I Know This Now

October 8, 2014 1:35 PM

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A small story that may shed light on the Chinese government's fear of the protests in Hong Kong: Five days before pro-democracy activists took to the streets, calling for the reinstitution of the Basic Law guaranteeing free and open elections in 2017, with a slate of candidates chosen by the people rather than the Communist Party, I received word from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou that our cultural diplomacy tour was in jeopardy. Chinese officials had pressured one local partner to pull out of our collaboration -- threatened, so it seemed, by the prospect of American artists conducting workshops in creative writing, dance, and composition for university students, independent artists, and members of the disabled community -- and soon after we arrived in China the Ministry of Public Security issued a directive canceling the rest of our program.

This was disheartening. For the International Writing Program (IWP), which was co-founded by the Chinese novelist Hualing Engle, has since 1979 brought scores of distinguished Chinese writers for residencies at the University of Iowa, including the Nobel laureate Mo Yan, best-selling novelists Su To...

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