Mr. Ai is not the only Chinese artist in dire straits. The great writer Liao Yiwu has been denied permission to travel to the United States to attend the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, which begins in New York on Monday, and there are fears that he could be the regime’s next target. Among the others are Ye Du, Teng Biao and Liu Xianbin — who was sentenced last month to prison for incitement to subversion, the same charge leveled against the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, now serving an 11-year term.
The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime."