International Women’s Day: Protest for Chinese Women Writers

English PEN is marking International Women’s Day (8th March)  by celebrating the work of three women writers under threat in China – Zeng Jinyan, Tsering Woeser and Li Jianhong, as a part of its ‘China Campaign 2008: We Are Ready for Free Expression’ (launched Saturday 1 March 2008).

Whilst not detained, these women are among the many lesser-known dissidents suffering wide-ranging forms of harassment, including brief detentions, periods of house arrest, travel restrictions, loss of work, denial of access to information and communications, heavy surveillance and censorship.

Zeng Jinyan is a 24-year-old human rights activist and internet writer, and the wife of Hu Jia, another writer and activist whose recent arrest was strongly protested by PEN. She is currently under house arrest with her three-month-old baby daughter at their apartment in Beijing. She has been under heavy surveillance since early 2006 as a result of her on-line writings.

Zeng began Internet writing in early 2006 to publicize her husband’s earlier 41-day detention, his successive and extended house arrests, and their shared life of surveillance, threats and harassments. Through her daily web-log, she connected with many others in China who suffered similar experiences, and she began re-telling their stories too. She quickly became a prominent human rights reporter and campaigner, and inevitably attracted the attention of the authorities. In September 2006, the Chinese authorities blocked mainland access to her weblog, and but she continued to write for overseas websites. Since her husband’s arrest, her phone line and internet access have been cut, and as many as fifty security officers are currently guarding her apartment.

Tsering Woeser is a leading Tibetan-born writer and essayist. As a child of the Cultural Revolution, she was raised and educated entirely in the Chinese language, and never learned to read or write in her native Tibetan. Ironically, it is this that has enabled her to be such an influential voice, and she is said to be the first Tibetan to have played the role of a public intellectual in China. She writes to both a Han (Chinese) and a Tibetan audience, and her writings are said to givie public expression for the first time to the emotions and experiences of a people and a culture previously hidden from the mainstream. 

Woeser’s troubles began with her second book Xizang Biji (Notes on Tibet), a collection of short stories and prose published in Guanzhou in January 2003. The book was a best-seller in China, and was banned in September of that year for revealing opinions ‘harmful to the unification and solidarity of our nation’. In June 2004 she was dismissed from her position at the Tibet Autonomous Region Literature Association, and left Lhasa for Beijing in order to ‘follow her conscience as a writer’. She continues to write from a small Beijing apartment where she lives with her husband, writer Wang Lixiong, posting poetry and essays on Tibetan culture on the Internet and publishing her books in Taiwan. In mainland China her books are banned, her two web-logs have been shut down, she is unemployed and her movements are sometimes restricted. Yet she has become widely known as one of China’s most respected writers on Tibet. She now lives in self-imposed exile in Beijing, where she continues to publish her writings online and overseas.

Li Jianhong is a leading Shanghai-based dissident, and vocal advocate for freedom of expression and the press.  In August 2002, Li Jianhong founded and edited an independent Chinese website Qimeng Luntan (Enlightenment Forum), followed by Ziyou Zhongguo Luntan (Free China Forum), both of which are now blocked.

Li has been subject to intense police harassment since January 2005 for her critical writings published online and peaceful dissident activities. She has suffered numerous brief detentions and interrogations, repeated periods of house arrest, and several dismissals from posts of employment. She is a member of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), and was a recipient of the 2007 Lin Zhao Memorial Award, which she was prevented from collecting. For an account of the crackdown on the awards dinner hosted by the ICPC at which she was to be honored, see the following link:

Please send appeals:

  • Protesting the harassment of dissident writers Zeng Jinyan, Tsering Woeser and Li Jianhong;

  • Urging that they are allowed to live and work freely, without restriction and fear of attack, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China became a signatory in 1998.

Government Addresses:


His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032

Procurator General Mr. Jia Chunwang
Supreme People’s Procuratorate
Beiheyan Street 147
100726 Beijing

Her Excellency Mrs. Fu Ying
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49 – 51 Portland Place
London W1B 1JL

It may be most effective, however, to send the above appeals care of the Chinese representative in London:

Her Excellency Mrs. Fu Ying
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49 – 51 Portland Place
London W1B 1JL

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