December 10, 2019
A Chinese library burns books and sparks outrage
by Alyea Canada
Remember when time travel was just a really cool idea in science fiction where your biggest concern was either correcting a dystopian future or not hooking up with your mom? Those were the days. Instead, we have another example of world powers making time travel less cool by enacting draconian laws and policies. This time a photo of a library in Zhenyuan county, China, burning books deemed “improper.”
— Michael Anti (@mranti) December 8, 2019
Lily Kuo reports in the Guardian that the photo, which surfaced over the weekend, has caused outrage on social media and comparisons to both the Qin dynasty and the Cultural Revolution. One user posted on the social networking site Weibo, “When will the scholars start being burned?” During the Qin dynasty both books and scholars were burned to prevent criticism of the regime and control the populace. Another user wrote, “Horrifying. First you demonise public intellectuals, then you burn books. Is this a new Cultural Revolution?” A now-censored editorial in Beijing News read: “How a society deals with books is a test of its attitude toward knowledge and civilisation and should never be arbitrary and barbaric. How did this happen?”
Part of how this happened was that in October the Ministry of Education issued an order for a culling of all “illegal” or “improper” books from primary and secondary school libraries. For what it’s worth, the decree does say that improper books should be stored in a different location and doesn’t directly call for their destruction. Schools and libraries were to remove books that don’t uphold the core values of socialism, harm social order, and endanger national unity. Books that promote religion, contain superstitions, and promote “narrow nationalism and racism” should also be pulled from circulation. (Thanks, Google Translate.) Schools have until March to comply and must submit an itemized list of the “offending” books, authors, and publishers.
This is merely the latest push in the Chinese government’s efforts to censor the media available to young people. Koh writes, “Over the past year, China has focused especially on regulating what content young people see, from what can be posted online to how long minors can play video games. This year, officials have also called for an overhaul of “patriotic education’ in schools.”
Since the backlash, news of the book burning has been removed from the library’s website.
Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.