In his recently released book, ‘Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia’, Clive Hamilton made a couple of references to Writers Victoria. These references were in relation to our co-hosting the Chinese Writers Festival held in Melbourne in 2016.
Writers Victoria is an organisation that prides itself on encouraging a diversity of views, including those among dissidents and activists around the world. We champion the ability of writers to tell their own stories, we promote the importance of publishing diverse voices and we take the issues of censorship and silencing very seriously.
Clive Hamilton claims that through our association with the Chinese-Australian Writers Festival, Writers Victoria has been ‘unwittingly collaborating with United Front bodies whose aim is to spread into the Australian society the CCP worldview, one that is extremely intolerant of artistic licence and dissenting views.’
We in no way dispute Clive Hamilton’s assertions within his book. However, we do take umbrage at the use of the word ‘collaborating’ even when used in conjunction with ‘unwittingly’. Collaborating implies some degree of conscious acknowledgement, which was certainly not the case.
Before Writers Victoria’s involvement with this festival, previous incarnations of Chinese Writers Festivals in Australia were conducted exclusively in Chinese (other than the opening event) and featured exclusively Chinese writers. Writers Victoria’s involvement in the 2016 event:
- Expanded the scope and title to the ‘Chinese-Australian Writers Festival’.
- Made it into a bilingual event for the first time ever.
- Included English speaking writers.
- Included dissenting voices (in particular Xu Xi) and voices from different Chinese-heritage experiences (such as Alice Pung).
- Expanded the audience outside of the host writing associations membership (including Writers Victoria membership, Yarra Library and community members and the general public), opening up discussions about Chinese identity and Chinese literature to a broader audience.
Our due diligence when working with the organisers of events of this nature focuses on the logistical elements of working together, such as potential financial risks of hosting the grant, and ensuring the agreement facilitates a diversity of voices. However, like most organisations in the small-to-medium arts sector, Writers Victoria does not have the capacity or resources to do background checks on the political affiliations of all of its associates and stakeholders, nor policies on which political affiliations are appropriate.
If Hamilton’s assertions are correct, then perhaps we are guilty of naivety – and will certainly be more cautious in future. However, the fact remains that this festival was designed to connect with the Chinese-Australian community that remains under-represented in mainstream literary education, organisations and publications. The program provided opportunities for contemporary Chinese-Australian writers to develop skills, build their profiles and to have work commissioned. It also aimed to benefit the broader literary sector in Melbourne and beyond by uncovering a cohort of previously marginalised Australian voices and stories. At no point did any participant raise concerns to Writers Victoria about censorship or pressure being applied to stop particular views and voices. For Writers Victoria, such action would have been intolerable.
Nicolas Brasch, Chair, Writers Victoria