Frankfurt Book Fair Controversy Chinese Author Banned from Traveling to Germany

Chinese author and political dissident Liao Yiwu, who was due to attend an event in Berlin connected with the Frankfurt Book Fair, has been banned from traveling to Germany just weeks after the fair's organizers revoked invitations for two other Chinese writers.

Doubts have arisen as to whether China is the right country to be the guest of honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair.
REUTERS

Doubts have arisen as to whether China is the right country to be the guest of honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair.


Chinese author Liao Yiwu, who is also a reporter, musician and poet, has been banned by the Beijing regime from traveling to Germany, he told reporters on Wednesday.

"Chinese state security officials told me that I will not be allowed to fly to Germany," Liao told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, adding that he had received a formal invitation from Germany and also had a valid passport, but now would have to stay in China after all.

Berlin's Haus der Kulturen der Welt -- or House of World Cultures -- a showcase for exhibitions of non-European cultures -- had invited the 50-year-old author, who served a prison sentence between 1990 and 1994 for his opposition to the Beijing regime.

Together with other Chinese authors, Liao was due to take part in a podium discussion on Oct. 10 in Berlin, organized in connection with the Frankfurt Book Fair, which will feature China as its guest country during its Oct. 14-18 run.

Is It Too Early for China to Be a Guest of Honor?

The news comes just two weeks after organizers of the fair revoked invitations for Chinese writers Bei Ling and Dai Qing to appear at a symposium on guest nation China in the run-up to the fair, conceding they had done so at the request of the Chinese organizing committee.

The two authors, who are known critics of the regime, had already traveled to Frankfurt at their own expense, by the time the announcement had been made. Their appearance at a symposium prior to the opening of the world's largest publishing trade fair triggered fierce debate during which the official Chinese delegation left the room in protest. Some would later question whether it had been appropriate to invite China as a guest nation to the prestitigious event.

Earlier this month, Herbert Wiesner, the head of the German chapter of the prestigous PEN association of writers argued in an interview with Berlin's RBB public radio that Germany should not allow itself to be blackmailed by China at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair and that it had been too early to give the country an invitation to the event. "We could have learned that from the Olympics," he said. "I think it's a bit overhasty. In many respects, China is very mature, but obviously not in this one."

Book Fair chief Juergen Boos, however, recently defended the decision in a SPIEGEL interview, saying if anything, the fair had been "too late" in extending the invitation to Beijing. "When a country is undergoing such a massive transformation, then you cannot be too early," he said. He added that critical issues surrounding China would also be raised in Frankfurt and that "it would have a positive effect on the latitude for discussions in China. Of course things never go quickly enough for us in the West. But we need to take every opportunity to get even a millimeter closer. Five years ago, there wasn't a single independent bookstore in Beijing, but now there is; and it's a place where intellectuals and writers meet and discuss virtually every issue with each other. Despite all criticism about the speed at which this transformation is happening, there is progress."

cox and wire reports

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