China turns to Taiwanese pounds
Taiwanese author Iris Chiang (江 學 瀅) hardly seems to be the type whose work would be banned from publication in China. Yet, four years after being sold to a Chinese publisher, his book on teaching children to appreciate art is still not in press, a victim of heightened tensions between China and Taiwan which spill over into the cultural sphere.
It’s not just about losing access to the huge Chinese market, say the authors and publishers. It is also about losing opportunities to exchange and connect, after three decades of growing contact between the two.
Beijing has reduced the flow of Chinese tourists and students to Taiwan and has barred its performers from competing in Taiwan’s Golden Rooster and Golden Melody Awards, considered the Oscars and Grammys for Chinese-language films and music.
Photo: Chiang Ying-ying, AP
“We have the impression that in these few years, trade flows are diverging. Taiwan is going further in one direction and China is going further in one direction, ”said James Chao (趙 政 岷), director of China Times Publishing, one of Taiwan’s largest publishers. “It’s getting farther and farther away. “
The election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), in favor of Taiwan’s de facto independence, in 2016 ushered in a period of deteriorating relations. China has attempted to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and to exert pressure militarily.
While the Chinese Communist Party has long banned books on sensitive issues ranging from religion to the lives of Chinese political leaders, Taiwanese publishers previously sold a wide variety of other books to China, relying on language and a common cultural history.
“Exchanges in publishing are really exchanges of ideas,” said Linden Lin (林 載 爵), director of Linking Publishing Co in Taiwan. “It is only by publishing that we can have this type of exchange.
Now any Taiwanese book has become more difficult to publish in China, editors, academics, publishers and authors said.
This is not a blanket ban and Taiwanese publishers blame the self-censorship of their Chinese counterparts rather than any official order.
Titles that were frozen include a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion cookbook, self-help book, and travel sketchbook by a Taiwanese artist in Beijing that featured cats roaming the traditional district of the city. hutong neighborhoods.
A sticking point is any content that suggests a distinct Taiwanese identity. Young Taiwanese in particular have developed a distinct identity.
A poll released on Tuesday found that 67.9% of those polled identified themselves as Taiwanese, 1.8% said they were Chinese and 27.9% said they were both.
“In the past, they censored books on religion, but for example, if the subject of a book is Taiwanese food, that’s not a problem,” said Rosine Liu (劉 憶 韶), an editor of Business Weekly in Taiwan which previously sold two cookbooks by a Taiwanese author. in China. “But now I feel like now if it’s called Taiwanese cuisineeven that is a little stressful.
The soft-spoken Tchang thought she would market her book Play with art (玩 藝術 ， 酷 思考) to prosperous parents in China, where the government is encouraging many to have more children – a fact she learned from one of her Chinese students.
Things went well with the Chinese publisher at first. At the publisher’s request, she agreed to edit a chapter that used examples from art museums in Taiwan. A Chinese writer would substitute a chapter based on museums in China.
Then the other side went silent, Chiang said.
When contacted over a year later, she was told the review process was slower than normal.
“After we had a new president, the response from the other side – the harshness of the situation and the lack of friendship – created a lot of tedious things that made the exchanges impractical,” she said. .
This is in stark contrast to the 1980s and 1990s, when Chinese readers were drawn to Taiwanese writers such as Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), whose essays contributed to the debate on Taiwan’s transformation d ‘a one-party democracy. .
Sanmao (三毛), a Taiwanese writer who wrote stories about her life in the Sahara, won over a whole generation of Chinese women.
There was also curiosity about the most basic things, after the two were cut for decades after their separation in 1949 in the wake of the Chinese Civil War.
“At the time, relations were good and it seemed like there was a vibe in China that they really wanted to understand Taiwan,” Chiang said. “What kind of fruit do you guys eat?” How is your art? How is your life How to celebrate the new year? These little things in life.
Now, Taiwanese are also sensitive to the heightened tensions, highlighted by the debate last year over a children’s book from China. While waiting for daddy to come home (等 爸爸 回家), of a boy whose father was out of town during the Lunar New Year holidays to treat patients with COVID-19, paints a rosy picture of China’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
Some in Taiwan have argued that China is using the nation’s open environment to spread propaganda, but a government proposal to control Chinese books has drawn criticism that Taiwan is relapsing into authoritarian habits.
“If we say we are afraid that people will see fake news, that I will help them filter the information, then what can you call it democracy?” said Lai Hsiang-wai (賴 祥 蔚), professor of press freedom at National Taiwan University of the Arts.
The government dropped the proposal, saying it would only censor books published by the Chinese Communist Party or the People’s Liberation Army.
Liu said it was never a purely commercial exchange for her. She enjoyed meeting her Chinese counterparts at book fairs and learning about their way of doing things. In the current political climate, those very basic human moments of exchange that had helped people bond with each other are gone.
“For me, in this difficult environment, you will also shrink, because this kind of cooperation is reciprocal,” Liu said. “Because at the end of the day, we all still carry that burden of country and that burden of history.”
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