The unrest in Tibet is making our work with China more controversial. With Spielberg pulling out of his Olympic role, the French talking boycotts, and nightly coverage of human rights violations, it's not really surprising that one actor has already voiced doubts about working in China for political reasons. And yet.... I tend to doubt the value of boycotts, particularly cultural boycotts. If artists simply shut up and abandon people because they disapprove of their government's policies in certain areas, then where is the hope for a way forward? Where is the possibility of dialogue?
I re-read the open letter which Ariane Mnouchkine and the Théâtre du Soleil sent to the people of Israel when they went there with L'Indiade in 1988. It states in great detail the very specific beliefs held by the company members on the Palestinian question, and on the way Israel had dealt with that question to date (and sadly it remains deeply relevant). Then it says: "We have hesitated about coming; we have talked, we have consulted a fair number of you, and we have decided not to add a facile refusal to so many criminal refusals. Nothing will persuade us to despair of the strength of words, to renounce our faith in humanity and also in art. We shall never renounce them."
Of course, this letter was published in five Israeli newspapers, in Hebrew, Arabic and English. I doubt whether such a letter would be published anywhere at all in China, even online. But that does not invalidate the truth and the inspirational quality of what it says. Or of what theatre can, with hope and passion, perhaps achieve.