LONDON – You would think that the British, having practically invented appeasement, and paid a heavy price for it, would know better. But appeasement of China for commercial gain apparently is not considered morally repellent. How else could Liu Binjie, China’s censor-in-chief and the point man for silencing the Nobel laureate writer and human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo, be invited to lead a delegation of 21 officially sanctioned writers and dozens of ministerial minions to London to celebrate Chinese literature at the London Book Fair?
Indeed, Liu is the British Council’s guest of honor for the event. The Council says that it invited officially approved Chinese writers because it wanted to create greater understanding of Chinese literature and promote cultural exchange between the two countries. But is it really true that the world can or should learn about China only by reading works that are sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party? After all, didn’t Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Milan Kundera, and Václav Havel teach the world as much about the repressive societies in which they lived than anything turned out by the Soviet bloc’s official publishers?
The Council’s excuse is a smokescreen, and simultaneously kowtows to Chinese totalitarianism and insults those Chinese writers who have been imprisoned, banned, or forced into exile merely for writing what their conscience demands.
In his “My Statement on Leaving China” (去国宣言), Yu Jie, a writer who left for the United States in order to escape persecution, explicitly declared that he was forced to flee his country in order to write freely. Before his exile, Yu had been thrown into a dark room and tortured, because Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Indeed, at the moment the award was handed over in Oslo, several policemen were pummeling Yu’s face, saying, “We are going to beat you to death to avenge the government’s humiliation.”