by Amy Jackson
Work today took me to the opening day of London Book Fair, an annual event attended by over 24,500 publishing professionals. The event welcomes publishers from all over the world, and houses impressive stands filled with literature from different countries. This year, one country in particular clearly dominates the conference floor: China. In a bid to open up to the Chinese market, the book fair has made China its focus this year – but with a sinister compromise. The organisers have invited only government approved authors. Worse still, this agreement with China has been made by the tax-funded British Council. As Nick Cohen puts it in his Guardian piece, ‘As the British Council is a BBC-style public corporation, funded by the taxpayer, it is fair to say that its collaboration with a dictatorship is our collaboration too.’
By allowing China’s repression of free speech to operate in the UK, our government is effectively allowing dictatorial censorship to exist in our democracy. As a speaker pointed out at an English Pen event today, there are more Chinese authors in prison in China than there are visiting the London Book Fair (31). What is more, as not all of the authors are huge supporters of the Chinese government, they are being monitored by Chinese government officials when speaking at events at the Book Fair to make sure there is no stepping out of line.
In response to the controversy, the British Council’s Director of Literature, Susie Nicklin said ‘There was no disagreement with the Chinese government about the final list of British Council writers who regularly appear on well-respected lists of the best novelists and poets in China. These writers live in China and write their books there; other writers have left.’ She also weakly asserted that other countries have hosted the same writers, but this misses the point. Writers not approved by the Chinese government have not been invited to attend the Book Fair, and so the UK, by way of the British Council, has colluded in the censorship China exercises over its writers.
Read ‘Performing in Chains’ by Chinese writer Yan Lianke, writing on the English Pen website.