It is almost impossible to get across to any non-publisher the importance of the Frankfurt Book Fair. There are many other fairs held around the world but in real terms they are irrelevant. It is Frankfurt massively and unquestionably first.
This year’s guest of honor is China which was a bit of a controversial choice because it caused some protests about censorship. However, there is hardly a country exhibiting there that does not have censorship at some level — the writer has experienced this personally with several books — so protesting about China is a bit of nonsense and seems to be more than somewhat orchestrated. And despite these alleged bans, many books of a somewhat controversial nature will be on display.
Tie Ning is the chairwoman of the Chinese Writers’ Association represents a total of 8,920 state-supported authors. She said when interviewed in Germany: "Censorship? What censorship? Artists enjoy great liberties in China. We are enthusiastically looking forward to the open exchange of opinions that will take place in Frankfurt."
There will be an official delegation of exactly 100 authors, along with over 1,000 functionaries and publishing managers. Organizers in Frankfurt are promising a "critical dialogue" at the event. If so, it will be the first time. The Frankfurt Book Fair is not about dialogues or presentations or speeches on a grand scale — critical or not.
All the important meetings, which may have macro results, are micro with only perhaps half a dozen people at most involved in each meeting. That is where the action happens. The big lectures and meetings are window dressing, not the reality.
Tie Ning has never heard that approximately 600 books are banned in China each year. She said, "one must comply with the laws and regulations. It is not allowed, for example, to offend national minorities. That is all." She is fairly experienced and is not speaking as an amateur. Tie Ning is 52 years old. Her novels which are perfectly respected. One of these is entitled "Rose Door" and tells of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, of a time in which, as she herself says, "every sense of humanity was destroyed."
So all of the organizations that normally protest about China will be at Frankfurt. And not much notice will be taken. Because that is not what the Frankfurt Book Fair is about. It is about micro meetings between publishers and agents and sometimes authors which will will decide the world of books for the coming year.
Der Speigel reports that every year 150,000 books are published in China. It reports that China has a huge army of censors — whose names and exact number remain unknown — watching over China’s media. Novelists are handled by a special government agency, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). The GAPP is the official partner of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
It organizes the guest country program and has launched a number of initiatives, including donating half a million euros (roughly $739,000) in subsidies for the translation of Chinese novels into German.
All of which may well be true. It is also all totally irrelevant to the Frankfurt Book Fair. There books are assessed on their potential and, perhaps, literary merit. All else, including allegations of censorship, is nonsense. The full article in Der Speigel seems to agree with this view.