FRANKFURT, Germany—Two dissident Chinese authors banned from making traditional speeches at the closing ceremony of the prestigious Frankfurt book fair have lashed out at China's leading role in the event this year, calling it a propaganda vehicle for the Communist Party.
Dissident Chinese writer Bei Ling said he was originally invited by the organizers of the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair to attend the closing ceremony as a guest speaker, with a possible opportunity to make a short speech.
"However, just before the closing ceremony, I received a phone call from the director of International Affairs of the book fair, telling me that the German Foreign Ministry had decided not to invite me to speak at the closing ceremony," Bei said.
He said fellow Chinese author Dai Qing, who has also published outspoken views about the Communist Party, was similarly struck off the list of speakers at the last minute.
"Dai Qing received the same notification just 15 minutes before the closing ceremony," Bei added. "I assume she would have felt shocked."
Bei declined to speculate why the decision had been made.
"I believe only the Foreign Ministry and the book fair’s organizer know the true reason," he said, adding that German media had already interviewed both writers about the incident.
Heavy Chinese spending
This year's Frankfurt Book Fair was opened to great fanfare last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, and was attended by 290,000 people, 9,000 fewer than last year.
As this year's honored state, China has spent millions of dollars on boosting its image internationally, through the participation of 50 Chinese government-endorsed writers and 600 artists.
Now one of the world's largest economies, Beijing is investing heavily in "soft power," extending its cultural influence to compete with that of Western countries.
But China's performance as this year's “honored guest” drew criticism in the German media after the banning of storyteller and musician Liao Yiwu from overseas travel despite his official invitation to attend.
Chinese officials also walked out when dissident writers Bei Ling and Dai Qing were allowed to attend a seminar against their wishes.
Bei said Chinese cultural officials had made sure that no true discussion could take place in the sessions that they hosted.
"The atmosphere in the seminars was dull," he said.
"We cannot have a dialogue. There is no interaction and exchange of opinions. The seminar programs are controlled by Chinese delegates."
He said the presiding person for each session was appointed or approved by Chinese cultural officials.
"Although we are characterized as special guests by our German hosts, we are only allowed to raise questions after each speech," Bei said.
"In other words, we are only allowed to ask questions. We cannot debate with them."
"The seminars were just a platform on which China promoted its cultural and social achievements. It was an official propaganda campaign," Bei added.
The online edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel headlined its coverage “China, the Unwelcome Guest,” and several official Chinese delegates told colleagues that they felt Europe’s politicians and news media were biased.
Top officials were angry about "being lectured about democracy," while publishing delegates were happy about book sales but surprised at what they saw as a barrage of criticism.
And Zhao Haiyun, spokesman for China’s General Administration of Press and Publication, told The New York Times that instead of focusing on literature, the media had focused on human rights and censorship.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Tian Yi. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.