Beijing's Green Warning Labels at the Frankfurt Book Fair
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 16, 2009
The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are both participants at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Mainland China has among the books on display at its pavilion volumes published on Taiwan. To these it has attached "Green Warning Labels" reading "We do not endorse any content that violates the One China Principle." This gesture mirrors the disclaimers shown at the end of many political talk shows on Taiwan declaring that "The above comments do not represent the views of our station." It is hard not to chuckle at them.
The primary purpose of these Green Warning Labels is to protect the book fair host from potential political fallout. This system is more progressive than checking each book page by page, or worse, blotting out the actual text with black markers. Actually, since the two sides already have a "You can write what you like, but I don't intend to recognize it" understanding, such Green Warning Labels are superfluous.
Beijing has just displayed its military capabilities at its 60th National Day celebration. As this year's featured nation, Beijing sees the book fair as an important showcase for its soft power. But beginning last month, Beijing began pressuring dissident authors to withdraw from the book fair. Recently the Taiwan Pavilion was forced to change its name to "Taiwan Publishers." The Mainland pavilion pasted political warning labels on books published on Taiwan. These are evidence of too much bluster and too little tolerance.
The ice is melting in the Taiwan Strait. The Mainland China Pavilion is displaying books published on Taiwan. This is a praiseworthy move. But the books have been carefully preselected. Mostly they are books on art and decorating. Yet even they require "One China Principle" preventive measures. Isn't this just a wee bit one-sided? Isn't this making a mountain out of a molehill? This international book fair has a 600 year history. To handle cultural creations in such a heavy handed manner is markedly at odds with the air of civilization and refinement Beijing wishes to demonstrate.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is not the 10/1 National Day celebration. Beijing cannot force the host nation or participating nations to adopt the framework it applies at home. This is an international activity, with internationally accepted rules of the game. Beijing is a participant. It can participate fully. It can work toward its own goals. But it cannot coerce other participants to play by its rules. That would be contrary to the rules of international competition. Moreover, a book fair is a free market for peaceful and pluralistic cultural exchange. There is no need for hegemonic "rule the roost" attitudes.
The book fair includes over 600 China themed activities, more than enough to allow the West to understand the "New China." But some of Beijing's political gestures will merely make unnecessary trouble for the organizers. The world media will focus on these negative developments. This runs counter to the international image Beijing hopes to create.
The main reason for this gap is that political thinking within the Chinese Communist Party has not caught up with the Mainland's newfound economic prosperity. Those within the bureaucracy still think in terms of Cold War era confrontation and containment. Top officials on both sides have reached a reconciliation. The ice is melting. A consensus is forming. But administrators have yet to change their thinking and standard operating procedures. They have yet to stand down from their diplomatic wars and military preparations. In recent years, The CCP Central Committee has indeed shown signs of "emancipating its thought." But lower echelon officials have yet to adjust their thinking and behavior accordingly. That is because the safest response is the standard response. Going strictly by the book is least likely to get one into trouble. But a great nation is confident of its own status. If Mainland officials respond confidently and rationality, there is no reason why they can't change the outside world's image of an authoritarian power that suppresses freedom of expression?
As a rising power Mainland China's hard power has indeed attracted the world's attention. But its soft power remains in doubt. When it comes to recognizing the universal values of human rights, democracy, and freedom, Beijing is still a long way off. It still has much room for improvement. Last year Taipei joined WHA as an observer. This created a win-win scenario. Beijing's openness won international acclaim. That was a perfect example. During this year's World Games in Kaohsiung and Deaflympics in Taipei, Beijing respected the right of audience members to wave flags of their own choosing. This was also a highly positive development. By contrast, the Green Warning Labels at the Frankfurt Book Fair run counter to this trend.
The Mainland pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair should to remove the little Green Warning Labels on books published on Taiwan. Allowing a diversity of opinions would be an enlightened move, Pasting labels on books merely leave one disillusioned. Removing such labels means removing an old bandage covering China's self-doubts.
2009.10.16 04:56 am