Eslite Bookstore’s alleged refusal 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) penned by exiled Chinese writer Yuan Hongbing (袁紅冰) and Tibetan author Namloyak Dhungser on its shelves has caused controversy and aroused criticism from the publishing sector.
Asia-Pacific Political, Philosophical and Cultural Publishing House general manager Lee Wen-chin (李文欽) criticized the chain bookstore, likening the situation to how during the Martial Law era, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government at the time banned books published by the dangwai (黨外), “outside the party,” such as articles, magazines and books penned by famed dissidents Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) and Li Ao (李敖) were banned from stores.
Death of a Buddha can only be published in democratic countries where the right of free speech is respected, such as Taiwan, Lee said.
Whether Eslite was worried that its branches in China and Hong Kong would be affected if they allowed the books to be sold at their Taiwan stores was unknown.
Eslite is currently only accepting preorders for the book.
Citing concerns previously expressed by Locus Publishing director Rex How (郝明義) that if the cross-strait service trade agreement is ratified, book distributors would only be allowed to sell books that the “higher-ups” agreed with, Lee said “that is already happening today, even before the agreement has been ratified. Already there is an atmosphere reminiscent of the Martial Law era. A Taiwan Garrison Command voice is entrenched in everyone’s mind, dictating what books can or cannot be sold.”
The 60-year-old Lee said he had grown up during the Martial Law era and knew how effective the Taiwan Garrison Command was at the time.
“Garrison officials would stop you at the ramps of highways and check the vehicle and confiscate any books the government did not want the people to know about; many bookstores set limits on what they sold to avoid trouble. However, many more followed their conscience and sold the books, and if it weren’t for them, the termination of martial law and the development of democratization would have been delayed for many more years,” Lee said.
Asia-Pacific Political, Philosophical and Cultural Publishing House publisher Tao Yen-sheng (陶延生) said that though the Taiwan Garrison Command had been abolished, governmental control of book distribution was all the more effective because distributors tried to guess at what books the “higher ups” would not want them to sell.
“If we face such a situation before the agreement has even been ratified, what freedom will Taiwanese publishing houses have if it is ratified?” Tao asked.
In response to the criticism, Eslite Books’ public relations department said the bookstore’s core values are to promote the humanities, arts, creativity and how live to better life, adding that the company and all its branches would provide preordering services for readers wishing to buy the book.
The company did not respond to the more sensitive issues raised by the criticism.