There is always a power: a tribute to Southern Weekly
Now that they have deleted two of my Weibo retweets, I have to write something down.
The newspaper Southern Weekly has had a profound influence on me since I was a child, all the way through my adolescent years. But it was only after I wrote a lot of articles, and edited my own magazine, that I realised what they meant by “the power that can always move one to tears, and the other power that makes one lose all direction”, in one of their most famous New Year editorials. That “other power” they wrote about, is the power that governs what you say, what you write, and what you do. Culture and media workers in China all come under the control of this power, but we never get to meet those who wield the power, not to mention communicate or interact with them.
You can have your so-called “freedoms,” but only because they have the freedom to punish you afterwards. Be it literature, news, films or television, you spend tonnes of energy trying to win their approval. Even though you want some clear rules to go by, they never tell you what they are – so everybody assumes they're breaking the rules somehow. The only way for you to completely abide by their rules is to become like them. We end up censoring ourselves, always apprehensive, always afraid, always guessing. They grab you by your collar, clamp you by the neck, yet at the same time encourage you to run faster, sing better, and win them more honour.
We hardly have any world-class writers, directors, newspapers, magazines or films. Of course, you can blame that on the incompetence of the professionals. You could also point to Iran and say, hey, their censorship is much stricter than ours, yet they still produce world-famous works of art. You can question why we have to bend ourselves to other people’s standards. Maybe I am indeed not talented enough, but still I don’t appreciate other people censoring me, revising me, or tying me down. So, my solidarity statement today, is not just for my favourite newspaper or those journalists I respect. It is also for those in worse conditions, those media outlets and journalists who come to much more violent and miserable ends. It is also for ourselves.
Southern Weekly has informed me a lot as a reader. It gives power to the weak and hope to the hopeless. So, in its moment of weakness and desperation, I hope we can all lend them some strength, even if just a little, and help it carry on.