The Future of Free Expression in China

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
China Stringer Network/Reuters

Bao Pu, founder, publisher, and editor of New Century Press, Murong Xuecun, contributor to the International New York Times, and Xiaolu Guo, a novelist and filmmaker, join Asia Society's Orville Schell to discuss the future for free expression and creative independence in China. The three panelists—all of whom are Chinese political dissidents—describe their personal experiences creating art and expressing themselves both inside and outside of China. The panelists discuss the ramifications of China's vast censorship regime, highlighting the ever-growing constraints on free expression under Chinese President Xi Jinping's tenure. Over the course of the discussion, the panelists address self-censorship, Internet freedom, and the state of human rights in China.

NOSSEL: Good afternoon. I'm Suzanne Nossel. I'm the executive director of the PEN American Center.

PEN is an organization with a mission to both celebrate and defend freedom of expression. At PEN America, we are part of a worldwide network of PEN centers in over 100 countries.

Here in New York, we do more than 150 events every year ranging from small, intimate literary dinners to a major international literary festival called the PEN World Voices Festival that happens here in New York every spring, just finished a few weeks ago.

But all of our work to celebrate literature is in service of our work to defend freedom of expression.

We have a very long history at PEN of work in China. We have a sister organization called the Independent Chinese PEN Center that was headed by Liu Xiaobo, and it was here in New York on the steps of the New York Public Library that members of PEN gathered after Liu Xiaobo had been arrested (inaudible) to issue one of the first calls for him to ultimately win the 2010 Nobel Peace Price.

And since then, we've stood with Liu Xiaobo with his wife, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest, and—with at least 40 other writers who are in jail in China because of what they write and what they think.

In January, we made a trip to China, where we met with editors, writers, including Murong and Bao Pu, who are here with us today, and that informed a report that we put outside that I hope you've seen that's called "Censorship and Conscience."

And the report looks at how foreign writers and American writers are dealing with Chinese censorship in their work, and what we found was many writers don't even realize that when they publish in China and their work translated, that it is censored and doctored without their knowledge, without their approval.

And we're calling now on writers, editors, publishers, agents to pay attention and take a close look and recognize that in China, there are important political sensitivities that are implicated and that we all have a responsibility to come to grips with those.

This week marks the opening tomorrow of an event called BookExpoAmerica, which is the largest annual trade show of the American book industry, and the focus this year is on China.

And in conjunction with that, we made the decision—we knew that the Chinese would be sending an official delegation that we understand is going to be 500 people strong of editors, writers who are hand-picked by the government, some very distinguished writers, to come here to New York and talk China's burgeoning literary tradition, and we wanted to make sure that, as part of that conversation, the licensed voices, the marginalized voices, the voices that the Chinese government may not want us to hear were also present and accounted for.

And we're really thrilled to have such a distinguished delegation to talk to audiences and to the media here in the U.S. about what we're not reading and what we're not seeing. As we all engage more deeply and intensively with China as a market, as a partner, it's essential that this side of the story be heard.

So I'm particularly pleased to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations in—as a partner in bringing you this event and both celebrating the work of these writers and also defending their right to be heard.

Thank you.


SCHELL: Thank you, Suzanne, and thanks to PEN America and to the Council on Foreign Relations for organizing and hosting this event.

We have here today three really extraordinary figures in the Chinese literary world, and we'll talk a little bit about what is going on these days within the world of—of writing and—and literature, what are the trend lines and how they view both the past and the future.

So to my left is Bao Pu, who is the founder, editor and publisher of New Century Press in Hong Kong, also was the editor of the transcripts of reflections by former party general secretary and prime minister, Zhao Ziyang, who his father served.

Then next, we have Guo Xiaolu, who's a filmmaker and a novelist, lives in London, was chosen as one of GRANTA's most promising British writers and recently has published this book, "I Am China," which is just coming out in England and I guess here soon. Is that correct? And he's also a filmmaker, done a number of films, "She, a Chinese," "Concrete Revolution" among others.

So let's start, and then after, we have a short—oh, excuse me, then (ph).


We're missing one of our—one of our main talents, as we say on (inaudible).

This is Murong Xuecun, who is a very distinguished writer, has written a book called "Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu," which was very well-received within China, and now writes a column periodically for the New York Times on issues related to the conversation we will have today.

Murong is going to speak in Chinese, and we have a translator who will help him out. Thank you.

And after we have a little conversation, we'll throw it open to questions from you all (ph).

So me let just start to ask all of you, from the perspective—you all sit in a difference place, you in China, you in England, you in Hong Kong—what has changed over the last two years that we should be most aware of in terms of the literary world, the publishing scene and whether it's harder or easier to be heard?

Let's start with you, Bao Pu?

PU: The Chinese censorship is probably the least understood by the West.

In the past two years, people generally have this impression this is (inaudible) order by this—by China's, you know, Leninist past is unpopular, ineffective. People do have that kind of impression, but that impression would be wrong.

