Tibetan, Uyghur and Chinese protesters at the London Book Fair, April 16, 2012
When I arrived at the London Book Fair on Monday, I saw a huge sign outside showing a cute Chinese boy holding an open book with the words underneath him: “China: Market Focus.” The special guest of this year’s fair was the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship bureau. Assisted by the government-funded, but independent, British Council, the fair’s organizers invited the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP)—the Communist Party’s designated body for ensuring that all publications, from poems to textbooks, are certified fit for the public at home and abroad to read.
What has caused a bitter public wrangle in London is that Beijing not only chose—with the full approval of the fair itself and of the British Council—which writers to bring to the fair. In a disturbing repeat of what happened at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009, it also excluded some of China’s best-known writers. Among these are two Nobel Prize winners: Gao Xingjian, China’s only Literature Prize laureate, who lives in nearby Paris, and Liu Xiaobo, the Peace Prize winner who is now serving out an eleven-year prison sentence. More scandalous still, not one of China’s diaspora poets and novelists was invited, even though most of the country’s most distinguished writers live abroad.
“We must be very powerful and they are frightened of us,” Qi Jiazhen, a fiery, seventy-year-old writer told me, at a meeting of Chinese writers in London to protest the fair’s corrupt invitation list. “That is why they won’t let us into the fair.”