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Twenty Years Later


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.

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