Chinese market turns freezing for Taiwanese pounds, as tensions rise

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – Taiwanese author Iris Chiang hardly appears to be the type whose work is reportedly 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. In recent years, China 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 film and music in Chinese language.

“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, director of China Times Publishing Group, one of Taiwan’s largest publishers. “It’s getting farther and farther away. ”

China claims Taiwan, an autonomous island located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the east coast of China, as its territory. The election of Tsai Ing-wen, pro-Taiwan’s current de facto independence, as president of the island in 2016, ushered in a period of deteriorating relations. China has tried to isolate the island diplomatically and to exert pressure militarily.

While the ruling Communist Party in China 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 on the mainland, relying on a common language and cultural history.

“Exchanges in publishing are really exchanges of ideas,” said Linden Lin, 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, according to editors, academics, publishers and authors. This is not a blanket ban, and publishers blame the self-censorship of their mainland 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 traditional “hutong” neighborhoods. ” from the city.

A sticking point is any content that suggests a distinct Taiwanese identity. Young Taiwanese in particular have developed a distinct identity. A 2020 poll found that two-thirds of those polled did not consider themselves Chinese.

“In the past, they censored books on religion. … But for example, if the subject of a book is Taiwanese food, that’s okay, ”said Rosine Liu, editor of Taiwan’s Business Weekly, which previously sold two cookbooks by one author. Taiwanese in China. “But now I feel like if it’s called ‘Taiwan Cuisine’, it’s even a little stressful. “

The soft-spoken Chang thought she would market her book, “Play with Art,” to prosperous parents in China, where the government was encouraging many to have more children – a fact she learned from. one of his mainland students.

Things went well with the Chinese publisher at first. At their request, she agreed to modify 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 fell silent, she said. When contacted over a year later, she was told the review process was slower than normal.

“After we got 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 exchange impractical,” Chiang said.

This contrasts sharply with the 1980s and 1990s, when Chinese readers were drawn to Taiwanese writers such as Lung Ying-tai, whose essays contributed to the debate over Taiwan’s transformation from a one-party regime to democracy. Sanmao, a Taiwanese writer who wrote stories about her life in the Sahara Desert, won over an entire generation of Chinese women.

There was also curiosity about the most basic things, after the two were cut off for decades after their separation in 1949 during a civil war in China.

“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. “Until Daddy Comes Home,” about a boy whose father was out of town during the Lunar New Year holidays to treat COVID-19 patients, paints a rosy picture of the efforts of the China to fight the pandemic.

Some in Taiwan have argued that China is using the island’s open environment to spread propaganda. But a government proposal to control the mainland’s books has drawn criticism that the island 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 how can you call it democracy? said Lai Hsiang-wai, professor of press freedom at the National Taiwan University of the Arts.

The government dropped the proposal, saying it would only censor books published by the Communist Party or its army, the People’s Liberation Army.

Liu, the editor, said it was never a purely commercial exchange for her. She enjoyed meeting her mainland 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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