Representatives of the publishing industry in Taiwan and China sat down in Taipei over the weekend to discuss joint ventures, especially on materials for Chinese-language education.
Despite claims by the head of the Chinese delegation, General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) head Liu Binjie (柳斌杰), that the industry transcends political conflict and promotes understanding, Taiwanese would do well to tread carefully when dealing with their Chinese counterparts.
There is a very good reason why Taiwanese publishers have been unable to set up shop in China without a deal being struck with a local firm. It does not stem from protectionism or a fear of competition but rather from censorship.
In a country where ideas are dangerous and actionable and where newspapers are told what to publish on issues deemed sensitive — such as poverty, the environment, government corruption and contaminated food — publishers from Taiwan pose a potential threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control of information.
The GAPP is China’s governing body for electronic and print publications. It enforces regulations, monitors distributors and screens books that discuss “important topics” — a long, malleable list that includes literature, former political leaders, party secrets, the Cultural Revolution, the Soviet Union, religion, national borders and translations of ancient texts.
According to the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the GAPP announced in 2003 that it banned no less than 19 dictionaries as part of a stricter screening mechanism, which dovetailed with the erosion of freedom of expression that followed President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) rise to power that year.
The Central Propaganda Department, meanwhile, requires editors and publishers to attend indoctrination sessions to ensure that their views do not depart from CCP guidelines.
All these restrictions and controls, of course, do not apply to Taiwanese publishers.
Little wonder, then, that many books are illegal in China and only available on the black market, and that translations of foreign literature or works by Chinese dissidents can only be found in Taiwan, sending many a visiting Hong Konger on a shopping spree whenever they visit Taiwanese bookstores.
For those who doubt the divide that separates Taiwan from China on press freedom, Reporters Without Borders ranked Taiwan No. 32 worldwide last year — top of the list in Asia and 16 spots higher than the US. China was ranked at an Orwellian No. 163.
If Taiwanese publishers were to cooperate with China, they would have little say on content, be subjected to the GAPP’s censorship and in the process lose their independence.
As a result, Chinese-language textbooks — including those with Taiwanese input — would offer the 30 million people who take up Chinese each year a distorted view of history and geography, one in which Taiwan would be a province of the PRC and in which the sins of the CCP would be papered over.
Local publishers should guard against cooperating with the Chinese government lest they be complicit in the activities of a system that distorts truth and holds minds in captivity. China’s overtures should be placed in the context of its history of contempt toward — and action against — freedom of speech and the press.
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