Banning books, it seems, is so passé. The latest thing in books-related censorship? Banning media reports of bookstores.
The Shanghai office of China’s national propaganda department recently issued a notice to the media banning it from publicizing the opening of Taiwan bookstore chain Eslite, which plans to open a 70,000-square-foot bookstore in Shanghai Tower, which will be the tallest building in China once it opens in 2015, according to the South China Morning Post.
“The matter about Taiwan Eslite Bookstore [intending] to open a branch in Shanghai should not be reported any more,” read a terse message sent by SMS by the Shanghai office of the propaganda department to senior editors in charge of the city's major media outlets, according to the South China Morning Post.
No reason was given for the media blackout, which “is completely a surprise to the media and culture industry in Shanghai, as now everybody is trying to figure out what the motivation behind the message is,” a Shanghai editor told the Post.
Of course, observers have their suspicions.
The Taiwan branch of Eslite sells books banned in mainland China, including books by dissidents and controversial figures like Wang Dan and the Dalai Lama. As such, the government may be concerned about the type of books Eslite will carry in its new Shanghai branch.
(Eslite’s deputy communications manager has told CNN it “respects the rules and regulations in mainland China, including those on the book market.”)
Media reports have also suggested that the Chinese government is concerned about the political background of some Eslite executives.
Eslite, which was founded in 1989, is Taiwan’s largest bookstore chain and has more than 40 locations across the country, including a popular multi-story flagship in Taipei.
News about the media blackout of the country’s largest bookstore chain is nothing less than concerning, though we suspect the bookstore is getting even more attention as a result of the government directive. Nonetheless, the move represents a troubling new direction by the Chinese government, and one we hope the international booksellers community is watching closely.