I’m glad to see you state that “an unqualified boycott on any ‘official’ cultural institutions in the PRC would obviously constrain, in major ways, the kind of dialogue with intellectuals in the PRC you rightly call for, and not least because the vast public education sector is formally under the direction of the CCP.” That does indeed bring us closer in outlook.
However. You say you “want to keep this focused on the concerns and critiques that initiated this discussion,” but I don’t think you’ve said a word about the reasons I wrote in the first place: I found Dispatches to be passing on “prejudicial half-truths” about China in the belief that “good intent makes up for their being founded on bad blood.” I asked, “is Dispatches really interested in effecting change in China, or is China just an instrument in the quest to increase someone’s sense of moral superiority?” Only after we have a good answer to this question can we really start talking about the role for progressive poets and artists vis-à-vis China.
When Dispatches publishes a picture of Charles Bernstein and Marjorie Perloff toasting to a successful academic conference in Wuhan with a statement that that’s “why LangPo and satellite folks don’t speak out on behalf of imprisoned writers and artists in China”—and when Dispatches describes them “grinning in Beijing and offering toasts to their Chinese hosts and student acolytes,” as if their Chinese hosts and students are somehow responsible or even complicit in human rights abuses—Dispatches not only demonstrates ignorance of Chinese geography (Beijing and Wuhan are over a thousand km. apart), and Dispatches not only neglects or insults the other participants of the conference (like me: you may have forgotten, Kent, but I emailed you from that conference in September, 2011, telling you about it), most of all Dispatches demonstrates that it cares much more about “LangPo and satellite folks” than it does about China.
Principles or politics, I think that’s getting the priorities wrong. And then Dispatches writes, “it makes us a little sick to our stomachs to witness such egregious hypocrisy and career building that, if you really look at it, is taking place on the bodies of those Chinese writers”?
I support Dispatches wanting to take a moral stand. I support Dispatches working for the rightful release of Liu Xiaobo and other prisoners of conscience—poets, artists, and otherwise—in China and around the world. But why does Dispatches spread misleading information about China, and then say “let’s forget old-time terminology” when asked to account for it? Why hasn’t Dispatches published the work of living Chinese writers whose stance it promotes, who either agree with the mission of Dispatches or who would complicate it and therefore improve it? Why doesn’t Dispatches have, among all the people and places listed on the masthead, a single contributing editor to represent Asia? Once Dispatches starts making progress on these fronts, instead of portraying matters of global and moral significance as fodder for scorning other poets, then I’ll believe Dispatches is interested in effecting change in China, and is living up to the standard it raises for itself.
— Lucas Klein