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This is how I remember my visit to Tianjin Binhai Area in China 2011:

First: it was a collision between dream and reality. Living in a 5-star hotel was like a dream and every day being brought to a new industrial plant or cultural institution was an experience somewhat difficult to melt.

Peter Curman with friends in Tianjin
Peter Curman with friends and colleages in Tianjin Binhai, China.

There were so many impressions, so much new information, so many sights, so much condensed knowledge rapidly served! Like fast food of new realities!

But I now have more questions than answers. It is obvious that China today is in the forefront when it comes to industrial and economical development, at least in this region. Tianjin is a city of new constructions. Wherever you look you can see new buildings on their way up, large highways full of cars, enormous skyscrapers and exclusive shopping centres. The theme of our conference was: “Cultural elements in economical development”. Still my question as a writer is: What impact does all these economical investments have on Chinese culture and literature? In what way is culture involved in the construction of a new aeroplane or locomotive?

Of course economical development is a necessary precondition to be able to outline a cultural policy that favours the creation of art and the consumption of creative products. But is there any formulated goal for this endeavour? For whom and in what way is this cultural political goal decided?

During our visit we went to the TEDA library, which seems to be very well organized. We also learnt that you could loan books electronically. But in reality – how many loans are there yearly? Does TEDA library cooperate with schools and hospitals? Are there any books in the prisons? Is there any renumeration to the writers?

In order to understand the role of culture in the Chinese society you must first know how the daily life of ordinary people goes on and how the state and local municipalities response to these habits. And what is the social and political position of the Chinese Association of Writers?

It goes without saying that the Swedish and Chinese societies differ from each other. We are all dependent upon our history. In Sweden the Writers Union is an independent organization – a trade union for writers of all kind – and it is fighting for the rights of the writers. The writers´ union conducts negotiations with publishing houses, theatres, radio and television. Up till now the Swedish Writers Union also has been negotiating with the Swedish state about the renumeration – the payment – for the books loans in the public libraries. From the writers point of view it is a payment for their acceptance that the books are lent out free to the citizens. This has been an accepted policy for more that 25 years but just recently our right wing Minister of Culture has declared that the government feel hesitant to negociate with the writers about the payment. Perhaps you find it very “Swedish” to be so upset about this exercise of power from our government but this is the system in many European countries.

Being here in China I am of course very eager to know how the Chinese writers are being compensated for the use of their library books? And what is the basic role of the writers´union?

But what I find most important of all is that where ever we come from we must try to do our best to respect and understand each other. This is perhaps a slogan: Mutual understanding and respect – the guidelines of UNESCO - but is certainly also includes us writers. Literature – where ever it is written – has always an international dimension. That is why poems can fly and live in all languages. That is also why we as writers may have a bigger potential of understanding each other than the politicians who must represent not only themselves but also their voters or their countries. But we writers are not ambassadors of our countries – at least I am not – but only of our own lives and hearts.

Finally, I am very thankful to the Chinese Association of Writers for having invited me and I hope that we shall have many meetings in the future, both in China and in Sweden. Let me also inform you that we on the Swedish island of Gotland, an island in the middle of the Baltic Sea, have founded an international Writers´centre where you all are welcome to stay and write or take part in literary festivals free of charge. May I again advice you to use your computer. I will always be to your service and you will find me if you just tap my name on google or yahoo.

Peter Curman


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 Peter Curman, Fatburstrappan 18, 11826 Stockholm, Sweden
  © Peter Curman 2012