Chinese authorities are asking booksellers in Beijing to ban books by Japanese authors and titles about Japanese topics as well as pressuring Chinese publishers not to translate and publish Japanese content in response to a tense territorial row between the countries.
Tensions between Japan and China escalated last week after the Japanese government nationalized the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China. The countries have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the ownership of this string of small islands off China’s eastern coast, and Tokyo’s decision to nationalize the islands further heightened tensions. The move sparked protests in China, directed toward Japanese citizens living there, Japanese businesses, even Japanese diplomatic offices. Anti-Japan protestors damaged Japanese plants and dealerships including Panasonic Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Corp., and Honda Motor Corp., according to the Japan Times.
Now, the dispute has taken a new turn, and the target is books. According to the Japan Times, Chinese publishers in Beijing were told by authorities to “halt the planned publication of books written by Japanese or protected by Japanese copyrights, and books related to Japan that are being written by Chinese authors.”
“The ban will also affect cultural exchange events, copyright trading with Japan and the promotion of Japan-related books in the country...”
The Bookseller reported that Japanese titles like Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84,” a bestseller in China, have already been removed from Beijing bookstores, including Wangfujing Bookstore, one of the city’s biggest bookshops. “We don’t sell Japanese books,” a shop clerk told the UK’s Guardian. “I don’t know much about the reason, but perhaps it is because China-Japan relations are not good.” Another added, “It’s because of the deteriorating ties between China and Japan.”
A source told the Guardian it is not uncommon for the Chinese government to restrict retailers business during times of political tension. “There are instructions from time to time, especially at moments of internal instability, such as this,” said the unnamed source, “but they will be short-lived.”
While we hate to see books entangled in this territorial dispute, it does remind us – in a time when bookstores are disappearing and the publishing industry is embattled – that books hold an innate power and authority so compelling nations ban books instead of trading bullets.
After all, as English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his play “Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy,” wrote:
True, This! –
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.