Frankfurt Book Fair

Chinese officials walk out of symposium for the Frankfurt Book Fair

(September 14, 2009) Statements made by Chinese dissident writers Dai Qing and Bei Ling at this weekend’s symposium for the Frankfurt Book Exchange prompted the official Chinese delegation to walk out. Juergen Boos, director of the book fair, says the appearance of the two writers was not communicated clearly to the Chinese officials.

The stir surrounding the symposium, titled “China and the World – Perceptions and Realities” is a result of the event’s organizers retracting invitations to the dissident writers after being pressured by the Chinese government. Chinese dissidents prompt book fair walk out Philip Jones

The Frankfurt Book Fair caused a diplomatic stir on Saturday after going back on its decision to stop two Chinese dissidents, Bei Ling and Dai Qing, appearing at a symposium about China ahead of the book fair. Their appearance at the event caused the official Chinese delegation to walk out, with the delegation only agreeing to return after an apology from Juergen Boos, director of the book fair.

Boos said the Chinese delegation left after the “programme change [had not been] communicated to all of the event partners in a timely manner”. He added: “For this reason, part of the Chinese delegation left the conference hall prior to the statements made by Dai Qing and Bei Ling. I apologised to the Chinese organisation committee for not having communicated the programme change, whereupon the Chinese delegation returned to the conference hall.”

Boos had initially agreed to revoke the invitations to the two dissidents on the insistence of the Chinese delegation in order to “allow the conversation to go forward”. But in the second of three statements made by Boos in the past five days, he admitted he had been personally “struck” by reaction to the controversy. He added: “I very much regret and am personally angered by the fact that it has come to this in the run-up to the event – to unnecessary mistakes and compromises in the organisation and communication of the symposium on our part. This has also led to misunderstandings and agitation in the public debate.”

When Bei Ling and Dai Qing on Saturday addressed the symposium, the official Chinese delegation left the room in protest. Mei Zhaorong, former Chinese ambassador to Germany, told German newspapers that the German hosts had changed the program of the symposium without informing the delegation from Beijing. “We did not come here for a lesson in democracy,” Mei said. “Those times are over.”

Bei told the dpa news agency the decision to initially revoke the dissidents’ invitations would hurt the book fair’s image: “I feel it is a shame if the Frankfurt Book Fair cannot say ‘no’ or they cannot control this. 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.”

In a third statement, Boos stated: “Dai Qing and Bei Ling have had a lot expected of them over the past few days and weeks due to mistakes in the organisation and communication of the symposium. It was important to me and to P.E.N. to give them both the opportunity to make a statement at the start of the event .  .  .  It is important to me to conduct an open dialogue with all of the participants – the intellectuals, the authors and scholars, the participants of the official delegation and the media who have travelled here. I am very glad that this has been accomplished successfully after the initial difficulties.”

Listen to statements from Dai Qing and Bei Ling:

[video: [video:]

Probe International, September 14, 2009

Categories: Frankfurt Book Fair

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