Jan 26: A Translator of "Urgent and Essential Importance"

Posted on January 17, 2012 by Scott Esposito

On January 26, we're co-hosting Perry Link, whose new translation of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo was just called a "new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance" in the New York Review of Books. The book is No Enemies, No Hatred, published by Graywolf, which is doing more and more translations these days.

First the event details:

Mechanics Institute Library
57 Post Street, San Francisco
6:00 pm
FREE for members of the Mechanics Institute, the Asia Society, or Center mailing list subscribers

Now on to the review. It's a rather remarkable review and it shows why we're excited to be having Link for the event. It starts out by saying:

Bookshops are now submerged by a tidal wave of new publications attempting to provide information about China, and yet there is (it seems to me) one new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance, both for the specialist and for the general reader alike—the new collection of essays by Liu Xiaobo, judiciously selected, translated, and presented by very competent scholars, whose work greatly benefited from their personal acquaintance with the author.

The review is worth a read, as it gives a fascinating history of Xiaobo:

At that moment, Liu Xiaobo was in New York, having accepted an invitation to teach political science at Columbia’s Barnard College. Like many Chinese intellectuals before him, Liu had first idealized the West; however, his experiences, first in Europe and then in the United States, soon shattered his illusions. During a visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, he experienced a sort of epiphany that crystallized the turmoil of his latest self-questioning: he realized the shallowness of his own learning in the light of the fabulous riches of the diverse civilizations of the past, and simultaneously perceived the inadequacy of contemporary Western answers to mankind’s modern predicament. His own dream that Westernization could be used to reform China suddenly appeared to him as pathetic as the attitude of “a paraplegic laughing at a quadriplegic,” he confessed at the time.

And it makes the book of essays sound really interesting:

Some of the essays focus on specific events, from which the author draws deeper lessons; others address broader sociopolitical and cultural issues, which are then illustrated with examples drawn from current incidents.

A good example of the first type is provided by an important article exposing the horrendous case of the “Black Kilns.” (Later on, at Liu’s last trial, this was one of the six essays adduced as evidence of his criminal attempt at “subversion of state power.”) In May 2007, parents of children who had gone missing in Henan province reported their disappearance to courageous local television journalists. It turned out that operators of the brick kilns in Shanxi province had organized large kidnapping networks to supply their kilns with slave labor, and local authorities in two provinces had apparently been complicit in these criminal rackets.

The police proved singularly inept in their attempt to dismantle these abominable networks: only a small number of children were found and rescued—10 percent of the more than one thousand missing. Penal sanctions, which are usually ruthless in dealing with dissent from Party authority, were glaringly perfunctory and superficial: ninety-five Party members and public officials were involved, but they were merely subjected to “Party discipline,” and not to criminal charges. Higher officials only received “serious warning from the Party.” Liu concludes: “The mighty government, with all of its advantages and vast resources, is not ready to do battle with the Chinese underworld.” The main concern of the Communist Party, he writes, is to maintain its tight monopoly over all public power. Officials at every level are appointed, promoted, or dismissed at the exclusive will of a private group: the Party itself.