saturday.
Mr. Jiao, like the others, had bought a plane ticket but was prevented from leaving his apartment by a contingent of security agents. “I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this,” Mr. Jiao said in an interview via Skype on Saturday. “It’s getting worse and worse.”
Except for Mr. Liu, the jailed Nobel laureate, most Chinese writers who cross the authorities suffer in relative anonymity. Their works are banned, employment opportunities dry up and their daily movements are constrained by security officials who prevent them from leading normal lives.
Mr. Jiao offered a precise tally of the restrictions on his movements. Last year, he said, he was confined to his home for 249 days. On other days, he was required to receive permission to meet with friends. “On the days I could go out, I had the feeling I was being followed,” he said.
Since 2008, after the police forced the cancellation of yet another seminar in Beijing, the Independent Chinese PEN Center moved its annual events to Hong Kong. Asked about the logic behind the increased government restrictions, the group’s president, Tienchi Liao, said she thought Beijing was simply trying to show writers it still held all the cards. “They decide when people can write, when they can publish and when they can join literary activities,” said Ms. Liao, who lives in Germany. “For us, this is really, really sad.”
It might be time to get used to the idea that this isn’t a temporary surge in repression, but rather an attempt to set this as the new normal. If the internal control departments can handle this, why would they stop after the leadership transition? There’s always some sensitive date coming up, some great excuse to make people disappear. Unless some of the new members of the Standing Committee feel strongly about it, the relevant organs would presumably be happy to keep this up.