Monday, May 9, 2011

Q: How do you say Yoani Sanchez in Chinese?

A: Liao Yiwu.

Pull quote: "Mr. Liao said that he had been denied permission 14 times to leave China from 1999 until last autumn, when he received permission to travel to Germany...
"'While I was in Germany, my friends suggested that I stay in Germany and not return to China with all the restrictions, but I told them I wanted to return to China since I write about China,' he said, expressing no regrets about this decision."

Photo: Eugene Hoshiko, File
FILE - In this June 6, 2008 file photo, Chinese poet and novelist Liao Yiwu revisits the earthquake damaged Gu Temple in Jiezi town of Sichuan Province, China. Sydney Writers' Festival officials said Monday, May 9, 2011, that the Chinese government had blocked author and government critic Liao from leaving China for security reasons.

China Bars Prominent Writer From Overseas Travel
By KEITH BRADSHER, NYT - May 9, 2011

HONG KONG – A prominent Chinese writer has been barred from leaving China to attend a literary festival next week in Australia, the writer and festival officials said on Monday, in the latest sign of China's ongoing crackdown on domestic critics.

The writer, Liao Yiwu, is a poet, author and musician who went to prison for four years after the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989 for composing a strongly worded eulogy for the fallen. Some of his more recent writings on people at the margins of life in China, including a professional funeral mourner and a grave robber, have been compiled in a translated book, "The Corpse Walker".

Mr. Liao said in a telephone interview that security officials had invited him to a teahouse in his hometown of Chengdu and had informed him that he had not been granted permission to leave the country to attend the Sydney Writers' Festival. The officials did not provide a reason, Mr. Liao said, adding that, "I was politely treated."

The travel ban on Mr. Liao is a reminder that China restricts free speech beyond the more widely reported detentions and disappearances of bloggers, writers and lawyers this spring, the biggest such crackdown in years.

Mr. Liao was also denied permission last month to attend the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York, where he had been scheduled to speak on April 25. The chairman of the festival, Salman Rushdie, criticized the travel prohibition as, "an extremely unfortunate statement on the part of Chinese authorities about its willingness to engage in free and open cultural exchange."

A man answering the phone at Chengdu police headquarters seemed to recognize Mr. Liao's name and said that he would have to check with colleagues on Mr. Liao's status; shortly after, the man returned to the phone and said that he did not know anything about the subject.

Mr. Liao had been scheduled to appear at the Sydney Writers' Festival as part of a panel to discuss China's rising political influence in Australia. At a separate event at the festival, he was also supposed to read his poetry and perform a musical accompaniment on an ancient Chinese instrument that resembles a long flute, although it is held perpendicular to the lips instead of parallel like a Western concert flute.

The musical poetry reading has been cancelled but the panel will go ahead with other speakers, said Chip Rolley, the festival's artistic director.

Travel restrictions on Chinese critics of the regime coincide with China's cancellation of dozens of cultural forums and other events that Western embassies had organized this spring, as the Chinese government has shown a growing suspicion of foreign influence and Western ideas. That suspicion has followed calls for the Arab world's "jasmine revolution" to take hold in China as well, although there has been little sign that these calls have drawn any broad response except from Chinese security forces, who have turned out in force at gathering places suggested for protests.

Even before calls for a jasmine revolution, China sometimes prevented prominent dissidents from speaking overseas, most notably when Liu Xiaobo was denied permission to travel to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10; the prize was awarded to him in absentia.

Mr. Liao said that he had been denied permission 14 times to leave China from 1999 until last autumn, when he received permission to travel to Germany after literary acclaim for "The Corpse Walker."

"While I was in Germany, my friends suggested that I stay in Germany and not return to China with all the restrictions, but I told them I wanted to return to China since I write about China," he said, expressing no regrets about this decision.

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