The Chinese censorship, first of all, is least understood by the West, because it's conceptually very, very different, and—and also, they're thriving in today's environment with new technology. And they have this expansionist deal for (inaudible) world, and you have to remember censorship and propaganda goes hand in hand.

So the—the view this world as their stage, and they're trying to push as much as they can. So in the past two years, against the changes that take place, it's not the fundamental way of, you know, their approaches. The change is mainly because, you know, they are more, you know, they're much more powerful. There is no one to stop them.

And therefore, they do it, you know, because they can. So they try to advance, you know, their interests, you know, beyond their border. Of course, you know, in America, you see less as compared to in Hong Kong where they have total control of the media and this kind of publishing industry.

XIAOLU GUO (?): In my case, I left China when I was nearly 30 years old. Twelve years ago I came to London. And when I was in China, I published several books (inaudible) books, mainly fiction. And I think this one thing, you know, it was very clear—the censorship of words (inaudible) me everywhere—you know, almost all the writers, painters, artists in China.

But there's something we never talk about is the strong self-censorship in order to preserve their (inaudible) inside of country. And if you want to write, OK, you better watch—and have this strong self-censorship. And I think that was a very big thing for me when I was living in Beijing. And when I left, I came to U.K. to make film (inaudible).

And the decision I made, I was director writing in English, even broken English. So my last three novels I wrote in English, including this one. I'm trying to—the reason was, first, I was clear, if I write in Chinese, I went through—I will go through this psychological censorship which is going to protect myself maybe in the future in China. So I would never touch a subject, for example, with (inaudible) like exile, the subject of, you know, the rise and—the rise of Chinese punk music and how they're being suppressed.

You know, those are the subjects of my novel recently. And I knew if I wouldn't write in Chinese because, first, it can't (ph) be published. And second, I wouldn't write with full—with a full creation, full intention (ph). And I decided to write in broken English.

In a way, you know, technically it's quite difficult. You write in your second language which you never grow up with, but mentally it's actually much more freer to write in the second language. And I think this is something interesting. When I write in second language, I actually gain much more liberty in my writing and in my thinking.

So I think it's—it's a very big subject. Artists themselves have (inaudible) with self-censorship. And I think it's very complex, you know, psychological effect because official censorship (inaudible). And I can speak like that because I think I'm able to write in another language.

MURONG XUECUN (?): I try to speak English.

In the past two years, many of my friends were arrested because of their writings and speeches. Some of you know their names—(inaudible), an 82-year-old writer was arrested; (inaudible), a famous human rights lawyer; and many, many books are burned in China. And as to me, you know, my books have not come out in the past three years, even (inaudible) access to some of the censorship.

And I lost all my social media accounts in (inaudible). I've been—I attended (inaudible). I (inaudible) the new ones (inaudible). Now I use the (inaudible) account, which I lost—almost more than 8 million followers. Yeah, that's what happened.

ORVILLE SCHELL (?): So, just elaborate a little from your perspectives. I mean, every 10 years we see a change in the leadership structure in China. How have you all experienced the most recent two years in terms of the time before?

XIAOLU GUO (?): I think we find—because I had a AIDS (ph) Chinese novel before written in Chinese. And, you know, they would more or less delete, you know, some paragraphs deleted or changed. They were able to publish in Chinese in China without real problems. But recently, for the last three years, I felt it much tighter because I guess my publisher, my agent would send my original English manuscript back to China after publisher (inaudible) translate back into Chinese because I don't want to translate myself. And they said, well, no—no, we want a translator because of the (inaudible) context.

And actually, that's a creation even worse because before I can get published in Taiwan-Hong Kong with traditional Chinese writing, but now even Hong Kong refused it because 80 percent of the Hong Kong publishers belong to mainland China now. So they don't have space—they no longer have independent space to publish another (inaudible), or (inaudible) caught under (inaudible) literature.

So basically, you lost (inaudible) you lost the country.

SCHELL: So, Bao Pu, you are publishing in Hong Kong. So how would you describe the progress of the state of free expression in Hong Kong over the last couple of years?

BAO PU (?): Our experience actually goes two ways. One is there is the flood of submissions. We have more books submitted to us simply because they couldn't—they could no longer publish in the mainland. For example, there is American journalist (inaudible) Simon (ph) wrote a book about the Chinese rights in relationship with the world natural (ph) environment.

And that book—I tried to encourage him, you know, to publish in Shanghai. He almost did. A Shanghai publisher was willing to sign the contract. And then in the—because of the—actually, it happened, you know, the contract was signed before Xi Jinping came to power. And after that, they canceled it—they canceled the project. So I published the book in Hong Kong.

And also we got the—this kind of submission on a daily basis because of the people are afraid of doing things in the mainland.

The other effect is that the authorities try to intervene—some of the works, you know, that I'm trying to publish. So, just, you know, I mean, sometimes with a warning on chatting (ph) and just, you know, letting me know that they are well aware, you know, what you are printing. And it might affect, you know, your visa going through China. So that—it's been done on a regular basis, and this is—this actually did not happen two years before.

