Zhang Yihe's Statement and Position

(New Century Net)  Zhang Yihe: My Statement and Position.  January 19, 2007.

[in translation]

On January 11, 2007, during the opening day of the national book order placements conference, the General Administration of Press and Publications called an "informational" meeting.  During the meeting, deputy director Wu Shulin read out a list of "2006 publications that violated regulations."  Among those named, Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars came in at number three.  Mister Wu commented (more or less) on the book's publisher Hunan Literature Publishers: "We have reminded you repeatedly about this person.  Her books are not to be published ... you dared to publish it.  This book is banned because of that person."  Following that, there was obviously some severe penalties against the publishing house.

When Mister Wu said "that person," he was referring to me.  Who am I?  I am an old researcher who researched opera.  I am an old member of the Chinese Democratic League.  I am a single old women now retired at home.  When I was sixty years old, I picked up a pen and wrote about histories.  I wrote first about the stories of my father's generation.  Then I wrote about the legends of the opera singers.  The first book was banned (meaning "do not print anymore after the existing copies have sold out").  This was at the demand of the Central Publicity Department, and the authorities had violated my rights.  This time, Mister Wu did not make any assessment of Past Histories of Peking Opera Stars.  He violated my personal rights directly.  Our constitution states clearly: "The citizens of the People's Republic of China have the right to speak, publish, assemble, associate, march and demonstrate."  His statement that "the book is banned on account of that person" took direct aim at me and directly deprived me of my right to publish, which is a basic right of a citizen.

I know -- in Mister Wu's eyes, Zhang Yihe is a rightist.  Alright, so let us say that I am rightist.  Then I ask: Is a rightist a citizen?  In contemporary China, a rightist cannot speak or write?  Everybody knows that as soon as there is a society, there will be leftists, centrists and rightists, of which the leftists will always be a minority.  Does our country only allow leftists to speak and publish?  Should the broad mass of centrists and rights shut up?  If this is true, then we better immediately amend our constitution to state who is allowed to publish and enjoy the basic rights of citizenship; and who is not allowed to publish and cannot enjoy the basic rights of citizenship.  (Actually, it is just as hard for certain leftists and leftwing government officials to publish their books).  Mister Wu?  Which side are you on?  Who do you represent?  A short while ago, Premier Wen Jiabao said publicly -- "I hope the Chinese writers and artists can tell the truth!"  The words are still fresh.  At the "informational" meeting, you emitted such a tone and you announced such procedures.  The General Administration of Press and Publications is a state government organization under the State Council.  Are you working against the State Council?  Mister Wu, what are you really trying to do?

I would like to take this opportunity to explain this attitude.  From the moment that I picked up the pen, I did not want to be some kind of social elite and I did not want to write any "grand" history.  I only want to narrate certain trivia about my personal experiences and family lives.  There is bitterness, there is warmth and there were the ways of the world during an era of changes.  My motivation to write is also very clear: It is the longing and pursuit of heaven by someone who has just emerged from hell.  Zhang Boju and Luo Longji in the first book, Ma Lianliang in the second book, Ye Shenglan and Ye Shengzhang in the third book as well as my parents are all there -- "They are in heaven looking at me from afar, their eyes are sorrowful and kindly."

Let me solemnly me repeat this once more: I will not give up the defense of my basic civil rights, because it affects the dignity and conscience of a person.  What Mister Wu did was completely in violation of the constitution!  He did not follow the spirit nor the procedure.  In officialdom, you can have a "unanimous consent" and you have to "listen carefully to the instruction" from the superiors.  At the same time, can you leave a small space for common citizens: leave them a mouth to speak; leave them a pen to write?  A harmonious society is constructed not through tightening; it needs precisely relaxation.

When the first two books were banned, I responded with "I don't care."  But nothing should happen three times.  This time, I care.  I care a lot!  Mister Wu, let me tell you: I will use my life to fight your seriously illegal action.  If Zhu Yingtai can give up her life to defend her love, I can use my life to defend my words.

The government should be the first to obey the constitution.  You are a high official.  You should know this better than me.

Relevant Links:

(SCMP)  Eight books banned in crackdown on dissent.  January 19, 2007.

Mainland press authorities have banned eight books by renowned writers and intellectuals in a new move to tighten control on dissent and stifle discussion of sensitive historical events.

The General Administration of Press and Publications (Gapp) deputy director Wu Shulin told propaganda and publication officials at a meeting last week that the eight books were banned and vowed to impose severe punishment on their publishers.  The books include Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars by celebrated writer Zhang Yihe , a memoir by veteran People's Daily editor Yuan Ying , and the novel This is How it Goes@SARS.com by Hu Fayun from Jiangsu.  All eight books are reflections by intellectuals on historical and social events of the past six decades, events that have traditionally been subject to tight censorship.

