The International PEN Award For Independent Chinese Writing

The following is the statement from the International PEN's Independent Chinese Writers Association for the 2004 award for independent writing.  The original source can be found at New Century Net and my translation follows:

The International PEN Idependent Writers Association has decided to give the 2004 Award for Independent Writing to Ms. Zhang Yihe (章诒和).  The board of directors of the Independent Writers Association and the Independent Writers' Committee felt that Ms. Zhang Yihe's writing formed from thirty years of pain and suffering has opened up new grounds in the Chinese language which had been dominated by authority and economics.  This kind of writing is not only an indictment of the age of darkness, but it is also an affirmation of the indefatigable human dignity and a negation of all attempts to destroy this dignity.

As the German writer Hermann Hesse wrote, "The writer is the compass and seismometer to gauge the conscience of the world around us."  Zhang Yihe's work illustrates the rarely seen courage among contemporary Chinese writers to defend freedom, dignity and historical memories.  As the daughter of the "China's number one rightist" Zhang Bojun (章伯钧), Zhang Yihe and her father accepted the heavy burden of history.  During the more than ten years of prison life, she was compelled to perform the dreadful task of burying dead bodies.  On one occasion, she almost decided to kill herself in the graves of her fellow sufferers in order to terminate the abuses heaped upon her by the forces of evil, but she lived on by remembering what her father told her -- her father had hoped that his daughter would become a witness of history.  The father told the daughter to write down all the glories and ignomonies of that era.

More than thirty years later, the memory has finally broken the ice.  At the beginning of 2004, the heavily edited mainland edition of <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> and the full Hong Kong edition of <<The Last Nobles>> were published.  Zhang Yihe attained a tremendous reputation among mainland and overseas Chinese readers.  Furthermore, the difference between these two editions demonstrated the limitations in freedom of speech on mainland China.  Although the Central Propaganda Department would soon ordered the banning of <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>>, there were already tens of thousands of copies (and hundreds of thousands of pirated copies typically published in China) out there.  This book became one of the most significant cultural events of the year 2004.

The work of Zhang Yihe is literature and it is also history.  It is memory and it is also fact.  In contemporary China, an important way to combat totalitarianism is to struggle against the officially created versions of historical memory.  Zhang Yihe's work gets back over time to show the truth about the "Anti-Rightist Campaign" that destroyed intellectuals during the Mao Zedong era.  With her detached but sentient writing, those heavily abused intellectuals who still struggled to maintain their human dignity came back to life.  Zhang Yihe narrated the stories of Zhang Bojun, Luo Longji, Chu Anping, Zhang Boju, Kang Tongbi and Ma Lianliang.  She let us know that in the darkest era of our people, there were still noble souls.  Although they were subjected to the cruelest attacks in the shadow of violence, they still stared at the face of life, the eddy of existence and the millstone of death as they guarded the gift of freedom.  Their existence caused the image and sayings of the dictator to pale; their existence changed the historical axiom that only the winners become emperors and the losers become bandits.

The writing of Zhang Yihe can trace its roots back to the historians in ancient times, and is a response to the <<Book of History>> written by Sima Qian also in a time of suffering.  Zhang Yihe also benefited from being an excellent researcher of Chinese opera.  She obtained her sense of tragedy from the great opera writers who based their works on stories of the bottom ranks of society.  Her writing exposes the spiritual pains felt by the Chinese intelligentsia in the era of darkness and expresses this belief -- in spite of the efforts of Mao Zedong and his representatives to demean and denigrate the value of culture and knowledge -- civilizaion will never be broken and human conscience will conquer those evil forces that may look as if they are more powerful for the moment.

The Independent Chinese Writers PEN believes that Zhang Yihe showed through her life and her writings that she is a solemn witness of history and a respected spokesperson for freedom.  She has injected a vitality into the Chinese language and set a standard for others.  The Independent Chinese Writers PEN is honored to present the 2004 Independent Writing Award to such an excellent writer.

Zhang Yihe (章诒和)

The acceptance speech by Zhang Yihe follows:

From my childhood to my youth, from my youth to adulthood, from adulthood to middle age, there was just one consistent thing.  I wrote self-examinations, I wrote explanations, I wrote summaries, and I wrote reports.  Only from my middle-age until my hair began to turn white did I began to write for myself.  Therefore, what should I feel about winning this award?  Sadness?  Or happiness?  No matter if I am happy or sad, I must thank the International PEN's Independent Chinese Writers Association for giving me the 2004 Award for Independent Writing.

This prize is given to the independent writers.  As far as an intellectual goes, how can he/she be independent?  I think it is necessary to begin with economic independence.  Only if this is true can one express an individual voice that does not rely on any system or authority.  In China, ever since Mao Zedong delviered <<The Speech At the Yenan Literature Forum>> in the 1940s, writers and artists had become the "nuts and bolts" of the revolution.  They must become "singers" and "warriors."  Even silence was unacceptable because silence was regarded as passive resistance and inner hostility.  Some people could not endure the restraints imposed by the system and attempted "self-exile," but they either disappeared for extended periods of time or simply never came back.  The former included Xiao Jun and the latter include Wang Shiwei.  Eventually, under the powerful control of the national consciousness, smart and talented people lost their courage to express themselves and their ability to make obervations about society.  If someone should ask: What is the greatest tragedy of modern China?  I would reply: The deprivation of the humanity and freedom of everybody.

