“When a Culture Castrates Itself”

CMP has translated a post by Chinese blogger Han Han- as always, worth a read:

I haven’t written anything since [my July post] “Nation Derailed.” In point of fact, I’m not very diligent about my writing, and each time I do finish writing something and then can’t see it [after I post it, because it has been censored], I get despondent. And there are just so many government departments [to get past]. Even if the propaganda department and the General Administration of Press and Publications are fine with something, any department issued with Passats and above can wipe your essay away with a simple phone call. Of these, the most merciful are in fact certain local public security departments. Back in 2008 I wrote an essay that wasn’t deleted until a after a lapse of a whole year. No wonder people complain about slow police response times. It’s true. There are so many places that delete articles that one doesn’t know how to begin writing.

In the past when a book was not allowed to be published, the reason given was that it was counterrevolutionary. But this term counterrevolutionary later fell out of use because while counterrevolutionary activity was still frowned upon no one wanted exactly to encourage revolution either. In the view of the authorities, the work of the revolution had already been accomplished, and so while counterrevolutionary behavior was a no-no, revolution was equally unwanted. The best thing was for the masses to just live their lives by staying put.

So now the reason for not being able to publish things is that they are deficient in taste (格调不高). My first book, The Three Doors (三重门), was dragged about in coming out precisely because it was deficient in taste. If something’s deficient in taste this can be fatal. After all, if the writing isn’t strong enough, it can be improved. If the logic isn’t there, it can be worked out. But deficiency of taste is a real headache, and you just don’t know how you can lift up your taste. If you ask them what they mean by taste, they don’t know either. Only now have I come to understand that taste actually means to cut out (割掉), so deficiency of taste actually means that not enough has been cut [NOTE: This is a play on words, as the words “taste”, gediao, and “to cut out” are homophones in Chinese]. So you think that just by symbolically smoothing out the calluses on your feet you can make it in the creative industries [in China], eh? No, you have to make sure you cut high enough. If you spare that part just below the waist, you might still be too manly for the creative industries.

I’ve long been subjected to the bitterness of censorship. But since I managed to raise my taste somewhat, I have fortunately been able to publish books. And because some books have enjoyed substantial sales, I’ve sometimes been able to get the publisher to push the taste down just a bit. Each time before I write I have to go through a process of self-censorship.

As for myself, while every single essay I write goes through a process of self-censorship and castration, sometimes unavoidably the fashion of my castration is still insufficient to pass muster. This has to do with the level of sensitivity at various publishing houses. For example, my most recent novel has been killed outright, because the protagonist in the novel is surnamed Hu [like China’s president]. So even though I have only written 5,000 characters so far, the publisher assumes there must be political allegory somewhere. By the time I realized I had to avoid this name and changed the character’s surname it was too late.

I don’t know how a country where a writer trembles when he takes up his pen can build itself into a cultural great nation (文化强国), or how a country where you have to avoid using the names of [politburo] standing committee members and therefore can’t find the [Tang dynasty poet] Li Bai in a Google search can build itself into a cultural great nation. I have no idea how these cultural system reforms are supposed to work. I just have one wish, and that is that Mr. Han Zheng (韩正), [currently the mayor of Shanghai], is not promoted again. Otherwise, I won’t even be able to come up with myself in a search.

As CMP notes, this post was later deleted from his blog by… well, by someone who found it lacking in taste.


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