(New York, NY) – The announcement that China’s largest independent film festival will shut down is an alarming indication of the tightening chokehold the Chinese government has on arts and freedom of expression, PEN America said today.

On January 10, the organizers of the China Independent Film Festival (CIFF) announced that the festival would be indefinitely shuttered due to “current… conditions” that make it “impossible to organize a film festival that truly has a purely independent spirit.” The CIFF, which has run for over 17 years, is the largest festival of its kind within China. 

“The CIFF was one of the last and largest bastions of artistic freedom of expression for independent filmmakers in China’s increasingly censorious environment,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Their frank admission that it is now ‘impossible’ for them to operate is a painful demonstration of how the government’s attempts to control all forms of creative expression are shutting down the speech of an entire generation of artists and creative professionals. What’s more, China is denying its citizens exposure to the global community of arts and artists.”

During the course of its existence, the CIFF showcased some 1,000 films, including features and documentaries which engaged on often-censored topics such as the Cultural Revolution, the violent land reforms in the 1950s, and depictions of HIV positive and LGBTQIA+ people. The festival had experienced operational difficulties in the past; authorities shut it down a number of times in the past, and organizers did not hold a festival in 2019.

The CIFF’s closure comes amid a tightening grip on media, literature, the arts, and everyday expression under President Xi Jinping’s administration. In recent months, China has arrested Chinese artist Yang Licai for “inciting disruption;” sentenced a 20-year-old student to six months imprisonment for social media posts he made while in the U.S.; and engaged in a campaign of intimidation against the Swedish government for advocating for the rights of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, who remains in Chinese detention after Chinese security agents abducted him from Thailand. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892