SCHELL: So, in each of your cases, you have a certain relationship with your country. Sometimes you can go back. Sometimes you can't. But describe what that feeling is like and what—how that influences what you write and say and do when that whole question of your ability to return home or to leave home is uncertain.

So maybe, Murong, let's start with you.

MURONG XUECUN (?): OK. I must (inaudible) to the tune of the Chinese.


MURONG XUECUN (?) (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Every time I go through the customs in Hong Kong, I have this concern that maybe there will be someone taking away my passport and telling me, sorry, you cannot leave.

This is pretty common among my friends. There's even a bigger problem, which is even if I get out of China, when I try to return, they will come to me and say, sorry, you cannot enter.

To us Chinese, the passport is a problem, but to foreigners the problem is more with their visa.

XIAOLU GUO (?): I guess in the beginning, I had a dubious hope, you know, thinking probably my book would be somehow, you know, either way translated back into Chinese. And I was talking about self-censorship in fictional writing, because in journalism, you know, it's clear. You know, you—in China you can't really, you know, read a BBC or New York Times. So that was clear for journalism.

But for fiction writing, there's gray area, especially from my kind of narrative. You know, it's kind of—the political (inaudible), the fiction element. So I thought I would, you know, get by, but it's not. So, I think during the last several years, I start to be quiet—bleak—and, you know, become just basically I say, well, there's no hope.

And I don't even wish to be translated in a way, because if you being translated, it means, you know, some stuff is going to be lost anyway, and some part is not going to be there if they print it. So, I say something like, you know, let's wait for some years for my books would be published back in Chinese.

But how many years, you know, when—oh, well, probably not (inaudible) last time published.

SCHELL: Well, quite apart from whether your books can be translated back and published in China, tell us a little bit about what it is like for you as a Chinese, foreign-raised in China, to have this sort of very complicated relationship with your homeland.

XIAOLU GUO (?): I think for a long time, I felt this embarrassment, you know, searching for my identity. I think—I guess also, you know, cultural identity and political identity because passport is kind of, you know, which passport are you going to take as your political identity as your protection.

But then culturally, you know, you are clear. You're from that culture. You know, China is where I come from. And it's very, you know, immediately I would think of the case like (inaudible), you know, no longer can return and the (inaudible) writing (inaudible) write in French, live in Paris for the last (inaudible) years.

And as they did become a case, become more and more for writers in exile writing in second language, and no longer could they really somehow connect—you know, culturally, you connect, but politically, you are being basically cut off.

And, I mean, so I felt, you know, use other tool, so making the other tool, which is much—somehow much more direct, you know, it doesn't require so much of an industry and I can show some within 90 minutes to anyone from anywhere.

I think it's very difficult. I mean, also with the new policy at the moment, it's not only influenced the Chinese but also with the new leadership in China now, you know, the Western value is not being encouraged, as you all know, as you're aware, you know, so the Western stuff is less encouraged as in the past.

SCHELL:  Bao Pu, how do you look at this question of your homeland and your life and your identity, your future?

PU: Well, when I decided to publish, and I insist on to exercise, you know, my freedom to publish in Hong Kong. And so, you know, life, having risk—you know, I mean, everything you do, you have to risk, and so, this is doing publishing, you do see this, you know, clear and present, you know, risk and danger, but that's something that I feel like I need to, you know, accept. Otherwise I would be, you know, selling fruits on the street. You know, why do publishing?

So, I see no point of doing publishing if you don't, you know, insist on this kind of, you know, freedom of expression. And, of course, you know, in China, not many people actually, you know, understand this. Because they feel like we're trying to express certain, you know, political view and the—I mean, really, it's not, you know, I mean, we're trying to do—we're trying to defend, you know, the author's freedom of expression. So that's what I do. And there are certain risks.

SCHELL: Now, the Pan American Center's report covers in large measure the way in which foreign writers, when they are published in China, have had to cut things out or make deletions or amendments to their own books. And I wanted to ask you three how that affects you, how you view foreigners when they either refuse to be published or they cut things out or—what effect does that have on the ability of Chinese to kind of keep to their principles in this matter?

GUO: Sicknesses (ph) of integrity from the foreign authors have to be—I think have to be—you know, the effort has to be made, you know, because a large quantity of foreign literature being translated or journalism being translated in Chinese, and the Chinese publication industry does make a lot of money from foreign literature.

But I think a certain integrity, you know, just solidarity, like, you know, I think you should be aware your work is changed or some parts deleted. You know, these have to be investigated and it has to be addressed very clearly.

I mean, most of the cases, 99 percent of the cases, you don't know what's been cut and what's been redone, you know, in your translation. It's certainly vague (ph). And also the linguistic difficulty between the two cultures, I think that's something from Western side, you know, you should be extremely aware of that. And I don't think as just a right, a commercial opportunity to publish. Because it has to be global passion (ph).

SCHELL: And, in your view, should a Western author allow themselves even to be—make small changes?

GUO: I think depends. If it doesn't, you know, if it's not political implicated, if it's some cultural translation difficulty, technical difficulty, I think it's totally all right. But if it's very, you know, if it's totally politically implicated, then you should be very aware of what's doing on.

