BANNED WRITER LIAO YIWU, SALMAN RUSHDIE EXCHANGE MESSAGES, SOLIDARITY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 27, 2011

New York City, April 27, 2011—In a remarkable exchange of letters made necessary by the Chinese government’s refusal to allow acclaimed writer Liao Yiwu to travel to New York for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature this week, Liao and Festival Chair Salman Rushdie affirmed the power of literature and solidarity in the face of violations of freedom to write.

Liao, the author of the acclaimed work The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up and the forthcoming God Is Red, was originally told by local authorities in his home city of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, that he would be able to secure an exit visa to attend the PEN Festival, which opened in New York on Monday, and the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May. But days before he was due to travel, authorities re-contacted Liao and informed him that would be barred from traveling outside of China. Liao has reportedly also been asked to sign a document agreeing that he would no longer seek to publish his “illegal” works overseas.

“I first heard Salman Rushdie’s name in the 1980s, when I was still a young poet,” Liao wrote from China yesterday. “Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini was chasing after him, putting out a 5 million dollar bounty for his head. I was deeply shocked by his story.”

Noting that Rushdie had placed an empty chair in Liao’s honor at the Festival’s opening event Monday evening, Liao paid tribute to jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, whose absence at the Nobel award ceremony was also commemorated with an empty chair. “I can only hope that my writings, which serve as testimony on China’s present and its history, deserve that empty chair at your opening ceremony,” Liao concluded.

In an email message to Liao this morning, Rushdie answered, “In the sense that your groundbreaking, vivid writings about China’s history and current situation have admirers around the world, not least here in the United States, you are of course most worthy of the empty chair.”

But he added, “In the sense that the chair symbolizes your government’s attempt to suppress your voice, you are most decidedly unworthy of such treatment, as are your colleagues Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, Ran Yunfei, and the many other writers, artists, and activists who are currently restrained from addressing audiences in your country and around the world.”

“Quite simply, we miss you,” Rushdie wrote. “We feel your absence—which, I suppose, is the ultimate testimony to the power of your words.”

“PEN American Center stands with you, and we will continue to protest all attempts to limit your freedom to write,” he pledged.

The full text of the Liao Yiwu and Salman Rushdie letters follows.

A Thank You Note to Mr. Salman Rushdie and the PEN World Voices Festival
Translated by Wenguang Huang

I first heard Salman Rushdie’s name in the 1980s, when I was still a young poet. He wrote The Satanic Verses, and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini was chasing after him, putting out a 5 million dollar bounty for his head. I was deeply shocked by his story.

It is a tremendous honor to receive an invitation from this heroic writer. This is actually his second invitation. However, I cannot cross the ocean to New York City. This prison-like state has confined me. I’m not alone. My friends Ran Yunfei, Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei are now suffering in prison.

For those writers who speak out for me at the New York literary festival, even though we cannot meet, our hearts are bound together.

At a certain venue in Norway in 2010, an empty chair was set on the stage for my old friend Liu Xiaobo. I can only hope that my writings, which serve as testimony on China’s present and its history, deserve that empty chair at your opening ceremony.

Thank you all.
Chinese Writer: Liao Yiwu

Salman Rushdie’s Response:

Dear Liao Yiwu,

In the sense that your groundbreaking, vivid writings about China’s history and current situation have admirers around the world, not least here in the United States, you are of course most worthy of the empty chair.

In the sense that the chair symbolizes your government’s attempt to suppress your voice, you are most decidedly unworthy of such treatment, as are your colleagues Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, Ran Yunfei, and the many other writers, artists, and activists who currently restrained from addressing audiences in your country and around the world.

Quite simply, we miss you. We had for months been looking forward to welcoming you to the 2011 PEN World Voices Festival in New York, and to your performances at two of this year’s premier events. In denying you permission to be with us, your government has not only once again impinged on your right, guaranteed under Chinese and international law, to write, speak, and travel freely; it has impinged on our right to see you and hear you in person. We feel your absence—which, I suppose, is the ultimate testimony to the power of your words.

Please know that I and all of my colleagues at PEN American Center stand with you, and that we will continue to protest all attempts to limit your freedom to write.

Respectfully yours,
Salman Rushdie

PEN America

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