Frankfurt Book Fair: Some Disorientation along the Way

As an appetizer before the [Frankfurt Book] fair, a symposium themed “China and the world – perceptions and realities” will take place this weekend, Global Times reporter Duan Congcong reported from Germany last Friday. And added, with tangible disapproval: However, German organizers also invited two writers deemed unpopular by Chinese readers, which caused strong complaints from Chinese scholars and writers.

Which makes JR wonder how writers who are hardly known within China can be unpopular. Or, the other way round, how they could hope to become popular unless they can freely communicate with the Chinese public. Dai Qing and Bei Ling (let’s assume that Duan was referring to them) are no frequent guests on Chinese television, or the media in general. Maybe some day, when the Chinese people have free access to their own literature, both these writers will be popular at home. Besides, popularity isn’t the only criteria for an invitation. A book fair, as a rule, is no Academy Award ceremony.

Then comes a particularly embarrassing passage (still Global Times):

“We have withdrawn the invitation,” Peter Ripken, organizer of the symposium, told the Global Times. “But one of the writers has been granted a visa from the German Foreign Ministry. My colleague is now negotiating with Beijing.” “The German media is overacting on this issue,” he added.

It’s hard to believe that he really said that. The Ausstellungs- und Messe GmbH, which organizes the Book Fair, is a subsidiary of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association, whose mission is “to represent the German book industry worldwide and to promote international cultural exchange and the free dissemination of the written word“. You can’t lose your way if you have this in mind. Mr Ripken, apparently anyway, lost it.

Die Welt reports today that after the uproar on the preparing symposium, its director Juergen Boos distanced himself from Ripken’s work: his compromise to talk with the authors Dai Qing and Bei Ling and to suggest an alternative to their public appearance at the symposium had been wrong. The Book Fair wasn’t available for compromises at the expense of freedom of opinion and wanted “to create a platform for the most different, including extreme, positions. It was absurd to ask if the fair might be subject to censorship.

Absurd indeed. But absurd things were apparently close to happen in Frankfurt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: