The following document should be of great interest to all of us committed to freedom of expression. It is an announcement of the intention of 60 leading Vietnamese writers to found a League of Independent Vietnamese Writers. Why is this of interest? Because the decision-making in the publishing world of Vietnam is largely in the hands of the powerful Vietnamese Writers Association. Members of the association are limited in number, and each enjoys a powerful and well-paid patronage, including a car and driver. It is equivalent, I’m told, to the military positions of Major and General, depending on who you are and what seniority you have. One of the League’s founders, Hoang Hung, whose work is included in Black Dog, Black Night: An Anthology of Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008), was imprisoned from 1978 to 1981 on the suspicion that he possessed a forbidden book of poetry by Hoang Cam, whose work is also included in Black Dog, Black Night (edited and translated by Nguyen Do and me). I assisted in shaping the English translation of the document below.
The founders of the League are at risk in signing the petition. It is very brave of them to ask for more freedom of expression, because the last time it happened, in the mid-1950s following military victory over the French, poets and writers who made such a request were treated very harshly, including imprisonment, loss of their privileged positions in the Writers Association, and not having their work published for the next 40 years.
I have had the pleasure of meeting several of the signers, including Nguyen Duy, Y Nhi, and of course Hoang Hung. Here is the document:
Proclamation of the Committee to Promote
the Founding of the League of Independent Vietnamese Writers
“After 1975, the end of a hundred-year history of war, our country was in need of a substantial cultural renaissance. Unluckily, this grave and urgent rebirth did not happen as expected. On the contrary, Vietnamese culture has evolved from bad to worse, and appears to be in danger of losing the most basic humanistic values. This shortcoming threatens the survival of our nation.
Vietnamese writers must admit that they are partly responsible for this state of affairs. Among literature’s many important functions is to awaken the conscience and to raise the morale of the nation. At this great turning point of history, Vietnamese literature is not realizing its true role.
The weakness of Vietnamese literature is rooted in the indifference of its writers to their social responsibilities, their insensitivity concerning daily events, and, most importantly, their lack of independent thinking, which has also limited their creative capabilities.
In a society like ours, where basic freedoms have been severely limited, it is difficult for writers to speak clearly and forcefully about the conditions of life in society. This limitation blurs and confuses expression; ultimately, it extinguishes art entirely. The freedom to create and publish literary works is a life-or-death necessity, not only for writers as individuals but also for the health of Vietnamese literature. Without minimal rights to free expression, our literary lives will never be adequate.
Literary institutions ruled by bureaucracy and mendacity suffocate the literature they presume to support. The also suppress healthy communication between writers and their ability to offer mutual assistance, both in their private lives and their artistic production.
In response to this longstanding but urgent situation, we, the undersigned writers, resolve to organize a committee for the founding of an independent institution of Vietnamese writers, both inside and outside the country. To be called The League of Independent Vietnamese Writers, this new institution seeks to promote a true, humanistic, and democratic literature, modern and responsive to globalization. As demanded by history, we must act as pioneers in the creation of a national cultural renaissance.
Activities of The League of Independent Vietnamese Writers will focus on following:
- To improve solidarity and assistance among writers inside and outside the country;
- To bring forth conditions for professional amelioration, to advance and promote individual creation, and to encourage innovation in creative writing as well as literary criticism and linguistic studies;
- To defend all legitimate materialistic and spiritual interests of its members, especially the freedom to write and publish, as well as the promotions of easy and complete access to literature by the reading public.
The League of Independent Vietnamese Writers is an organization belonging to civil society. Dedicated to professional solidarity, it is completely independent of any other organizations existing inside and outside the country.
The detailed statutes and program of the League will be set up and made public in the process of establishing of the league. Our email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Hà Nội, March 3rd, 2014
On behalf of the Promotion Committee Nguyên Ngọc
The Committee to Promote
THE LEAGUE OF INDEPENDENT VIETNAMESE WRITERS
1/ Nguyên Ngọc – writer (Chief of the Committee)
2/ Phạm Xuân Nguyên – literary critic (Secretary)
3/ Bùi Chát – poet
4/ Bùi Minh Quốc – poet
5/ Bùi Ngọc Tấn – writer
6/ Chân Phương – poet, translator (USA)
7/ Châu Diên – writer, translator
8/ Cung Tích Biền – writer
8/ Dạ Ngân – writer
9/ Dư Thị Hoàn – poet
10/ Dương Thuấn – poet
11/ Dương Tường – poet, translator
12/ Đặng Tiến – literary critic and researcher (France)
13/ Đặng Văn Sinh – writer
14/ Đoàn Lê – writer
15/ Đoàn Thị Tảo – poet
16/ Đỗ Lai Thúy – literary critic and researcher
17/ Đỗ Trung Quân – poet
18/ Giáng Vân – poet
19/ Hà Sĩ Phu – writer
20/ Hoàng Dũng – linguistic researcher
21/ Hoàng Hưng – poet, translator
22/ Hoàng Minh Tường – writer
23/ Lê Hoài Nguyên – poet
24/ Lê Minh Hà – writer (Germany)
25/ Lê Phú Khải – writer
26/ Liêu Thái – poet
27/ Lưu Trọng Văn – writer
28/ Lý Đợi – poet
29/ Mai Sơn – writer, translator
30/ Mai Thái Lĩnh – philosophy and culture researcher
31/ Nam Dao – writer (Canada)
32/ Ngô Thị Kim Cúc – writer
33/ Nguyễn Bá Chung – poet (USA)
34/ Nguyễn Duy – poet
35/ Nguyễn Đức Dương – linguistic researcher
36/ Nguyễn Huệ Chi – literature researcher
37/ Nguyễn Quang Lập – writer
38/ Nguyễn Quang Thân – nhà văn
39/ Nguyễn Quốc Thái – poet
40/ Nguyễn Thị Hoàng Bắc – poet (USA)
41/ Nguyễn Thị Thanh Bình – writer (USA)
42/ Phạm Đình Trọng – writer
43/ Phạm Nguyên Trường – translator
44/ Phạm Vĩnh Cư – literature researcher, translator
45/ Phan Đắc Lữ – poet
46/ Phan Tấn Hải – writer (Hoa Kỳ)
47/ Quốc Trọng – cinema play writer
48/ Thùy Linh – writer
49/ Tiêu Dao Bảo Cự – writer
50/ Trang Hạ – writer, translator
51/ Trần Đồng Minh – literature researcher
52/ Trần Huy Quang – writer
53/ Trần Thùy Mai – writer
54/ Trịnh Hoài Giang – poet
55/ Trương Anh Thụy – writer (USA)
56/ Võ Thị Hảo – writer
57/ Vũ Biện Điền – writer (Japan)
58/ Vũ Thế Khôi – literature researcher, translator
59/ Vũ Thư Hiên – writer (France)
60/ Ý Nhi – poet