Can Censorship Inspire Creativity?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Historically, writers dealing with censorship found ways to defy authority by creatively embedding transgressive messages in their work.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

censorshipIn today’s feature story about the evolving Chinese literary scene, novelist and university professor Xiao Bai said: “It is better to write without freedom than to write with freedom. If there are restraints you will feel the urge to break these restraints, but we don’t want the role of the [political] Opposition. Writers should observe human politics from their personal, individual perspective.”

On the face of it, any reader in the West might think this is absurd. But is there some truth to it? Well, the first part at least, not he part about politics. Historically, there may be precedents in writers who, working under oppressive political censorship, found creative ways to defy authority by embedding their own transgressive agendas in their work. You saw this time and time again in Russia, Poland, Romania and elsewhere. Often, this inspired some fanciful innovation. The playwright Vaclav Havel gained popularity in Czechoslovakia for his anti-government work, which on the surface may have appeared to be entertainment (or what passed for entertainment, in those grey days).

Could the same be happening in China? It very well likely is, and more, especially as so much creativity is finding an outlet online. The internet offers a unique opportunity for transgressive work, as it is itself easily manipulated and can hard to track and censor. This is the same reason why live theater was often more likely to flout censorship laws under the oppressive regimes of the Iron Curtain than books. A play is ephemeral. In contrast, a book is permanent — yes, you can burn it, but it can also fall into the wrong hands.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.