And this is a very big issue, actually. It relates to every single book being translated back into China (ph).

SCHELL: (inaudible)

MURONG XUECUN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Sometimes the situation could be strange, even if the author himself or herself is willing to compromise to the censorship. His works still could be banned for strange reasons.

For example, in September 2012, the works of every single Japanese writer was kicked out of the Chinese bookstores, because a lot of protests against the Japanese invasion was going on by that time, actually controlled by Chinese government.

So that's the situation. Even if you want to censor yourself, still your work may not be published in China.

My case is one of these. Before 2011, I was pretty willing to censor myself. Right now, looking back to my old work, I still see traces of a self-censorship, and this makes me feel ashamed.

Even if this book's first censored by myself, then censored by those censors, still they cannot be published in these days.

So, for foreign writers, I think working with the censorship means you are already embarking on a downwards spiral. If you can accept a little bit of censorship, then it mean you must be able to accept a lot of censorship, but even then it doesn't you're safe.

SCHELL: So this whole question, of course, of the construct of censorship, as you all have suggested, depends, somewhat on the state and the party, but it also depends in very large measure on an individual's sort of recognition of kind of, you know, feeling the atmosphere and knowing you can and what you cannot get away with.

What effect does that have on the work that you all do and the work that—with authors that you're publishing and associating with?

PU: I mean, I think it's very important to understand how this Chinese censorship works. I think, you know, the most important thing is China's censorship, it starts working before a Chinese author starts writing, because why write a subject, you know, that you know it will never be published? That's number one.

And, number two is that the Chinese censor happens. It's not like, you know, the Western concept of somebody working against the published outlets. The Chinese censor is that, you know, the publishing outlet is the censor themselves, because the head of the publishing house is doing the main censorship, because they're doing editorial selections.

So, number one, your work—if your work are not on their—they have a vast list of what, I mean, topics to censored. And if your work is among one of them, it will never see a Chinese editor.

So when a foreign manuscript reaches a Chinese editor, that means you've passed 99 percent of the Chinese censor already. And the editor making like a few cuts here and there, it means, you know, he tried to work for you and get it published.

So, what a foreign author, you know, will see, of their work, in the Chinese system, is that, you know, it's a tip of iceberg, basically. And now the same rule applies to certain foreign authors, you know, writing the most sensitive subject is on the leaders of Chinese, you know, the most famous figure of Chinese leaders.

So how this book happens, you know, printed, in large number, in China, was someone who can, you know, put this case going through this bureau of publications and broadcasting, this process normally a publishing house couldn't even get through. So somebody has to have that kind of power to make sure that book elevated to a certain status so can go through all this, you know, bureaucracy.

And then you see a Chinese editor. Only in that case, you know, your book being—you know, it's considered, oh, one chapter will be deleted, you know, here and there, you know, make revisions.

So I think, you know, the—also, you know, there is—under this kind of censorship system, the foreign authors are subject to the same rule as the Chinese authors. So the—I mean, I don't see the effect what it's going to have to Chinese authors won't happen, you know, to Western authors, if they are eager to publish in China.

GUO: And, for me, it's nearly, you know, effectively in an interesting from sociology point of view. You know, I think the subject cannot be dealt very simply, because it's about relationship between the power and the individual. And 2,000 years ago, we had this tradition from Chen emperor. 2,000 years ago, he was the one—Chen Xuan (ph)—was a typical one. He was not the first one burying all the intellectuals alive. And he burnt all the books. That was some (ph) thousand years ago, but each dynasty in China, you know, has this tradition (inaudible). Every emperor will choose some books to be burned and some intellectuals to be buried. And I think it's—you know, the—the—you know, what happens now in China is actually—it's not very different from history, you know, as a phenomenon, you know, between the power and the individual freedom.

GUO: And I think why I wanted to say, you know, it's quite interesting—because under that regime, still produced most amazing great stuff. You know, especially when we look at Soviet system. You know, most of my favorite authors from Soviet times—for example, Bulgakov, who wrote "Master and Margarita," is under that regime. You know, so, say, Boris Pasternak, you know, wrote "Doctor Zhivago."

So I wanted to—also to raise that—very interesting complex sociology question. Like, how do we use—how we (ph) writers, especially fiction writers, use crazy metaphor. You know, even Moliere (ph) and the Nobel Prize winner—so-called state writing, used many metaphors in a narrative format in which sometimes it's impossible to read and then penetrate the real story. And that this is something, you know, very alien to the Western readers.

So, to understand—I think to understand the culture, you also need to understand how the artists have created its own metaphor in their analysis. And to penetrate that is, you know—because that's like the—in a way, it's your—it's your study. And I demand, you know, from your time to understand.

You know, I refuse to say simply, you know, there's no great self (ph), you know, from that (ph) system. But I also—I think in my own case, like, I do, you know, change the way of expression from writing second language or writing exclusively (ph) for, like, Western detective novel about a very Chinese subject. In order to present a story, you can't really do it directly, you know, (inaudible).

SCHELL: Well, sometimes, indirection, of course, creates kind of a creative genius on its own...

