Frank Moorhouse: Soft Power, Hard Labour

Australian writer Frank Moorhouse explains why he declined an invitation to participate in a writers tour of China:

Having at first accepted, I decided in January to withdraw, following the Christmas Day jailing of Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo for 11 years and the disappearance at about the same time of one of his supporters, Liu Di.

These events confirmed to me that the Chinese government is not moving in the direction of freedom of expression, as my earlier visits had led me to believe.

This seems to be further confirmed by the extension of political censorship of internet search engines and political interference with email in China.

…I made this act of withdrawal as an individual writer, but also as a member of PEN’s Distinguished Writers Panel and as the 2008 recipient of the PEN-Keneally Award for my defence of freedom of expression in an essay, A Writer in a Time of Terror, published in Griffith Review. I gave a number of public talks based on the essay and it was reprinted and widely reported in all media and online. It also received the Alfred Deakin Award for best essay contributing to public debate and a Walkley Award.

Because I had been so vocal about freedom of expression in my own country, which involved no great risk, and had been publicly recognised for it, I felt it would be unseemly of me to go to China, to be feted and to remain silent while Chinese writers were being sent to jail.