The latest book from controversial Chinese author Yan Lianke has drawn a double hit from the censors according to an article in the Guardian.
The Dream of Ding Village uses the true story of the widespread HIV/Aids infection that has devastated a community in Yan’s native Henan province following unregulated blood-selling in the 1990s as a critique of China’s runaway development.
But where Yan has run into trouble with the censors in the past, this time he is blaming himself for censoring his own work.
"This is not the book I originally wanted to write," Yan told the Guardian. "I censored myself very rigorously. I didn’t mention senior leaders. I reduced the scale. I thought my self-censorship was perfect."
But evidently it was not perfect enough for the censors who issued a ban on distribution, sales and promotion of the book anyway.
Despite the ban, Yan tells the Guardian that here has been an improvement in the censorship climate since his first run in with the censors in 1994, when his first novel, Xia Riluo, was banned, and he was forced to write personal recriminations for four months.
Now there are no personal recriminations, and his books can still be published overseas, he said. "My work has caused more disputes than those of any other author in China. But the attacks on me have become fewer. I think this shows that in many respects, society is improving, reforming, developing".
But Yan’s personal story is a lesson in how censorship should be left to the censors, with the author now the one serving up the recriminations. "My greatest worry is that self-censorship has drained my passion and dulled my sharpness," he said.
As China attempts to lay claim to a seat at the top table of world affairs and commerce, China’s leadership should view this loss of passion and sharpness among the country’s brightest minds as a much greater threat than anything its "dissident" writers and activists can ever hope to throw up.
It is true the intellectual environment is improving, but Yan’s story shows the damage has already been done.