Protesters, including some Chinese writers, at the New York Public Library this week while a Chinese publishing delegation attended BookExpo only blocks away.
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
A few years ago, the Chinese writer Murong Xuecun had the kind of career most novelists dream about. His eight books had sold two million copies in China, and he had amassed more than eight million social media followers.
But in 2011, he decided to stop publishing. He was afraid of running afoul of Chinese censors, and was even more concerned about the self-censorship that had crept into his work. Now he wishes he had never published some of his earlier books, which tiptoed around political issues.
查看大图Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, at BookExpo in Manhattan, to which China sent 500 delegates from publishing houses and 26 authors.
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press
Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, at BookExpo in Manhattan, to which China sent 500 delegates from publishing houses and 26 authors.
“When I look back on them, I feel ashamed of myself,” said Mr. Murong, 41, who lives in Beijing and whose real name is Hao Qun.
Mr. Murong was among a handful of writers who gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library on Wednesday night to protest the limits on free speech and expression in China. The gathering, organized by the PEN American Center, was prompted by the presence of a large delegation of Chinese publishers at BookExpo America, a major publishing trade event taking place in Manhattan this week.
The juxtaposition was striking. This week, thousands of booksellers, librarians, publishers and authors mingled at BookExpo, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where Chinese publishers were being feted as international guests of honor. To mark the event, the Chinese government sent a 500-person delegation from 100 publishing houses, and 26 of its top authors. Chinese publishers claimed close to 25,000 square feet of floor space at the hall and planned 50 events around the city, including poetry readings, film screenings, author panels and presentations from its largest publishers.
Not many blocks away, Mr. Murong stood on the library steps and read aloud from an open letter he had written to Chinese censors in 2013, after his social media account was blocked and its contents deleted. “You treat literature as poison and free speech as a crime,” he said.
He was joined by prominent American writers like Jonathan Franzen, Paul Auster, Francine Prose and A. M. Homes, and by the China-born novelists Ha Jin and Xiaolu Guo. They took turns reading works by Chinese authors who are in prison or under house arrest for their writing, including the Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser, the writer Liu Xia and her husband, the poet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion.
“There are all of these writers in China who are in jeopardy for expressing themselves, and if you have a government-sanctioned delegation, you’re only getting part of the story,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the PEN American Center, an organization that promotes free speech.