Its the London Book Fair this week, and China is the controversial ‘market focus’ country. To mark this, English PEN staged a day-long forum on Chinese literature and invited artists both from inside China and in exile.
One of the visitors was Ou Ning, who introduced his film about forced demolitions in Beijing, ahead of the 2008 Olympics. During the Q&A I asked Ou Ning about remix culture in china, and then followed with a rather loaded question about film vs literature. You can watch the event below or see my particular question on YouTube.
There wasn’t time for me to engage him in a debate, but I’m not sure I agree with Ou Ning’s assertion that film beats literature. Both are important. In the short term, I agree that film and video are superior in showing fellow Chinese people, and the rest of the world, what is actually happening. However, I’m not sure that providing that enhanced knowledge is sufficient to bring about lasting change. I think literature has an essential role in bringing about change, whether that is through an Arab Spring style uprising (a ‘Jasmine’ revolution?) or a kind of Chinese glasnost. A fundamental shift in mindset is required for either kind of reform, and I think the depth and nuance that long form literary work brings is essential to inspiring such a change.
Yesterday, English PEN took part in a demonstration with other free speech organisations outside the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan. We demanded the release of Eynulla Fatullayev, and editor who was imprisoned for defamation of the state (i.e. criticising the government), a law which it is generally agreed is an infringement of the right to free expression.
The protest was convened in part to show solidarity with Azeri writers and Fatullayev’s family, so providing a translation was essential. After edting it, we used a nifty tool called CaptionTube to create subtitle tracks for the video.
Due to English PEN’s various free speech campaigns, I’ve been cited in a couple of print publications recently. I welcomed Jack Straw’s announcements on libel reform in The Bookseller, and celebrated a minor victory on Criminal Memoirs for Inside Time. There doesn’t seem to be a permalink for the latter article, so I’m reproducing it below.