(September 24, 2009)The problems surrounding the Frankfurt Book Fair continue to grow, with the Chinese government refusing to allow author and political dissident Liao Yiwu to travel to attend the event in October.
According to German media outlets, Liao Yiwu has been banned from traveling to Germany after he was invited by Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt—or House of World Cultures— to take part in a podium discussion on October 10 with other Chinese authors.
“Chinese state security officials told me that I will not be allowed to fly to Germany,” Liao was quoted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. He said that although he has received a formal invitation from Germany and holds a valid passport, he will now be forced to stay in China.
In 1989 Laio published a poem titled, “Massacre,” which attacked the Tiananmen Square killings. As a result, he was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison. He is also well known for his celebrated oral history, “The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up” (Pantheon).
The announcement that Laio will not be able to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair comes after a dispute between China and other dissident writers erupted two weeks ago at a symposium for the fair.
The Chinese government, which is this year’s guest of honor at the fair, told the book fair organizers to “un-invite” dissident writers Dai Qing and Bei Ling from participating in the event, “China and the World—Perceptions and Reality.”
Initially, the book fair organizers acquiesced. They later reversed their position, allowing Dai to address the event. The Chinese delegation stormed out of the room in response and returned only after the organizers apologized.
The problems surrounding China and this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair—the world’s largest trade fair for books—have resulted in a massive debate on whether picking China to be the guest of honor was an appropriate decision. It’s also become a political issue in the buildup to next week’s elections, with politicians weighing into the debate.
“Two principles also apply to the Frankfurt Book Fair: Guests are treated like guests, and art without freedom is inconceivable,” a German foreign ministry spokeswoman was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article.
As the debate on China’s place at the event continues, the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos, has strengthened his resolve not to be pressured by the Chinese government.
“The fair is not taking place in Beijing,” he said. “If we allow ourselves to be influenced by one country’s politicians, we might as well shut up shop.”
“The Frankfurt Book Fair does not compromise to the detriment of freedom of expression,” he said in a written statement. “Facilitating dialogue is not easy. We have always been aware of this and the symposium confirmed this. Dialogue is, however, the right way and the only way.”
Probe International, September 24, 2009
Categories: Frankfurt Book Fair