German Book Fair’s Dissident Guests Roil China

Following a controversy over two Chinese writers, Dai Qing and Bei Ling, who participated in a symposium to mark the Frankfurt Book Fair, fair organizers are now taking a tougher stand against Chinese officials who tried to ban the writers from attending. China is the “Guest of Honor” at this year’s fair. From the Wall Street Journal:

“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 said.

The fair, which takes place Oct. 14-18, puts China in an awkward position, too. The fair’s literary focus makes it difficult to avoid discussion of China’s record on free speech or to block certain attendees. Adding fuel to the debate was the hospitalization of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei for a cerebral hemorrhage in Munich on Monday. Mr. Ai, who also was invited to the fair, said he believes his injuries were the result of a beating by Chinese police in mid-August.

The flap has rankled Chinese diplomats. Earlier this week, China’s ambassador to Germany, Wu Hongbo, lambasted the fair’s organizers for the surprise readdition of the two dissidents to the symposium. “It was not an expression of respect toward [the fair’s] Chinese partner,” Mr. Wu said in a German newspaper interview whose full text was posted on the embassy’s Web site. “It was unacceptable,” he said.

Fair organizers have toughened their tone and insisted they won’t yield to censorship pressure. The fair, a marketing mecca for more than 7,000 publishers world-wide, will make plenty of room for “the independent, the other China,” said Mr. Boos in a statement Tuesday. The fair is organized by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association.

The statement from Juergen Boos lists some of the other Chinese attendees expected:

The independent, the other China can be experienced in around 250 events. We have invited the Chinese Nobel Prize winner for Literature Gao Xingjian, who lives in Paris and was banned from publication in China, to our International Centre. Poet Yang Lian, who lives in London, will talk about living and writing in two cultures along with Gao Xingjian. Another important event will be the discussion about freedom of expression and of the press, using China as an example, with the Uyghur P.E.N. President Abdulrusul ÖzHun, who lives in exile in Sweden, along with the critical literary journalist Xu Xiao, among others. The President of the World Uyghur Congress is also expected to attend the Fair. The artist Ai Weiwei will be there, as will journalist Xue Xinran, who lives in London. Authors from Hong Kong – such as Leung Ping-kwan – and from Taiwan – like Chang Ta-Chun – are expected. The topic of Tibet will be discussed at numerous events, not least in the reading on the Sunday of the Fair entitled “Forbidden Reading” or in the discussion hosted by the Tibet Initiative Germany, “Tibet blogged – China’s fear of the freedom of expression”, at which Kelsang Gyaltsen, the emissary of the Dalai Lama, will also be in attendance. Each day around midday, the P.E.N. Centre Germany will host a “Chinese hour” with authors who are part of the Independent Chinese Centre in Hall 3.1. This series of events will also focus on solidarity with the author Liu Xiaobo, who has been wrongfully imprisoned for more than nine months.


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