Written by Oiwan Lam
Two Chinese writers, Jing Ge and Ye Mi, stepped down from their public positions as the vice presidents of the China Writers Association’s Suzhou branch last week. Both their resignation letters were posted on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo and attracted many reposts, comments and messages of praise.
The China Writers Association is a national union for writers led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). With 9,301 members spread out among its 44 branches, the association’s mission is to promote literature and socialist thought.
Literature and art has been at the core of ideological struggle in Chinese history since the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942. Photo: Historical photo.
Some have interpreted Jing Ge’s and Ye Mi’s resignations as a way to express discontent with the idea that literature and art ought to serve the CCP, which has been stressed in recent years by the government of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Jing Ge uploaded a screen capture of his resignation letter on Weibo on March 12 with a note:
Resignation statement, please help spread the word.
In his letter, he emphasized that the decision was based on a subjective feeling:
I have been the vice president of the Suzhou Writers Association for more than 10 years. The novelty of the position has gone and I feel tired of aestheticism. Today I resign and give that up like old shoes. For one, I am not paid. Secondly, I don’t have any power. Thirdly, I am incapable of contributing to the development of literature in Suzhou. The position has generated no benefit for myself and others and what remains is just a title. This feeling has frequently popped up in my mind at night and I feel ashamed. Recently, all of a sudden I feel dirty about the work that I do. This feeling is purely subjective and has no factual basis. But I need to resolve the feeling of being ashamed and dirty or I will be restless like those with a compulsive disorder. Now that the term of the officials in Suzhou Writers Association is about to be up, I have to make a solemn statement that starting from today, I resign from my position as vice president of the Suzhou Writers Association. I once had a dream that I became the president of the association, I was so scared and woke up with sweat all over my body. This is laughable. The position of president should not be viewed as a disaster, but I was that scared. The position of vice president is the same. I was the vice president and now I’m gone.
Ye Mi’s statement was posted on social media the next day, March 13. A note was attached:
For the sake others and more for the sake of myself. For the sake of literature and more for the sake of my life. Here is my resignation statement. (For fear of further disturbing my writing and house work, I am turning off my communication devices and locking my door. I hope my friends understand.)
She expressed her frustration over the current climate for art and literature in her resignation statement:
I seldom socialize with writers in Suzhou but I also pay attention to what’s happening to the world. This world has lost genuine warmth. The culture is degenerating. Suzhou has been a place where literati gather since ancient times. It has a very good tradition of pursuing the ideal. But these traditions have almost vanished now. As a person living in the world of literature, I am extremely worried but helpless. As I had no other duties and I am getting old, I took the position of vice president of Jiangsu Writers Association. Sometimes I feel I have done nothing in this position and I feel sad. Now that the term of the officials in Suzhou Writers Association is about to be up, I am determined to resign from the position of the vice president of the Suzhou Writers Association with the hope that new blood can nurture Suzhou’s literature scene.
‘Roadside trees’ and ‘lingering smog’
Their resignation won applause from many Chinese netizens. Below are two of the comments left underneath their statements:
By resigning, the two writers can free themselves from playing the role of “roadside trees” [trees that are artificially planted to define the direction of the road]. Back to the quiet countryside, they can observe with a clear mind and think freely. This “natural wind” in Suzhou gives hope against the lingering smog in the worlds of literature and art.
Courageous! Writers should be loyal and serve one’s pure heart. But how can other people safeguard their principles like you?
Media, literature and art have been at the core of an ideological battle waged by party authorities, as reflected in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the Beijing Forum on Literature and Art back in 2014. During the forum, Xi praised Zhou Xiaoping and Hua Qianfang, two controversial Internet commenters who launched smear campaigns against public opinion leaders, for their contribution to “spreading positive energy”.
Since then, Zhou’s writings have frequently appeared on party-affiliated media outlets including People’s Daily, Xinhua and Global Times.
On Twitter, @laoka01 mocked Xi’s literature policy with a poem and a political cartoon by biantailajiao’s:
Zhou Daiyu [Zhou Xiaoping’s nickname] offers himself, Hua Yangji [Hua Qianfang’s nickname] enjoys a caress. Fighting hard to kiss ass. An old lady mourns the fall of the five great mountains [China].
The promotion of the two rising stars, who built their careers as paid Internet commenters known as 50 Cent Army, have shaken the Chinese worlds of literature and art. Together with 2014 forum, they indicate that under Xi’s leadership, literature and art will be viewed as the party’s political tools.
In fact, Xi’s speech echoed a talk given by Mao Zedong, who oversaw the creation of the People’s Republic of China and whose rule was characterized by violent ideological struggle, at the 1942 Ya’nan Forum on Literature and Art. That event marked the beginning of Rectification Campaign, a political campaign to consolidate Mao’s leadership within the party. Is history repeating itself? Time will tell.