The London Book Fair is now in its 41st year, and it continues to be a popular, global market place for rights negotiation, sale and distribution of content across various channels. This year, however, the organizers of the fair have come under criticism for restricting books banned by the Chinese government from appearing at the fair, in a bid to promote business opportunities between China and the UK. In the piece below, written for The Guardian, exiled Chinese poet, Bei Ling, shares his views.
Next month, a number of Chinese publishing houses will visit the annual London Book Fair, trying to drum up interest for their latest publications and most exciting writers. A number of books will never make it across to London, however. They include Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible by the 2000 Nobel literature prize winner Gao Xingjian, who now lives in Paris; Testimonials by exiled Liao Yiwu, a memoir charting his experience in jail after the 4 June 1989 Beijing massacre; Beijing Coma by Ma Jian, a long novel set against the backdrop of the 1989 massacre; Mémoire interdite and Shājié (Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution) by Tsering Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan, whose books provide unprecedented analysis of the Tibetan situation over the last 40 years; and Selected Poems by China’s most acclaimed literary critic Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia. The 2010 Nobel winner has nine more years of prison to serve and his wife is under house arrest.
None of these books will appear at the 2012 LBF. They are only a selection: over the last three decades, at least 100 books have been banned by the Chinese government. They are books that never see the light of day; books that alter lives of writers and publishing houses; books that were published and then retracted and destroyed. It all happens under the authority of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). In the last two decades, GAPP has established press and publication bureaux across all provinces and special administrative regions, compiling a blacklist of writers forbidden to publish. The number of names on the list, like the country’s economic growth, increases every year.
The criteria required to end up on the blacklist are: 1) whether the writer is a political dissident, openly criticising the Chinese government and political system; 2) whether the writer’s work focuses on topics prohibited by the Communist party, such as the student movement of 1989 followed by the 4 June army crackdown and massacre, as well as the destruction of Tibetan monuments and eradication of Tibetan culture after the Dalai Lama’s escape in 1959.
The Communist party committee or party branch holds the decision-making power. They ensure that the text is free of “political errors” as well as profane content. If the book under review violates any of those criteria, it will not be granted publication. Books that have already been published are continuously subjected to examination by the publication bureau. This painstaking preview and review process views literature as an agent that disrupts the artificial utopia the government has tried to concoct at the expense of human freedoms and free will. The participants of the 2012 LBF will see this “utopia” but miss out on the relics of destroyed cultures and people.