June 13, 2012
We were in Hong Kong on June 4, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. A candlelight vigil had been held in Victoria Park for the past 23 years. This year, 180,000 people showed up.
There was no talk of that when our group arrived in Beijing on the 6th, and I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular when Zhao Baisheng, Director of the World Literature Institute, took Shelley Fisher Fishkin and myself to the Wansheng Bookstore, translated as All Saints. About the size of the Strand, but much cleaner, it’s in a prime location, half way between Peking University and Tsinghua University (host of our conference). The best-selling author here seemed to be Steve Jobs, but there were also many translations of contemporary novels: Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. And the classics were there: Hemingway, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston.
Later — with some research on the Internet — I learn that the All Saints is a favorite hangout of the pro-Democracy movement. When Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the bookstore and the attached Thinkers Café were shut down by the authorities during the award ceremony. Its owner, Liu Suli, had previously been attacked in October, his backbone severely injured.
There was no sign of any of that during our visit. People were just milling around, reading, working on their laptops, talking in groups of two or three.
I’m proud they were doing it in the company of Hemingway and Morrison.