(September 11, 2009) Bei Ling and Dai Qing excluded after Chinese government threatens to withdraw from event if they participate.
Shadows have been cast over a debate about perceptions of modern China in Germany this weekend, after Chinese authorities insisted that the exiled writer Bei Ling and investigative journalist Dai Qing be struck from the list of participants.
A joint event between the Frankfurt Book Fair and China, the guest of honour at the October book fair this year, “China and the World – Perceptions and Realities” had been billed as an occasion that would “open up debates about relevant contemporary issues with regard to China”. “It is imperative to exchange ideas and opinions in order to contribute to mutual understanding and to overcome misunderstandings and prejudice,” said its organisers.
But author Bei, a poet and essayist arrested in 2000 for “illegally publishing” his journal in China, told German press that China had threatened to boycott the two-day event if he participated. Dai, a journalist and environmental activist who was banned from publishing in China and imprisoned for 10 months after writing a book critical of the Three Gorges Dam, said she had been told not to attend after German organisers had booked her flight and hotel.
“When you hold an international symposium in Frankfurt, it should be about giving Chinese authors a voice when the central theme is Chinese literature,” she told German press, adding that she would be attending the event to raise questions, even if she is not an official speaker. “The authorities must give some clear arguments as to why I shouldn’t be allowed to express my thoughts.”
Bei, who now lives in the US, also said he would be attending, according to German reports. “I feel it is a shame if the Frankfurt Book Fair cannot say ‘no’ or they cannot control this,” he told German press. “They decided this year for China to be the guest country, so they have to face all these complicated situations. But some rules they cannot turn back, like freedom of expression.”
Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair Juergen Boos confirmed yesterday that at the request of the China organising committee, Dai and Bei had been struck from the list of participants in the event. “It was only under these conditions that official China was prepared to participate in this event,” he said in an official statement. “We decided, under difficult circumstances and after consulting with the co-operation partners, to allow the conversation to go forward and not to cancel the event.”
He denied that the book fair had been pressured by China over the participants in the event. “The Frankfurt Book Fair will not allow itself to be pressured by anyone and, as a part of the German and international publishing industry, stands for freedom of speech, of expression and of the press throughout the world,” he said. “The symposium is one of the few events that the Frankfurt Book Fair is organising together with the Guest of Honour China organisation committee and other partners. The goal is to speak with each other and not over each other. Official China is also the subject of the debate.”
Last year, Turkey was the guest of honour at the book fair, and Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk used his opening address to the event to criticise the country’s “oppression” of its writers. A group of high-profile Turkish authors also boycotted the event over their unwillingness to be represented at the fair by Turkey’s AKP government. In 2007, when the guest of honour was Catalonia, Spanish authors including Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Javier Cercas boycotted the fair after Catalan organisers initially said that only those writing in Catalan could be part of the official delegation.
Alison Flood, Guardian.co.uk, September 11, 2009
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Categories: Frankfurt Book Fair
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