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In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof remembers what transpired twenty years ago today on and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. “So, 20 years later, what happened to that bold yearning for democracy?,” he asks.
One answer is that most energy has been diverted to making money, partly because it’s a safer outlet… Another answer is that many of those rickshaw drivers and bus drivers and others in 1989 were demanding not precisely a parliamentary democracy, but a better life—and they got it.
But the power of the memories of twenty years ago is captured in a fascinating front-page Times story on Chen Guang, who witnessed the events as a 17-year-old soldier from the countryside, and now, haunted by those fateful days, marks the events in art that the government works hard to suppress.
If you haven’t done so, today is the right day to read my interview with dissident Chinese playwright Sha Yexin, and particularly his words about a writer’s relationship with power:
If you are a writer who writes for power, objectively you are working, directly or indirectly, for corruption and stupidity, for more suffering and cruelty for the people. You may have some excuses if you are forced to write for power. If you write for power out of your own will, how can you evade your responsibility as an accomplice? As may be easily understood, what I am speaking about is power in a totalitarian state. It is power without oversight and constraints, as compared with power born from democratic elections. Refusing to write for power also means refusing to write according to the will of those in power, or to promote their ideology in one’s writings. One may choose to write for any other purpose: to write for art, for life, for oneself or others. But he or she must not write for power.
As he stresses, Sha is talking about a totalitarian society, but the tendency and problems that he identifies also occur in democracies.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”