GUO: Exactly, exactly.

SCHELL: ... but it...

GUO: Well, I'm not being myself. Sorry. I...


SCHELL: ... (inaudible).

XEUCUN: (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): About three years ago, my publisher tried to bring a book to China and publish there. It was a book about a Muslim family. I introduced him to several Chinese publishers and every single of them replied with something like this. "Muslim? No way."

They don't even bother seeing the brief introduction of the book. The word "Muslim" alone turns them away.

The censorship as we know it about cutting chapters and sentences off—that's already—that's already the second round of censorship.

Before that, the Chinese government already has some fairly clear ideas about what can be published and what cannot be when foreign writers are about to bring their books to China.

And even finding (ph) us (ph) a way how the censorship affect Chinese writers themselves. For example, if I talk to my friends saying I'm about to wrote a book about Tiananmen massacre back in 1989, then they will think I'm trying to impress people and make a show of myself.

Even if I'm writing a romantic novel with some mentions of that event, the Tiananmen massacre, and they will come to me and say, "Why do you bring that up?"

And finally, that they have a pretty clear idea of what—what topic is safe and what isn't. They will come to you, approach you and press (ph) you about, "Why don't you write safe stuff, like family, love story, and such?" It's a shame that they have, or they've forgotten that there are more things to write about.

In—in the past—sorry. Actually, right now in China, the genre of crime and detective stories is almost a non-exist. So is sci-fi. For a long time, we are—we were only allowed to write about republic or China times, (ph) or villages or the villages in Republic or China times (ph).


SCHELL: Murong, I can't help but wonder if your columns in The New York Times...

XUECUN: Mm-hmm.

SCHELL: ... aren't also something of an affront to the Chinese Communist Party. Because certainly The New York Times is not in very good odor (ph) in Beijing these days.

XUECUN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I should have already offended them.


About three months ago, there was—we were belonging (ph) to the Chinese propaganda ministry. And they look (ph)—call on—about my column, saying that I was banned. (ph)

Writers like me in China—we have a feeling that we are on some sort of black list. And we suspect our e-mail and cell phone conversations were somehow eavesdropped. But we don't have any proof for that.

This is the funny thing about this time, this era, which is that many dissident writers—they don't want to go to jail. They are afraid, but still, they are already prepared to go to jail. Like a friend of mine who is a professor in a university. He is really well prepared for being arrested. He already has announcement written that is ready to be published outside China on the event of his arrestment (sic). And he has already got four or five lawyers prepared just in case.

SCHELL: Bau Pu, I wonder—I wanted to ask you what your attitude is towards the old idea that was certainly common (ph) in the 1980s, that open markets will lead inevitably to more open societies. It seems now that in a certain sense, that's a more difficult proposition to believe in. How do you look at it?

PU: It's proving incorrect. Because...


... because the assumption...

SCHELL: I—I wasn't going to put it quite so indelicately, but...


PU: ... because—I'm not as eloquent as these writers. So, the—the assumption was the open market will create a—a large amount of middle class. And in turn, you know, the middle class will—will demand their own rights. And that assumption is proving it didn't work. Because in China, the GDP—the government, actually—its revenue is like 20—it grows 20 percent a year. And the average, you know, middle class—so-called middle class—their—their salary is barely catch up with the inflation.

So—so the middle class also—it didn't grow. And also, the—in China, because it's the full economic structure is different that the prosperity that happens, you see, you know, in the city, are—those are already, you know, advantaged in—people in the more advantaged sit—I mean, situations. And they're—they're able to cut larger share of this economic growth—pie of growth. And their—and they know their prosperity lies with—I mean, supporting the party.

And if you're—if you try to make—if you demand your own rights and, you know, the party makes sure that—you know, that you know that—that you will actually, you know, get into some kind of trouble. And, therefore, the end of your prosperity. So that assumption really didn't work out.

SCHELL: Xiaolu, do you agree with that?

GUO: Mm-hmm. I think there's a great contradiction between the open market under ideological control. And this precondition—contradiction creates a very complicated—I think can be quite dangerous, creating a social unrest, because this is absolutely incompatible, these two elements, because we know, you know, it's not really a North Korean case, which is kind of hand-by-hand (ph) control and closed market.

So in China's case, I—I mean, from—from my point of view, I think this great contradiction, how long this will last or can live hand-by-hand (ph). Think the two things (ph) couldn't live together.

In America, there's some intellectuals, like Francis Fukuyama, analyze that, but I think ideological side, they couldn't really put hand on it (ph).

And for example, economists, like Niall Ferguson, analyzed economic side of Chinese situation, but exactly (ph) the ideological control, he couldn't really, you know, have further—further say about it. And because that situation's extremely Chinese—Chinese character (ph)—Russia is not like that. Other countries are not like that.

So this require more understanding how the two things work and are still sort of working, you know. So it's very complex, interesting (ph). It's not a simple, easy subject.

