About ten years ago, Link wrote an essay known to almost everybody in the field of China studies. It deserves to be known. Called “The Anaconda in the Chandelier,” it’s about the Chinese way of censorship.
The regime is not like a snarling tiger or a fire-breathing dragon in your living room — although it certainly can be that, for Falun Gong practitioners and others. It’s more like
a giant anaconda coiled in an overhead chandelier. Normally the great snake doesn’t move. It doesn’t have to. It feels no need to be clear about its prohibitions. Its constant silent message is “You yourself decide,” after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments — all quite “naturally.”
This essay is around in many versions, one of which is here. It is one of the best essays I have ever read in my entire life, on any subject.
Jonathan Mirsky says that Perry Link is amazing, but Mirsky is pretty amazing himself: a blunt, tough, brainy scholar who has devoted much of his career to journalism. Let me give you a taste of the man, by quoting a paragraph from the NR article:
. . . Mirsky worked in China . . . for almost 20 years. He was one of the first Westerners in, in 1972. Because he wrote honestly, he figured he would be tossed out any day. But it took the Chinese until 1991 to do it. Why did they do it when they did it? Who knows? One fine day, Mirsky’s minder of many years said to him, “We would like you to leave our China the day after tomorrow.” Mirsky replied, “Really, Mr. Wang? You’re serious? Thank you so much. You’ve made me the happiest of men.” Wang was nonplussed. It was not the reaction he was used to. Mirsky explained, “You mean I’m not going to have to be in your mother-raping country anymore, and have my phone listened to, and be followed on the street, and be constantly warned to watch what I write? What a relief that will be!” There is a coda to this story. Some years later, Mirsky was starting a stint at Harvard, and bumped into none other than his old minder. “Mr. Mirsky,” said Wang, “this is like a dream!” “No, Mr. Wang, a nightmare.” They never saw each other again.
That’s my man. Last year, Mirsky wrote an article — fascinating — on what it’s like to work for a news organization that is uninterested in upsetting the government in Beijing (to put it mildly). Go here.
I know a bit about what Arthur Waldron has done, but I certainly don’t know everything. After my piece was published, Sarah Cook, an East Asia specialist at Freedom House, sent me a note. “Arthur Waldron may not have mentioned it,” she said — of course he hadn’t — “but a few years back he wrote an excellent essay that served as the introduction for a magazine produced by the Falun Dafa Information Center and is still available on their website.”
That kind of thing can buy you trouble, as Cook remarked. Many scholars wouldn’t touch Falun Dafa (i.e., Falun Gong) with a ten-foot pole — no matter how many people the Chinese authorities kidnapped, tortured, and murdered (for their organs or not). Waldron’s essay is here.
Not long ago, Waldron agreed to speak on Japanese television about “Confucius Institutes” — language-and-culture centers set up all over the world by the PRC. (We may address that topic another day.) By speaking about them — speaking against them — Waldron knew he was risking a ban from China. But “the way I look at it is this,” he told me: “If your university has gone to the trouble of building an endowment so that you don’t have to fight in the marketplace for a living, but are guaranteed rice for life in return for what you think, you should say what you think. That’s part of the deal.”
When another scholar read that — it’s in my piece — he said, “This makes me realize that to accept academic tenure and then not tell the truth as you see it ought to be viewed as corruption.”