The ban and Mr Wu's criticism of the books' publishers were confirmed yesterday by an anonymous publication administration official.  Another administration source said Gapp came up with the ban after the Central Propaganda Department included the books on its 2006 list of "publications that overstepped the line".  A source said Mr Wu told the meeting that Yuan's book had leaked state secrets.

But one person who attended the meeting said the ban on Zhang's work was a reflection on her position as the daughter of China's top rightist from the 1950s, Zhang Bojun, rather than on the book itself.  "Ms Zhang's publisher, the Hunan Publishing House, is undergoing a big personnel reshuffle and will be hit by financial penalties and tougher restrictions on their future operation," the source said.  It said Mr Wu addressed the meeting by saying: "How dare you publish the book by this writer [Zhang Yihe]."

Zhang's two previous books - The Past is Not Like Smoke and A Memoir of Ma Lianliang - were also banned by mainland authorities for their uncomfortable recollections of political campaigns.

In a rare interview yesterday, Zhang said the ban was unbearable.  "I must voice my rage. They banned the book just because I wrote it, but they have to tell me why!" she said. "It's a terribly serious event. In the 50 years since the disaster visited on intellectuals, how little has the situation for intellectuals in China improved?"  This year is the 50th anniversary of the start of the anti-rightist campaign, which resulted in the hounding of Zhang Bojun and his democrat friends by Maoist extremists.

"In some party officials' eyes, I am still an active anti-revolutionist, and the only difference between my father and myself was that they suppressed my father with extreme measures and a rightist label," she said.  "Chinese intellectuals have almost been deprived of our rights to free speech and publication. This is so serious that I have to stand up to appeal through open argument and reason for our basic rights.  If we keep silent today, tomorrow they can do the same thing to other writers and eventually the entire intellectual community will be muzzled.  I have no other way to express myself. Writing the books about my life and memories is the only way I can support myself in retirement."

Zhang said she regretted the trouble the ban caused for the publishing house but vowed to write more articles to reveal the truth.

Hu said the ban was "ridiculous and childish for its inefficient control of the free flow of information in the era of the internet".  He said his book was well received and distributed online and offline. "It is a way of twisting history by erasing people's memories, but all the measures were taken under the table."

Banned books

(Ming Pao)  Things Change But My Position Does Not Change.  By Zhang Yihe.  February 2, 2007.

[in translation]

At around 14:00 on January 26, 2007, I received a telephone call at home from a colleague, who said (more or less): "Comrade Wu Shulin is a good person.  There is a misunderstanding between the two of you ... at that meeting, he did not name you."  Actually, there was no need to ask anyone to carry a message.  I already know the kind of person that Mister Wu is.

In 2006, Mister Wu spoke at the Publishers' Chief Editors training class: "I'm someone who knows people on the black and white paths (note: the black path refers to underworld criminals whereas the white path refers to government).  I just received a telephone call.  It was from XXX ..."  Then he said: "If you want to make me uncomfortable, I'll make you uncomfortable first."  I'm right now being violated, so I'm not comfortable.  But you may not be comfortable either.  As for the talk about the "black and white paths," please don't forget that I have spent ten years in prison.  You may be able to intimidate chief editors, but it is useless on me.

"I did not name you."  This is the important point in the Mister Wu's personal message.  I need to repeat what you said (these sentences add to my "statement" of January 20): "There are problems with this person's thinking.  You (note: Hunan Literary Publishers) really dare to publish it.  You are too bold ... This book is banned because of that person."  Then he issued penalties on the publisher (taking away the title of excellent publisher, removing 20% of the book titles to be published).  In this situation, you said those words and you directed it to that publisher, then who is "that person" but me?  Which book is it but "Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars"?  Using the professional technical language in operas, this is "the right persons in the right scene in the right circumstances."  When the drums start banging and the Erwu start playing, everybody knows which opera this is and who the principal characters are.  You are a senior government official and you have made yourself known.  It is no use to hide.

Mister Wu might ask how I know about these words."  The saying used to be "The government is small and the world is large."  Today's reality is that "the government is small and society is large."  "When you step into the office, you are a government official; when you step out of the office, you are a citizen" -- this is what many officials do, as you know.  They can treat what happens at the office as information, gossip and discussion topic, while adding their own feelings and judgment.  That is commonsense.  That is also human nature.  You need to understand that the days of being able to get promotions and wealth by improper means under total secretary are gone.

You said: "There are problems with this person's thinking."  I ask: Are you sending people to jail for writing?  What business is it to you that there are problems with my thinking?  If the law has been broken, then the court will take of it.  If a mistake was made, my work unit can intercede.  What are you controlling me?  What power did the constitution confer on you to control my thoughts?  This is a violation of my basic human rights.  Therefore, you ought to make a public apology and accept legal responsibility.

