Cui Weiping is a public intellectual and a professor at the Beijing Film Academy whose work focuses on literary theory, political philosophy and eastern European intellectual and political culture.
Cui’s background is in literature and aesthetics, which she studied at Nanjing University before taking up a position at the Beijing Film Academy in 1984 where she also pursued her studies in avant garde poetry and literary theory.
In the mid-1990s, Cui began translating Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless (Moc bezmocných) and other essays, circulating them privately among friends and colleagues. They’re now available online, as well as in a print edition published in Taiwan, but they have not been printed in an officially-approved edition on the mainland.
In an interview with The Economic Observer’s literary supplement, Cui explained how she encountered Havel in the post-1989 period and what appealed to her about his political philosophy:
Getting into Eastern Europe was entirely due to a personal spiritual confusion that began in the late 1980s and lasted for several years. It was quite painful. That period of time was a huge crisis for me personally. My whole system of expression suddenly failed, and all of a sudden I could not find any words to express my experience. What I said on the surface was entirely divorced from what I was thinking on the inside during that time. That meant that on the one hand, the world before you is shaken and it loses shape and expression, while on the other, you lose your language and you can’t establish an internal order. Your whole person is stuck in a state of mute depression that is particularly uncomfortable.
And at that time, one day completely by chance, I pulled a book off the shelf – I’ve written about this before. It had a red cover. A Havel collection. It had been given to me by a friend in Canada who loved Chinese poetry and had come to China to study poetry. We’d often get together to drink and chat. He’d always leave a few books behind at my house, and this was one of them.
I flipped through it and one of the interviews had a fairly simple sentence in which Havel said that he had learned lots of things from Marxism, and perhaps considered himself a socialist, but he did not like the technique of exhausting all truth and the belief that they had grasped not only past and present truths but the truths of the future as well. To Havel, ‘This world is a thousand times more mysterious.’ The expression struck me immediately. I flipped through the book and came to a page where I read, ‘Maybe I believe in something. I believe in life… .’ At this point I really felt that no one had ever gotten so close to my own life experience.
She has also translated Ivan Klima’s essay collection The Spirit of Prague 布拉格的精神 (1998).
Outside of academia, Cui has become a prominent public intellectual who champions freedom of expression and political reform in media op-eds and on her blog and microblog. She was involved with the Charter 08 project, and after Liu Xiaobo was detained for his leading role in drafting it, she accepted the Homo Homini prize on 11 March 2009 along with Xu Youyu 徐友渔 and Mo Shaoping 莫少平 on behalf of the Charter’s signatories (see New York Review of Books for her remarks on the reward).
On 25 December 2009, after Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in gaol for inciting the subversion of state power, Cui began asking prominent Chinese intellectuals for comments by telephone and via Twitter. She eventually collected 160 short statements, ranging from ‘no comment’ brush-offs and vague appeals to the necessity of a free marketplace ideas to condemnations of literary inquisition and full-throated denunciations of the shameless hypocrisy of the so-called ‘harmonious society’, and in a subsequent blog post, defended herself against criticisms that her questions exerted unwanted pressure on the intellectuals she called or exposed them to undue risk. She described the approach as one that gave voice to opinions on a subject that could not be addressed in the mainstream mainland media.
Her activism has attracted government disapproval and, in March 2010, she was prevented from traveling to the United States to attend a conference.
More recently, Cui Weiping spoke out against the rising tide of anti-Japanese sentiment surrounding China’s territorial disputes with Japan. In October 2012, as a response to the violent anti-Japanese protests that had taken place in Chinese cities the previous month, she helped draft and circulate a ten-point call for a return to rational dialogue in the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands sovereignty issue (让中日关系回归理性——我们的呼吁).
Cui Weiping’s essays have been collected in Invisible Voices 看不见的声音 (2000), Prior to Justice 正义之前 (2005), Thoughts and Nostalgia 思想与乡愁 (2012) and The Narrative of Our Times 我们时代的叙事 (2008), a collection of film criticism.