Why are so-called progressive “experimental U.S. poets appearing under the auspices of a government that routinely persecutes and imprisons writers?
Many universities across the US and Canada have chosen not to accept cooperation or funding from The Confucius Institute, part of the Chinese government’s concerted soft-power propaganda initiative: Why are American experimental poets now cooperating and accepting money from an organization that is officially linked to the repressive Chinese state?
The above event bills itself as a harmless learning occasion– multiculturalism and vanguard writing at its finest. But the Confucius Institute, it is no secret, is an official, “soft-power” arm of the Chinese state. And for poets and writers, in the case of the event at issue–especially for those within the “innovative” poetic community–this should bring some pause and reflection.
It is hardly news that there are dozens of writers, artists, and intellectuals imprisoned in China for their art and for their beliefs, including the poet and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The great avant-garde artist Ai Weiwei was recently held in extended confinement up until quite recently. But there are so many more. As PEN International puts it:
When President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, he vowed to crack down on corruption within the party. In addition, in his time as president, he has overseen a crackdown on free speech, punishing Chinese writers, journalists, and creative artists for speaking out about corruption and a lack of democratic reform within China. Chinese writers continue to be censored, harassed, imprisoned, and even disappeared throughout the country. Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo is the only Peace Prize recipient that is still behind bars, and PEN continues to monitor the cases of at least 47 other imprisoned writers. In this new digital age, even a single tweet can get a citizen detained. Still, writers continue to write, and citizens continue to become more and more emboldened in their criticism of government malfeasance. While pressure comes from above to clamp down on dissent, citizens build pressure from below. Stand with them in their struggle. – See more at:https://pen.org/campaign/freedom-expression-china#sthash.cGcSBtHq.dpuf
Dispatches from the Poetry Wars would like to ask: What does it mean when we have “experimental,” progressive poets participating in an event sponsored by a state that clearly cares little for artistic and intellectual freedom, and which persecutes and jails and mistreats poets and writers? What kind of politics and ethics are at work in the “avant” poetic field today when poets and scholars of the United States participate in subsidized tours and feature events that are designed to give, in fact, greater legitimacy to an aggressively repressive regime?
We call on all progressive writers and artists and scholars to boycott this event, and we call on those poets who have agreed to participate to either cancel their appearances, or to use their presence on the stage to forcefully call for the immediate release of all fellow poets, writers, and artists who are currently prisoners of conscience in China. While we understand this is a maximal demand that not everyone might be willing or ready to undertake, the process of poets separating themselves from repressive regimes in the name of solidarity with others suffering imprisonment, torture, and censorship MUST begin somewhere!