ICPC’s Road of A Decade: Harmony Within Differences

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By Ma Jian

This year, Independent Chinese PEN Centre is 10 years old. It has developed from 30+ members to nearly 300, from a baby starting its steps to the one going to the world, having experienced all the ups and downs of growth. Today, I will only talk about my personal experience at ICPC Board as I may be the only founding member there.

I think that firstly we have yet reached a consensus on the direction of PEN, but still exploring. Some members believe that PEN aims at defending freedom of expression while others consider literature as the soul of PEN, demanding to keep a distance from politics. I reiterate Sartre’s opinion: literature should not be extricated from society, nor is simply to pursuit of beautiful language, but to awaken people’s consciousness, and a way to find a solution. The literature itself is a way of action. Therefore, literary works are all political, even if it seems far away from politics. At the same time, literature is also to escape from politics, even if it is directly discussing politics. Literature includes fiction, poetry and political commentary, and all other styles. The politics and literature are two wings of an author, who cannot fly when lack of either. A good political essay is literary, while a bad novel cannot be considered as a literature work. Literature is the highest requirement for writing and thinking, and so ICPC will not eliminate its aim of literature to become a political body. A political essay is as important as a novel and poetry, which is my point of view to have been back in ICPC Board.

For a career writer based on independent writing overseas, an individual would not be related to an organization since a professional author may only face his readers through his life. Some writers, such as Cao Xueqin and Kafka, did not even have readers. As ICPC co-founder Bei Ling said, an ideal PEN club is a literary republic, meaning that such kind of PEN club simply cannot exist. Joining ICPC makes only a sense: there still literary inquisition in China, with no sign of its termination, while Chinese language has not yet entered the era of true freedom to write. Although I am not fearing of literary inquisition but living in a free society, there is a motive that caught my attention: morally caring about Chinese society and fellow writers. Although this is the mentality of a volunteer, there are also some causes of personality, nosy and frowning to those bullying on the weak. Although hating “organization”, a word opposite to “individual”, when thinking about the literary friends in it, I join them. Moreover, I have been a salesman-like, from time to time to introduce more of my friends to join us, such as Zhou Duo, Tienchi Liao and so on.

After joining ICPC, in addition to face the community development at home and abroad, we have to face the contradiction between consensus and disagreement among the literatis, to which Mr. Maiping Chen, the former Secretary-General had done a lot of work. It can be said, that without his efforts, ICPC could not grow so strong as it is today. All of the presidents have also done their best. I have been a Board Member elected in and out, just upholding my personal point of view to face the emerging conflicts but not able to coordinate others ideas.

For a decade, ICPC has changed in generations like all of organizations. Some of the founding members have quitted, some lost their enthusiasm, and some even become the opponents, indicting that ICPC is still young, with poor awareness of regulations, the difficulties in gathering the different writers, but also the necessity for ICPC’s existence. If we cannot seek a common ground at some points while reserving differences, we will not eligible to demand China to move toward democratization and diversity. PEN is the home of the thinkers and elites caring about the social issues, and so it must break off the evil curse that there is always some infighting where there are Chinese people.

ICPC’s general direction should be to enhance all styles of Chinese writing. The literary quality demonstrates the worth ICPC’s existence. The political essays have shown the plight of Chinese literature. ICPC has no political resources to resist totalitarian regime, only moral resources to fight for people’s understanding or to reveal the truth. We rely on a pen to promote PEN. At the same time, protecting the members and reducing the risk of their writings are also our key mandate. We must not change our direction of free writing because the Chinese government has been tightening the freedom of expression, but we have to assess the situation and adjust the development strategy. Today, this is just the bottleneck of ICPC development. As we have constantly got new blood joining us, we should also motivate nearly half of the old members who have been silenced, to take literature for meeting friends again.

We should also pay attention to the situation that, under political fear, the majority of the writers have been forced to a way out: coldness with some ridicules, no rebelling, nor touching reality, but stop thinking. This style is the literary taboo. The literature with the humanitarianism can only remain at the level of fairy-tale of good and evil. Such kind of work without penetration is the writer’s disgrace, as well as a tragedy to PEN. ICPC should be alert to that the censorship slips into the work by our members to get the literature lose ideas. ICPC Board should have a responsibility to do some work, such as promoting the comments on our works and strengthening the international exchanges and translations, to request the members to comment the publications at ICPC website and the e-journal Freedom to Write. More attentions should be paid to that as the lies have been tied with power, our social responsibilities have been increased to avoid overflowing of writings from enthusiasm. In particular, the internet writers should promote the energy of their literary ideas to get the expression more saturated with people.

We are all trying to establish a self-world. However, we should also provide a safe spiritual home for our members, in order to obtain ideological emancipation and to create enduring literary classics. This is not only the reason for our members to join us, but also the significance why we want a writer under a totalitarian control to risk for ICPC membership. A human cannot live to receive an insult until the death. To express ideas is our dignity and dream, for which propose of course ICPC has be present for a decade.

A decade has passed, and now we express our thanks to all of our founding and early members. As different routes to the same destination, as long as ICPC’s purpose does not change, here is your home of “Harmony within Differences”. I look forward to the moment of ICPC twentieth anniversary when there will be none of us in absence.