Salman Rushdie, whose article in the Telegraph calls on the Chinese government to release Ai Weiwei, knows from first hand experience what it’s like to be persecuted for one’s art. His article raises other cases of authors and writers disappearing into the Chinese security apparatus and posits gloom for the future of free expression in China.
The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus Caesar to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis. He spent the rest of his days begging to be allowed to return to Rome. So Ovid’s life was blighted. But the poetry of Ovid has outlasted the Roman Empire. The poet Mandelstam was murdered by Stalin’s executioners, but the poetry of Mandelstam has outlived the Soviet Union. The poet Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Franco, but the poetry of Lorca has outlived Franco’s tyrannical regime. We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.