China keeps rising up on my radar. A couple of my friends recently went to China, so maybe I'm more aware of Chinese references than I normally would be, but it seems as if China has been appearing in the news more and more lately--stories about bird flu, the Governator's visit, Bush's vist (it makes me crazy to hear him try to promote "freedom" in China when he is eroding it so ferociously at home), etc. Today, I found this article about Chinese poet and journalist, Shi Tao, who has been silenced by the Chinese government for writing an email about potential unrest in Tiananmen Square. He is serving 10 years in a prison on a small island, where he is "forced to do labour processing jewels." The sentence is harsh enough, but I found this the worst part: "He is not allowed to write anything while in prison, except for letters to his family." That seems like the worst punishment you could give a writer. I hope he is able to pour his heart out in those letters, hope he is able to express himself freely within his constraints.
Writers and poets are considered dangerous for good reason--we can tell the truth; we can cut through the veils, the lies, of power with a few sharp words. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that some governments resort to imprisoning, silencing, even murdering (as in the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, which I mentioned yesterday) those who choose to use their voices to try to bring about change, but it breaks my heart every time I hear about another case. Freedom of Speech is under attack in our own country, of course; I was upset to discover that the Patriot Act is being renewed, that our government still has the authority to snoop at our library files, our bookstore receipts. I am grateful for the brave librarians and booksellers who have refused to hand over information. And I am grateful for all the brave writers around the world who continue to use their voices, even under threat of persecution.