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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Outspoken Poets in the Old and New Chinas

By April 6, 2011

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In 8th century China, the poet Li Po (aka Li Bai or Li T’ai Po) was both a rebel wanderer and a courtier in the T’ang Dynasty—until he was banished from the Emperor’s court for his irreverent outspokenness. Today he is remembered as the archtype of a wild-man poet (it is rumored that he drowned while drunkenly attempting to embrace the moon’s reflection in the Yangtze), but he is also revered, together with his contemporary Tu Fu, as one of the two greatest of Chinese poets.

It appears that the Chinese rulers’ desire to suppress free speech—especially from those most articulate and powerful speakers: poets, artists and writers—has not diminished in the last 13 centuries. Just this week, we’ve been reading about yet another outspoken artist who was taken away and presumably imprisoned by the Chinese authorities on Sunday—Ai Weiwei, who also happens to be the son of a well-known Chinese poet. This case naturally brings to mind the plight of another prisoner of the Chinese government—last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winning poet Liu Xiaobo. While we’re celebrating National Poetry Month here in North America, let’s spare a thought for the poets around the world who are sitting in prison for speaking their minds, including Saw Wei in Myanmar, Tsering Woeser in China, and many more. (You can read the stories of these and other currently imprisoned writers at the PEN American Center website.)

from The Australian:
‘Invincible’ China Spooked by Change,” by Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor
“For some time now, the CCP has been puzzling over what to do about the unique artist Ai Weiwei.... Liu Xiaobo, who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, is a considerable figure in a rather more traditional mode, that of the gentleman scholar, thinker and writer. He was jailed 16 months ago for 11 years, for inciting state subversion.... Ai is a one-off: a bear-like, bearded figure with a brilliant mind. I met him three years ago in the extraordinary, vast home-cum-studio he designed on the northern fringe of Beijing. He also helped design the curved steel bird’s nest stadium for the Olympic Games and has staged three exhibitions in Australia in the past five years. It was long thought that he was sheltered from the effects of his own fearlessness, by the widespread respect for his poet father Ai Qing—whom even Premier Wen Jiabao had taken to quoting.”

from The New York Times:
U.S. Diplomat Sharply Criticizes China on Rights,” by David Barboza
“Using a high-profile annual lecture on Chinese-American relations to make his final public address as ambassador, Mr. Huntsman said bluntly that prominent Chinese activists had been unfairly detained or jailed, naming Liu Xiaobo, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for ‘subversion,’ and Ai Weiwei, the Beijing artist who was taken into custody on Sunday.”

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