The situation now is very different.  Intellectuals are living better, and they can express their own voices up to a certain point.  But there is now another situation -- many people are more interested in pursuing "material" rather than dispassionately understanding the "depth" of humanity and the "truth" of life.  There are so many beautiful things about this wonderful land.  But for anyone who has any sense of humanity and awareness, it is easy to discover the tragedy and sorrow behind the beauty.  We seemed to have come out from one kind of totalitarianism and we turned and walked right under another form of domination.

What should people like us do?  I remember a friend of my father -- Mr. Liang Shuming (梁漱溟).  At the time when the Chinese Democratic Alliance was outlawed by the Kuomintang, he declared: "The root of the political problem lies in culture."  He wanted to offer his theoretical opinions to his countrymen and so he wrote the article <<To the Chinese Communist Party>>.  That article pleaded for the Communist Party to allow the existence of dissidents because they run the risk of following the footsteps of the Kuomintang otherwise.  Mr. Liang passed away a long time ago, but he is still my model and our model.

China has a tradition of requiring literature to deliver morality and ethics.  Literature is created by people.  The act of writing is a personal affair and a spiritual labor.  Literature belongs to the people and to society, and this is not related to 'official' communications.  When officialdom set up the Propaganda Department to propagandize and to run the "Five Ones" project, they were not creating literature and artistry.  The writer's mission is to care about and contemplate man's fate and existing conditions in order to arouse other people to care and think.  This forms the impetus to write. 

<<The Last Nobles>> (Hong Kong Oxford University Press edition) (the mainland edition is titled <<The Past Is Not Like Smoke>> covers some old tales.  These tales are filled with the blood and tears of my forebears.  My written words were not distinguished; they were only hard to write.  Some friends asked me: "Is the secret to your writing the fact that you have a good memory?"  I said: "I just happened to have seen a few things and I know about certain experiences."  The sun rises and the moon sets, and all things have causes and effects.  From the largest movements to the tiniest breaths, all that is beyond what someone as shallow as I can write.

A prize is a form of encouragement, but it is also a warning.  First of all, I don't know how many more days I will live for.  Fate is deterministic, but no one can predict it.  Secondly, I have only limited abilities.  My future writings may be poor, just like what Xu Zhimo write in the foreword to <<Poetry Magazine>>.

Once again, I thank the Independent Chinese Writers Association of International PEN.

As an illustration, I am going to translate the climatic moment on Pages 366-367 of <<The Last Nobles>> on the conversation between father and daughter:

The next day, my father felt better and he came into the study to talk to me.  "I think that I can explain some things to you."

I said: "Does this have anything to do the news that Uncle Luo Longji brought yesterday?"

"Yes."  My father let me bring his little tea kettle in.  It seemed that he wanted to have a serious talk with me.

He said, "Two years ago, your father was hoping to have the label of 'rightist' removed.  At this point, that label no longer matters.  My only regret is that it has affected you.  I want to tell you formally -- your father was not wrong during the Anti-Rightist campaign.  The system of separation of powers will appear in China."  When he reached this point, he raised his voice and his fist was clenched tight.

When my father saw my astonished look, he tried to control his own emotions.  He slowed down his delivery and continued: "These words are going to sound very reactionary now.  You should not be afraid, my daughter.  Someday you will know that this is right.  

"At the May 1957 Propaganda Forum, I brought up the subject of the reform of the national system.  The key was the separation of powers between the central goverment and the local governments.  From concentration to separation of power is a social development in any country.  Uncle Luo admired the three-way separation of power in the west whereas I proposed a two-way system.  It does not matter whether this is a two-way, three-way, four-way or whichever way of separation.  In any case, concentration of power will not work in the world today.  Hereafter, the country's overall policies will still be decided by the party and supported by all the people.  The ideal communism manufactured by Mao will forever remain a blueprint and a fantasy.  

"Yesterday, Uncle Luo said that the Encyclopedia Britannica now has an entry for the 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign.  The basic explanation is that: Zhang Bojun and Luo Longji demanded democratic rule under a socialist system.  This simple explanation was enough to keep me excited all night.  I have worked on behalf of patriotic democracy all my life.  I am satisfied to have my career be summarized in this fashion.  

"I should thank Mao for enabling me to enter into the annals of history.  If he had not initiated the Anti-Rightist Campaign and named us as the number one and two rightists, we would have been just some department head or party leader somewhere."

Several decades of time have passed by as quickly as the clouds have been blown away.  In the end, my father and Luo Longji never got rid of their rightist labels and they were remembered as such in history.  I will forever remain proud of this identification.