The controversial cross-strait service trade agreement has yet to clear the legislature, but it already appears to be having a chilling effect on the publishing and retail industry, generating self-censorship that is detrimental to Taiwanese democracy.
Earlier this week, Eslite Bookstore, one of the nation’s biggest and most popular bookstore chains, allegedly refused to put the book Death of a Buddha — The Truth behind the Death of the 10th Panchen Lama (殺佛–十世班禪大師蒙難真相) on its shelves. Co-written by exiled Chinese writer Yuan Hongbing (袁紅冰) and Tibetan author Namloyak Dhungser, the book details findings from the authors’ private interviews with Chinese and Tibetan officials that the 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, was killed by poison in January 1989, rather than dying of a heart attack as the Chinese Communist Party claims.
The bookstore chain currently only accepts pre-orders for the book and has so far failed to respond to the more sensitive issues raised by those criticizing it for keeping the book off its shelves.
Amid the incident, some may recall the ruckus back in 1989, when British author Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses made him a target for assassination by Islamic extremists. The Islamist groups said the book defamed the Prophet Mohammed and then-Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and called on Muslims to kill Rushdie and the book’s publishers. The threats prompted some of the largest book chains in the US, such as Waldenbooks and Barnes & Noble, to remove it from their shelves.
A number of writers subsequently came forward to condemn the death threats and criticize the bookstore chains for refusing to sell the book.
“To see bookstores caving in like that to demagoguery is horrifying. They exist in honor of freedom of the press. For them to be so cowardly is despicable,” US author Laura Shapiro said at the time.
Renowned US novelist and essayist Susan Sontag said that the incident suggested how easy it was to make people afraid, “but if we show fear in the face of this intimidation, all of our institutions that support a free, literate society are hijacked.”
Eslite, which strives to project an image as a promoter of art, culture and literature, has been touted by the Taipei City Government as a major cultural attraction for locals and tourists alike, but how is the bookstore to be championed as a cultural icon when it appears to compromise the value of freedom of expression?
If this is how Eslite is pandering to Beijing, the question is what will happen when it actually starts operating in China as part of its overseas expansion plan. And if censorship is being exercised now by Taiwan’s publishing and retail industry before the cross-strait service trade agreement is even approved by the legislature, one shudders to imagine the level of censorship there may be once the agreement takes effect.
Locus Publishing Co chairman and former national policy adviser Rex How (郝明義), for one, has strongly criticized the government for “overlooking the sensitivity in cross-strait issues” and “ignorance and stupidity about China” by signing the trade pact.
As China is notorious for its stringent censorship of the cultural industry, can the public still be guaranteed an independent reading and book-consumption environment free of political interference?
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government need to address that and allay public concern, rather than pushing the legislature to approve the agreement without examining the potentially damaging impact it may have on the nation.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at a ceremony on July 30 officially commissioned China’s BeiDou-3 satellite navigation system. The constellation of satellites, which is now fully operational, was completed six months ahead of schedule. Its deployment means that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is now in possession of an autonomous, global satellite navigation system to rival the US’ GPS, Russia’s Glonass and the EU’s Galileo. Although Chinese officials have repeatedly sought to reassure the world that BeiDou-3 is primarily a civilian and commercial platform, US and European military experts beg to differ. Teresa Hitchens, a senior research associate at the University of
There are few areas where Beijing, Taipei, and Washington find themselves in agreement these days, but one of them is that the situation in the Taiwan Strait is growing more dangerous. Such a shared assessment quickly breaks down, though, when the question turns to identifying sources of rising tensions. Several Chinese experts and officials I have consulted with recently have argued that Beijing’s increasingly belligerent behavior in the Taiwan Strait is driven mostly by fear. According to this narrative, Beijing is worried that unless it puts a brake on Taiwan’s move away from the mainland, Taiwan could be “lost” forever. They
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who died on Thursday last week, coined the phrase “new Taiwanese” and used it in some of his public speeches. The concept of “new Taiwanese” was an important link in the chain of his political thought. Lee proposed the term in August 1998 on the eve of the anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. His intention was to consolidate a common understanding around the idea of “new Taiwanese,” and to embody the Taiwanese spirit of never giving up and not fearing hardship, and to create bright prospects for generations to come. However, after