Monday, April 16, 2012
The London Book Fair: The market speaks, China’s independent voices should not be heard
by Esther Dischereit - an open letter (via NZ poet David Howard)
In Berlin, China opened its cultural publicity offensive with Zhang Yimou’s movie “Under the Hawthorn Tree”, hoping to mark the occasion of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the Federal Republic of Germany by bringing people and feelings closer together. China has renounced any such attempts at camouflage during its London appearance.
The London Book Fair and the British Council have bowed to the wishes of their guest and follow China's political programme by not giving dissident and independent authors and critics a voice.
While the Chinese delegation arrived at a British breakfast with 21 hand-chosen authors, the hosts did not see the need to bring along important guests of their own. Nobel prizewinners Gao Xingjian and Liu Xiaobo were not invited, nor were contemporary authors such as Liao Yiwu, Bei Ling, and others.
There are however authors within the official Chinese delegation who have long since adopted another citizenship. It’s a little like World Cup football. Ex-patriots can be nominated if they are “representative”. To be chosen is an honour, but economic interests are also at play. However those nominated should know that they have been selected or at least approved by an organisation known as GAPP, the General Administration of Press and Publication, responsible for censorship of printed matter in China. The London Book Fair and British council believe their cooperation with GAPP is justified.
Chinese dissident Bei Ling, expelled to the USA after his arrest in 2000, rightly criticizes the spectrum of literature presented, which excludes those who have been jailed for their writing and who have been censored, as well as those who were forced into exile, but are still writing.
Some works formerly classified as underground literature have been able to enjoy rehabilitation and recognition in China in the past years, others have not. But independent Chinese literature currently plays a key role in world literature. The only possible conclusion is that they were not excluded because they are an unimportant element of Chinese literature, but because they stand for independent thinking, something that is anathema to the guest country.
One would think it only natural to be shocked, as is the Nobel prize winner in literature, Elfriede Jelinek, who writes that she believes it is our duty to take a stand against the suppression of writers and artists. However this sentiment does not seem to be shared by the organisers of the book fair.
Bei Ling, founder of the independent Chinese section of PEN and author at this year’s Leipzig Book Fair, repeatedly asked the organisers whether independent thought, and thus also contradiction, is not intrinsic to the literary spirit. He proposed talks on censorship and self-censorship.
The London Book Fair and British Council talk instead of 180 Chinese publishing houses, of China as a market, and of their duty as a trade fair. While the UK branch of Amnesty International published the biographies and writings of imprisoned authors each day before the book fair opened, sales negotiations began. The organisers of the 2009 Frankfurt book fair at least managed to think twice, and responded to public protests by inviting unwanted authors originally ignored.
The London Book Fair will go down in contemporary European literary history as a scandal. Zhu Yufu for example, has been in jail since February 2012 for the lines (English translation by A. E. Clark): “It’s time, people of China! It’s time/ The Square belongs to everyone/…/A song belongs to everyone/…/China belongs to everyone/ Of your own will/ It’s time to choose what China shall be”.
His sentence: 7 years imprisonment.
The English translation of the above is by Laura Radosh
Photo of author, above right, taken by David Howard at the Granada Poetry Festival 2009 (Nicaragua). Some of her poetry, incidentally, appears in the latest Sport