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Writing in Exile: A Chinese Tale : Authors: After the horrors of Tian An Men Square, more than 100 dissident Chinese writers have fled their home. The exiled are learning to cope and create in foreign lands.

August 16, 1990|EDWARD IWATA | Iwata, a San Francisco writer, is a frequent contributor to View. and

BERKELEY — Relaxing in the kitchen of his small apartment, Fei Ye recalled the screams of fellow Chinese prisoners.

"We all saw and heard the torture," said Fei, 28, a writer and translator of Russian poetry who was active in the Democracy Movement in China.

Fei was arrested in 1983 for printing a banned literary journal called Lone Army. A Communist Party loyalist had spotted him editing the journal in a classroom in Harbin, a city in Heilongjiang, China's northernmost province.

Fei's jailers freed him two weeks later when he signed a confession damning his actions and praising party ideology.

Shortly thereafter, Fei met and married a Chinese-American who taught English in Beijing. When Fei applied for a passport to leave China, the police threatened to jail him again.

With the help of the American Embassy, Fei and his wife, Dorlie Fong, left the country in 1986. Today Fei lives in Berkeley, hoping his public speeches and poetry will bring attention to his cause.

Fei is among 100 or so exiled poets, fiction writers, journalists and critics who have fled China in recent years because of political persecution.

Nearly all left their families behind. Many live in anonymity, refusing to use their real names for fear the Chinese government will harass their loved ones.

Many of the writers left their homeland after the Tian An Men Square killings, seeking political asylum in the United States, Hong Kong, West Germany, France, Sweden, Australia and other friendly countries.

Many are members of Chinese Writers in Exile, a new group started by Fei that hopes to support writers in China who are jailed or face persecution.

"We are like the statues of horses buried in a tomb for 1,000 years," said author Kong Jie Sheng, referring to the famed burial grounds in Shaanxi province where the first Chinese emperor was memorialized. "We want to speak out, to write, but we have been oppressed for so long."

The tall, bespectacled Kong is a four-time winner of China's National Award for his short stories and novels. He left Beijing for Hong Kong last July with the help of pro-democracy allies and then came to the United States.

Friends helped him settle in San Francisco's Richmond District, a foggy, middle-class suburb known as New Chinatown.

"Since I went into exile," Kong said through a translator, "I've lost my family, my friends, my beloved books, my culture. But I have found there are so many other Chinese writers overseas, just like me. We are determined to continue writing."

With Tian An Men Square still vivid in the minds of Americans, literary interest in the exiled authors is soaring.

"Everyone is bending over backward to publish these writers," said poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "The suffering and tragedy is there. The blood is real."

Ferlinghetti plans to run several of Fei's poems in the fall issue of City Lights Review. And Fei recently signed a contract with William Morrow & Co. to publish an anthology of Chinese dissidents' writings.

In addition, two books of poems and short stories by Bei Dao, regarded as one of China's best modern poets, were published this summer by New Directions Books. And fiction by Ai Bei will be released this fall by Gibbs Smith, a Salt Lake City publisher.

In mid-June, eight Chinese writers spoke in San Francisco at a literary conference sponsored by publishers Ann Getty and George Weidenfeld and their Wheatland Foundation. The splashy event, held at the ornate War Memorial building, drew 80 writers, representing every continent.

During the panel for Chinese authors, heads nodded in agreement when Ai declared, "We want to write for the world."

Ai, 31, a former writer for the Chinese army, was touring America as a part of a U.S. Information Agency exchange program when the tanks at Tian An Men Square started rolling. After Ai angrily condemned her government's action on Voice of America, her superiors cut her wages and ordered her to return to China. She refused, deciding to stay in the United States and write.

Ai's new book, "Red Ivy, Green Earth Mother," is praised by American writers Amy Tan and Orville Schell as the raw, uncensored, realistic fiction of a modern Chinese woman. In the forward, Tan likens Ai's writing to that of Allen Ginsberg.

Despite her new-found freedom of speech, Ai is careful not to further anger the Chinese government during an interview in San Francisco. She may fly back to China on a visit. "My situation is very special," she said, slowly choosing each word, each sentence. "I cannot talk about my family at all."

American authors are rallying behind the Chinese exiles. In the Bay Area, Amy Tan, Angela Davis, Maxine Hong Kingston and Czeslaw Milosz have read at benefits for the writers' group. Heavyweight advisers to the dissident writers include Kingston and two Nobel Prize recipients, Milosz and Joseph Brodsky.

Milosz, who lives in Berkeley, and Brodsky, now a New Yorker, endured persecution as young writers in their native Poland and Soviet Union, respectively.

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