Ian Johnson
Ian Johnson

Some critical writers became dissidents, others stayed in the Chinese network for authors. Journalist Ian Johnson talks for the Pulitzer Center to the Hu Fayan, neither a part of the system, neither a dissident. How is he managing in China?

Ian Johnson:

Ian Johnson: How do you see yourself as a writer? After the Cultural Revolution you joined the Chinese Writers Association—the government body that manages authors. That meant some financial stability because all writers in the association get a salary, even if it’s not much, but it also means that the government could cut this salary if it doesn’t like your work. And yet you have often criticized the system. Do you think of yourself as being tizhinei (inside the system) or tizhiwai (outside the system)?

Hu Fayan: Somewhere in between. Before Tiananmen in 1989 I was quite hopeful. A lot of people hoped. But a lot of this hope was destroyed by the tanks and machine guns. Since then I’ve become more critical and my works have a harder time getting published.

And yet I am not tizhiwai. I still get a pension but except for that don’t have any relation to the system. I don’t attend the association’s study session or writing competitions and don’t follow their value system for writing. I feel I am a free and independent person. I basically separated myself from the system after 1989. After that I basically didn’t attend their meetings. It’s been almost thirty years now.

But you’re not a dissident.

I do not take as much direct action as some. If you think of Ai Xiaoming. If she sees that rights are being violated, she grabs a camera and goes to record it. Perhaps it has something to do with my personality or way of life. Ever since being a sent-down youth in the Cultural Revolution, I’ve feared hardship and fatigue. I like to be at home. But in some important questions, for example Charter 08, I was among the first signers. In important actions, if I feel I should express myself, then I try to pick up my courage.

I don’t want to give up my freedom to express myself because of this dread. So when a lot of people reject interviews with the foreign media, I feel I should talk. I try to be as candid as possible and frankly say my views.

More in the Pulitzer Center.

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