The London Book Fair is facing claims it has bowed to pressure from Chinese authorities by failing to invite dissident and exiled writers to next month's event and choosing only state-approved authors.
Bei Ling, an exiled poet and essayist, has written to the British Council, the organisers of the cultural programme of the fair, which is one of the biggest international publishing events in the world, expressing his surprise over its plans to
host Chinese state-approved writers and organisations.
I was amazed that no independent voice, no exiled or dissident writer from China is being represented at the London Book Fair, he told the Guardian, accusing the fair, which is focusing on China this year, of self-censorship to keep
Chinese authorities on board.
It is shocking enough that the book fair has worked with Gapp (General Administration of Press and Publication, the agency responsible for regulating publications in China). In order to ensure that their guest country was happy they exercised
self-censorship and didn't push for other, non-state-approved writers, although without them you don't get a full picture of literary China, he said.
Next week the London Book Fair welcomes China, the world's largest publisher by volume, as the 2012 market focus and has teamed up with the British Council to invite around 20 Chinese writers to west London for a series of readings,
discussions and talks celebrating the best in Chinese literature. But the writers who make up the delegation and the events at which they'll be speaking have been chosen in consultation with partners including China's General Administration of
Press and Publishing (Gapp), whose responsibilities include the censorship of newspapers and publishers. According to writer Ma Jian this makes true cultural exchange impossible, and puts freedom of expression in China under yet more pressure:
For China to be named guest of honour. for the British cultural establishment to be shaking hands with the Chinese head of propaganda, a man responsible for the banning and censoring of books and the imprisonment of writers, is disgraceful.