SCHELL: Murong, do you think it's possible, if you look forward for the next five years or so, that China, on the one hand, can become economically more open, more relaxed and more dynamic while at the same time becoming politically more controlled and more centralized? Is this a contradiction that is bound to—to create some kind of a clash, or is this a viable model for the future?

XUECUN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The Chinese government is always really good at telling the good business from the bad business.

If a foreign merchant wants to start a factory in China to manufacture, like, salts (ph) and fish (ph), then it's all fine. The government welcomes you.

If you want to start a newspaper, magazine or even a cinema theater, then that's (ph) business you're talking about.

So China has never really been open market. For—for the most (ph), it might be a semi-open market.

With the coming of the Internet age, a lot of innovations that are ideas (ph), they are not bound to geographic boundaries. Still, the Chinese government tries to claim sovereign (ph) over the Internet, as if the Internet could be defined into two separate things: Internet and the Chinese Internet.

So for the next five years, I think for political stuff, it's definitely going to be tighter, and for economic things, it's going to be tighter, too.

The Chinese government is really good at controlling this. But this greater freedom in economy, there's bound to be more freedom in (inaudible) and speech. This is what Xi Jinping doesn't want to see.

SCHELL: Now, before we get to questions from you all, let me end with one final question. I think, Murong, you have described an absolute contradiction. So I want to ask you all by way of conclusion: Is this a contradiction that is sustainable? Is it possible to have these two different worlds sort of spinning in opposite directions, as they have successfully done, I should say, very successfully done over the past 20, 30 years?

So, Bao Pu, let's start with you.

PU: Well, I believe China is the very typical model of authoritarian states and authoritarian states is stable. And no one actually has—actually, there is no—no claim, you know, that the authoritarian state shouldn't allow the market force, you know, taking place at some point.

And—but China is—and also, you know, the assumption of authoritarian state is somehow unstable is—is I believe, you know, the jury is still out. And I don't see why that the repression, so people assume that, you know, because there's a repression and therefore the system is unstable.

But I think, you know, you shouldn't assume that the system—I mean, the system is unstable because, you know, repression could be a permanent feature of Chinese society. I know many people won't, you know, agree with, you know, this assumption, but the—but still, I mean, I believe the jury is still out and we'll see how this (inaudible) will turn out.

SCHELL: I mean, if you look back historically, certainly repression and control has always been a strong element in any form of statecraft (inaudible).

PU: It's the oldest form of governance. And it could last, you know, 400 years. So, everybody has said that people get depressed, but...

SCHELL: Well, not Xi Jinping.


PU: Right.

SCHELL: I mean, he may be on to something.

PU: I mean, if you are on the receiving side, of course, you would be depressed, but if you change, you know, your perspectives, you know, if you are a Chinese ruler and if you want to do something and the people will do it, and no one, you know, will stop you, and there's no forces, you know, to shift the political equilibrium, why should you change?

And there's no pressure.

GUO: You know, I guess I think of the Soviet (inaudible) turn into Russia. I think after '89, I think for some years, it was very I think sensitive subject how China would become post-Soviet situation, which (inaudible) terrible situation and (inaudible) basically the Russian (inaudible) now (inaudible) country better or worse.

And my feeling, you know, in those years after that, you know, eastern bloc collapse in the '89, I think the official—the policy was very, very aware of that would it become the Chinese situation. But—but it seems the country overcame that crisis, and which is quite phenomenal. You know, it seems like only—one of the only countries survived on that system.

And now no longer I think is China scared even to be the (inaudible) of Russia (inaudible) post-Soviet, no longer scared. The competition is very different. But also the autocracy (ph), as I mentioned earlier, historically was the political structure in China. You know, for so many years, (inaudible) structure is autocratic, not much individual society. It's not a (inaudible) society.

Even the dynasty changed, but the rule of heaven (ph) never changed. So that historically is very sorry (ph) in a way. So I can't—I mean, in a way, you know, (inaudible) with (inaudible) we have to (inaudible) to see, to study.

SCHELL: So Murong, we—we look at China today. We do see a certain impressive stability—an ongoing economic growth. We see a society that hasn't fallen apart like the Middle East, like Russia, like the Ukraine, like North Africa. Isn't this perhaps a good thing?

MURONG XUECUN (?): Yes. I want to say something else.


MURONG XUECUN (?) (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Do you know who is the most loved TV character in China? It's Sheldon Cooper (ph).

SCHELL: That's the big (inaudible).


MURONG XUECUN (?) (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Do you know what's the most allowed (ph) food by Chinese (inaudible? It's McDonald's, KFC and Coca-Cola.

So, basically, the Chinese people (inaudible) very international lives. And they have invented a series of English words to mock the communist party, like the word "citizen" in English is somehow twisted into (inaudible) in Chinese.

Goverment departments in China are also mocked as (inaudible) a party (inaudible).

So this kind of mocking sarcasm is very common by the end of each authoritarian society. We have plenty of jokes about (inaudible).

So, you see the Chinese economy has been booming for some time. They can spend 700 billions on keeping the society stable. But still, they cannot stop the mocking of over 1 billion people or even a half-billion people.

Last year, there was a gathering in Beijing of (inaudible) various people, and among them there were writers and merchants and even former government officials. One of them asked: How long do you think the communist party could keep (inaudible)? Maybe 10 years—those who think it will last for 10 years (inaudible) and several people raised their hands. It's going to end in 20 years, then everybody raised their hand.

I am in China. I actually live there, so I can see what's happening. I really agree with article David Schambaugh (ph) wrote for Wall Street Journal that the communists—the communist party's reign is reaching its end.

SCHELL: That's David Schambaugh (ph) for those of you (inaudible).

MURONG XUECUN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It is so far a different reason. After the Tiananmen massacre, most of the people saw the Chinese communist party as going to kick the bucket in maybe 10 years. But (inaudible) 26 years, however, that pass and it's going like stronger than before.

I live in Beijing and I work around China very often. You can see the signs and omens from the bottom. You see the rage, the dissatisfaction and the sarcasm. And I think this is more important.

SCHELL: So really an atmospheric question for you is very telling.

MURONG XUECUN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As to the atmospherics, I can give you some figures. By 2011—by 2011, every year there are on average 180,000 massive protestations (ph) happening in China. From (inaudible), the communist party stopped the rebellion (inaudible), but (inaudible) the number is actually going up.

And the scale is going up, too. In the recent months, there are several protesting and they have tens of thousands of people there. I have a friend who studies this kind of protesting and he says that young people under 30 years old make the majority in these incidents.

More and more people with college education are joining the movements.

Several months ago, we protesting (inaudible) province. We have our the same people from different cities and towns joining together to work against the government.

Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption is actually fueling this phenomenon, because at the bottom, the government officials are getting less. Because they are not paid so well, they don't want to do as much as before. So we can see the scale of the protests are growing and the government is not doing so much.

SCHELL: I'm going to stop you here, because we have only about 13 minutes for questions. It's very interesting, but I do want to give these people a chance to question you all.

Right here for the first question, please state who you are and keep your questions brief.

QUESTION: Jerry Cohen from NYU and the Council.

This has been a wonderful but necessarily depressing discussion. And the situation may be getting worse in China. Americans always want to do something. Can you suggest anything in the light of the current circumstances that we ought to be doing in order to improve the situation if at all possible?

And I say this against the background of the current draft law that's before the National People's Congress that is going to sharply restrict all foreign contacts with China other than intergovernmental or business contacts. The so-called NGO restriction law is going to strike at educational, literary, cultural, all kinds of exchanges. And against this depressing prospect, can you give us any suggestions of what we might be doing that we haven't been doing?

NOSSEL: I mean one thing I—I could mention is it's something like Pen organization is doing, reasons in Germany, in Burlingacher (ph) festival, they are quite political every year. Recently, there's a big kind of solidarity support to Chinese, you know, the supressed leaders, led by Heather Miller, (ph) the Nobel Prize winner in Germany, and now you'd (ph) (inaudible)

So the protest is in this kind of very big, elite, festival in the capital in Germany, and they do that every year. And I think this should be done everywhere in the world, especially, I think, a situation like that in (inaudible) is doing great.

But I think, you know, we shouldn't suggest big names, you know, a very influential writer that (inaudible). You know, those writers should I think have some conversations directed to—to Chinese writers to discuss, if we want to talk about within the culture and artwork, you know, that's the direct voice.


(UNKNOWN): I mean, I think whatever you do, you really have to get rid of all the illusions that you have to be aware this Chinese censorship is not benign. Because it actually—it—its very willingness, you know, to ignore truth and facts, it does create real problems between, you know, the two relationships, you know, between two countries, because it breeds you know, just like, prejudice.

And so you really have to understand, you know, this is—this is going to, you know, if you—if you see this is something not related to us, it will actually backfire, and it will harm, you know, the relationship you know, in the long run.

SCHELL: OK. Next question right here.

I think it's probably on, Matt.

QUESTION: I'm Matt Pottinger. (ph)

Question for you, we've seen that a lot of American writers, filmmakers, social media companies, have been willing to—and academics I would add, have been willing to submit to Chinese censorship in order to gain access to that market.

Are you seeing evidence that American writers, filmmakers, and the rest are also beginning to censor what they publish here at home in order not to offend Chinese authorities?

GUO: Absolutely. We just discuss about incredibly the situation (inaudible) from the West become opportunists, writing those books which is totally not genuine about China. And so I mean, I met a feeling in Europe which I found very sad, because if we can't publish in a country, then those knowledges would be the first group you know, to suggest a certain kind of reality to the world. And you see they were quite opportunist, because just a current economic situation, they need to be invited to the always, you know, to go back to China, to do the economic research.

And I think that effect (inaudible) the mind of a scholar is really not very great.

(UNKNOWN): And also for the first time, we have Western scholars submitting English manuscript for us to publish, because its view on China, and it was, you know, rejected by university presses for reasons—citing reasons as well, you're not sinologists, why do you write a book on China?

So we have these kind of—and also the work is actually quite interesting, and we're actually, you know, considering, you know, publishing it in English in Hong Kong.

SCHELL: OK. Next question right here.

