Taiwan bookstore chain Eslite's Shanghai plans in doubt after censors order blackout

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 7:41am

A well-publicised plan by Taiwan bookstore chain Eslite to open a branch in what is to become Shanghai's tallest building may have hit a snag as the mainland's propaganda department suddenly ordered a news blackout on the project.

On Wednesday, Eslite and the Shanghai Tower made a joint announcement that the chain, founded in Taiwan about two decades ago, planned to lease 6,500 square metres of space in the record-breaking 632-metre skyscraper in Shanghai, which is still under construction. Then, yesterday, the mainland's propaganda department suddenly ordered local media not to report the news.

"The matter about Taiwan Eslite Bookstore [intending] to open a branch in Shanghai should not be reported any more," said a short message sent by the Shanghai office of the propaganda department to senior editors in charge of the city's major media outlets around lunch time yesterday.

The message, seen by the South China Morning Post, did not give any reason why news about Eslite's Shanghai bookstore plan was being forbidden.

Eslite's announced plan to open a branch bookstore in Shanghai and then the news blackout came just a few days after Wu Poh-hsiung, an honorary chairman of Taiwan's Kuomintang, held a political summit with President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Wu told Xi last week that Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, was open to cross-strait political dialogue through non-official channels, in what was seen as a goodwill gesture from Taipei.

One Shanghai editor said the propaganda authority's U-turn on the case "is completely a surprise to the media and culture industry in Shanghai, as now everybody is trying to figure out what the motivation behind the message is."

Another veteran newspaper editor, who declined to be named, said he learned from government sources that Beijing was concerned about the kind of books Eslite may bring to its new Shanghai branch.

There was also some speculation about the political background of some Eslite executives.

Eslite already has a branch in Hong Kong where books can be bought by political dissidents, including Wang Dan , the student leader who was on Beijing's most-wanted list after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

According to a press release issued by the state-owned developer of Shanghai Tower on Wednesday, Eslite signed "a letter of intent" with Shanghai Tower to take the 52nd and 53rd and B1 floors for the proposed Shanghai branch of Eslite Bookstore.