Finally, let us talk about the "ban."  Based upon my personal experience, the "bans" in existence are either "quick bans" or "slow bans."  As soon as my second book ("A Gust of Wind: Leaving us Melodies of the Centuries") completed its print run, it was immediately placed into storage.  That would be a "quick ban."  My first book ("The Past Is Not Like Smoke") was placed under a "slow ban," which means that "it was not to be re-printed after the current batch sells out."  Actually, the "slow ban" occurred at the same time as a "quick ban" because I have here a receipt from a Zhejiang city for a number of copies of "The Past Is Not Like Smoke."  As for the third book ("Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars"), the supervisory department made an announcement that said (more or less): "The Internet talk about the eight banned books is seriously erroneous."  But a Mister Dai called from Zhangjiagang city at 18:30 on January 28 to tell me: "A private bookstore just received a notice to turn in a number of books, including 'Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars.'"  Does it look like my book is being banned and I am being prohibited from publishing?  Your supervisor issued a statement to deny the existence of any ban, but you go ahead with the ban.  Aren't you slapping your supervisor in the face?

Everything is obvious.  You -- you personally considered me to be a thought criminal and you deprived me of my citizen's right to speak and publish.  You are in public contempt of the constitution.  Why else would you choose to ignore the legal process and act in a stealthy manner?  When caught, you deny that you ever said so?  So I will repeat the same thing that I said in the "statement": if you want to ban my books, you have to do it in an open, fair and independent legal manner.  I am hiring a team of legal advisors.  My top advisor is Mister Zhang Sizhi, along with lawyer Gao Zhiqiang and lawyer Fu Hexin plus other lawyers.  They will do their best to protect my rights in accordance with the law.

Mister Wu, I have said a lot.  Is there any misunderstanding between us?  Based upon my understanding of you, things may change but my position will not change.

(South China Morning Post)  Book bans at odds with modernisation effort.  February 8, 2008.

For all the changes the mainland has undergone since economic reforms took hold, there is one facet of past decades that has remained constant: censorship. This is despite freedom of speech being enshrined in the constitution and government leaders acknowledging that abiding by the rule of law has to be foremost for the nation's development.

What is written in law and carried out in practice are not one and the same where the mainland is concerned, of course; changing ways takes time, particularly where a political system is so deeply entrenched in the doctrine of the past, despite being more enlightened economically in the ways of the modern world.

Nowhere has the lack of progress been more apparent than with the decision last month to ban eight books by renowned writers and intellectuals. Such bans were common during the Cultural Revolution and the rightist purges of the 1950s and 1960s.

As the latest bans prove, the practice has not changed much. Nor has the method, as former People's Daily reporter Yuan Ying reveals. His memoir of his career with the newspaper was among the books banned. Tellingly, he found out about the ban only through second-hand sources.

A visit from the General Administration of Press and Publications deputy director, Wu Shulin, revealed that the book had breached state secrets by touching on the anti-rightist campaign and in discussing former leaders.

Yuan was fortunate in that as a Communist Party member, officials wanted to ensure he was aware of where he had gone wrong. That has not been the case for the author of another of the banned books, celebrated writer Zhang Yihe. She is not a party member, and despite having written letters seeking an explanation, she has yet to receive an official reason for the banning of her book on former Peking opera stars and two previous volumes.

Her misdeed, although not obvious from reading the text, would seem to partly involve a continuation of past government practices: she is the daughter of 1950s "rightist" leader Zhang Bojun and therefore, in official eyes, not to be read because of blood lines.

Such thinking does not befit a country on the ascendancy and emerging among the world's powers. Moreover, it smacks of an insecure nation and a lack of willingness to adopt the transparency and adherence to law necessary for the country to fully develop.

This is not to say that there has been no shift in allowing freedom of expression. Protests are now frequent, although not always handled by authorities with the reasoned understanding such matters warrant. There has also been a relaxing of restrictions on what the state-run media can report, although the shift has been subtle. Communist Party ideology is no longer foremost in mainland journalists' minds when doing their job. Nor do they see their role as being to create propaganda in the guise of news.

Political information, however, is still strenuously controlled and attempts to uncover official corruption are not always appreciated; the Bingdian Weekly was suspended for such reporting last year, prompting a storm of protest. The publication did reopen soon after its suspension, but in a softer form -- and without the same editor-in-chief and deputy.

Although there are no written rules on what cannot be published, the bans are sanctioned by leaders. Such actions do not correspond with what leading officials pledge, however. President Hu Jintao has said his objective is to create harmony, while Premier Wen Jiabao, addressing artists and writers in November, promised that their academic freedoms were guaranteed by law.

The banning of the books has come ahead of the party's 17th national congress and leadership changes in the offing. As sensitive as the political times may be, there is no reason to ignore peoples' constitutional rights. In the interests of building a strong, harmonious society, those rules must be adhered to.