It’s a heady thought — if a bit preposterous — that a few lines of verse might undermine a government. But poetry, it is now clear, can be tantamount to treason in China, just as it was in Czechoslovakia (Václav Havel), the Soviet Union (Joseph Brodsky and many others) and other authoritarian regimes of yesteryear.
Authorities in Hangzhou, in eastern China, have charged Zhu Yufu with the subversion of state power for a poem he wrote last year called “It’s Time,” as reported by my colleague Michael Wines in Beijing.
Mr. Zhu, 58, who has done serious prison time before, apparently published his poem as uprisings were beginning to take hold in the Middle East. At the time, activists outside China called for similar rebellions inside China.
Numerous dissident writers have run afoul of the Chinese authorities, especially in recent years, and a number have been poets. One noted felon isLuo Yongquan, 39, a poet from Guangdong Province whose pen name is Running Stone. An original signer of Charter 08, the democracy manifesto, Mr. Luo has twice received sentences that have landed him in work camps. “Re-education Through Labor’’ is the official euphemism.
The most prominent felon-writer, of course, is the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, another signer of Charter 08. (He also happened to receive the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. ) His crime: subversion. His sentence: 11 years in prison. Mr. Liu has a new book out — essays and poems.
Meanwhile, the noted Chinese artist Ai Weiwei told Reuters that he was recently grilled by police for 5 hours. Seems he was firing rocks at police security cameras outside his house, and officials told him he was messing with public property. Mr. Ai, who is facing a massive tax-evasion penalty from the government, admitted he also gestured rudely at the camera.
“They said to me, ‘This is a warning because you have to behave,’ ” Mr. Ai said.
“I said, ‘I’ll behave, I take your warning seriously. But I’m human, I have to show my attitude. It’s just a gesture. You’re so powerful, how can I destroy you?’ ”