QUESTION: Hi, my name's Jessica Chen, and this is for Bao Pu specifically.

Do you feel that perhaps in Hong Kong they've experienced a much more sort of open society where people in Hong Kong have been able to enjoy lots of freedom that Chinese people on the mainland haven't? Are you maybe aware or have experienced as a news publisher certain multinational corporations might be wanting to pull out ads from the paper if you decide to publish anything that's sensitive or political or that might offend?

PU: Well, that's a known fact. Certain papers do not get any advertisement from—from real estate, because Hong Kong, you know, these big you know, real estate companies, spend a lot of money on like advertisement. And now there—there—the bank also you know, retreated from these papers. It's a known fact. It's been reported.

GUO: I just want to mention this before you—you might close the session, I just want to invite everyone here to—for tomorrow, six p.m., on the New York Public Library staircase, on the stairs, with writers like Jonathan Franzen, (inaudible) for a literary protest, tomorrow, six p.m., reading from jailed writers in front of New York Public Library.

SCHELL: OK. Other questions?

Back here.

QUESTION: It's Carl Myer (ph).

Every Friday, I pick up a paper called Ipuck (ph) Times, which is free, and it's published by Falun Gong or supporters of that religion. And it has, first of all, statistic of how many people have resigned from the Communist Party. Then it has almost every issue, a story about a writer, performer, or whatnot facing censorship problems.

My question is this. Do you look upon minority religions in China as lies in the fight for free expression? Do you look on Falun Gong as a legitimate voice also for dissenters?

SCHELL: Who would like to do that one?

PU (?): You know, if you have a freedom to publish, there is also a question of how you use that freedom. So, I mean the—the journalist's, you know, integrity, I mean, it's—there is a different paper, there's a different standard.

I think it really depends. We—as you know, a publisher, we treat apple (ph) time as you know, any other news outlet and we don't discriminate because its association with Falun Gong.

And we kind of—we I mean, just—just imagine if the—the persecution of this particular, you know, religious sect gets created you know, it's because, you know, they have—they feel like you know, they will have a voice, right? If we assume you know, that the—they follow certain kind of you know, journalist, you know, standard, and created a news outlet like you know, the for instance, you know, the—the what's the—but no, the Arabic...

SCHELL: Al Jazeera.

PU (?): Al Jazeera. Them people will view this group, you know, differently, and I think you know, they will have—they will open up, you know, they will be able to communicate with more people. That's basically how I see. I mean, I was asked by one of the—the reporters from that paper, and that's exactly, I mean, what I told them.

SCHELL: OK. I think we have time for one more question in the back here.

QUESTION: Herbert Levin. Council member.

I have asked Chinese writers of articles, not of novels, of books, of their problems in getting published, and what they said was well, first be very historic, refer to Suma Tien (ph) and the Yulung (ph) emperor, how they handled corruption, and then don't try and get published in Beijing or Shanghai. Go to the Gonsu (ph) provincial social science center and get published in their magazine and you'll get published. Then you're on the Internet and everybody sees your article.

So there—their advice was well, you can get—you can get published, and then they laughed and they said, you know, it's easier to get published in China than in the U.S. publication sometimes, but you just to know how—how to do it.

Are they just being acute, or is that really true?

GUO: It used to be the case. It used to be the case you can publish your slightly alternative work through the provincial publisher house, but it's no longer, because everything comes back to the central place in Beijing, the censorship, the ISBN, it's all from the censor, the administration.

But I think underneath the problem is because Chinese society is very—it's very monolith society. There is no—there is no channel for the alternative voice. It's not a multiculture society, and therefore the whole structure has no outlet for anything. And I think in a way, you know this—the problem is beyond say censorship. In the literature world, it's absolutely a very big problem politically, economically, and culturally.

SCHELL: Any last thoughts from (OFF-MIKE) two minutes?

PU: Well there is no—no point to—to think you know, there is—there is a—a technical loopholes to bypass the Chinese censorship. The point is there is not. And if you do get, you know, published, either you have no influence or you get into trouble.

So, the—the fact that you pass through—slip through, you know, the censorship, you know, may not you know, end up, you know, a very happy situation.

SCHELL: I had a friend, a short story writer who was writing fairly outrageous short stories, and I asked him how he managed to get them published, and he said, it doesn't matter. Nobody reads them anyway.


 Murong, last though?

XUECUN (through translator): I'll start with a premise question.

The Chinese (inaudible) foreign journalists and writers.

Most importantly, it doesn't target foreigners. The target is always the Chinese people.

We see this big billboard in Times Square belonging to Xinhua News Agency.

You are not intended audiences supposed to be show on the Chinese TV to show to us.

On this upcoming B.A., you will definitely think—see a lot of books about Xi Jinping.

They know that you are not interested in this hoax, but that's not the point. The point is the news about the sending of this hoax makes it to the Chinese newspaper and TV. Then, it shows to the Chinese people that see, we have exported this to the United States.

SCHELL: OK. Listen. Please join me in thanking...


... our esteemed panelists for returning to the conversation.


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