China watchers and writers Ian Buruma, Yan Lianke, Linda Polman, David Rieff, and Zha Jianying spoke at the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature about human rights in China at the Great Hall at Cooper Union.
Zha Jianying, author of "Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China," on human rights: "The questions of values and human rights lies not outside China but in China. And with the Chinese people and the Chinese leaders. This is about their life and their future. Nowhere else have these issues been debated and fought with as much passion and with a wider array of positions; the views as polarized and complicated as the situation. And the characters involved are four dimensional, not black and white."
Zha on humor: "I do know the party is not known for having a sense of humor. They wouldn't appreciate someone like Oscar Wilde who says, 'Life is too important to be taken seriously.'"
Yan Lianke, who got the 2000 Lu Xun for "The Year, The Month, The Day" and the 2004 Lao She for "Pleasure," on Ai Weiwei: "An academic from Beijing told me something that shocked me. He said, 'What does all this have to do with our lives?' For example, when we see that Ai Weiwei is arrested, we see that he has a long list of crimes. And one of these crimes is fraud, and when people read about how much money he deceived from the people they think he deserves to be arrested and locked up. For all those who are struggling and fighting, 99 percent of the people in China don't really care about what they're doing. They care about their lives, they care about money, and their basic need to survive."
Yan on censorship: "I think that people like Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei are true warriors, where as someone like me, I'm a coward. I can't fight out loud like they do, all I can do is silently write. So, to be a lonely writer in China, is perhaps one of the luckiest things to do."