(September 12, 2009) The controversy surrounding this weekend’s symposium honouring China’s literature in the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October has escalated, with two Chinese dissident writers saying they plan to attend the event. Both Dai Qing and Bei Ling, whose invitations to the symposium were retracted by organizers after threats from the Chinese government, have now arrived in Frankfurt.
In an apparent attempt to diffuse the developing brouhaha, Frankfurt Book Fair Director, Juergen Boos, issued a statement saying Dai Qing was to be picked up at the Frankfurt Airport by the organizer of the event Peter Ripken. The announcement comes after earlier reports that Ripkin had called Dai Qing, begging her not to attend the event.
Dai Qing — considered one of China’s leading investigative journalists and environmental activitists — and other dissidents were initially invited by organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair to the symposium this weekend. But Dai Qing says the Beijing General Administration of Press and Publication returned invitations intended for the dissidents. She says the organizers of the conference had already booked her air ticket and hotel. Under pressure from the Chinese government, the organizers later retracted the invitation.
The German chapter of PEN, which fights for the rights of writers worldwide, however encouraged Dai Qing to attend the event after her invitation had been rescinded. The group organized for her to attend the symposium as their guest.
After making her way to the airport in Beijing, Dai Qing discovered that her air plane ticket had been mysteriously cancelled—even after she had called the travel company twice to confirm her seat.
“They tried so hard to keep me from going to Frankfurt,” Dai Qing told the German Press Agency (dpa) from the airport. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, Dai Qing said she will use the symposium to discuss the abuse of power by government officials.
The controversy surrounding the event, billed as “China and the World – Perceptions and Realities” has placed the organizers under intense public and political scrutiny. The intention of the symposium was to create a dialogue about the domestic and international perceptions of China in the 21st century. But, officials from the Chinese government threatened to boycott the event if the dissident writers were allowed to participate.
Critics say the fair’s organizers have bowed to pressure from the Chinese government to limit the dialogue. The fair’s director Juergen Boos, denies these accusations, saying China may be getting its way at the symposium, but the Fair itself cannot be “manipulated.”
In a written response to the criticism, Boos said “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 explained that one “requirement for the realisation of the symposium was that the partners mutually agree on a list of topics and discussion participants.” China only agreed to take part in the event if these dissident writers were not allowed to participate, he said.
But the controversy surrounding the symposium highlights the Chinese government’s desire to prevent free speech, and to silence its critics. Probe International Executive Director Patricia Adams—a Toronto-based group that has translated Dai Qing’s environmental books—thinks it is “profoundly disturbing when institutions in the western democracies become enforcers of the Chinese government’s censorship rules, especially those involved in publishing.”
“Where will they draw the line? How can we be confident the Frankfurt Book Fair won’t keep Chinese-banned books from being traded at the fair in future,” she asked.
Press, Probe International, September 12, 2009
Categories: Frankfurt Book Fair