Indiscriminate curbs on foreign content is not the way of a global power
A call to cut the number of foreign picture books for children published in mainland China in the name of stability and conformity is at odds with the liberal exchange of ideas and intellectual stimulation
However much China has modernised, many facets of life on the mainland still fall short of expectations. From the internet to the news media, the public domain is still heavily monitored and censored by the authorities. The latest suggestion is that even reading materials for toddlers and children should not be spared. According to various industry sources, Beijing has passed down an oral order mandating a drastic cut in the number of foreign picture books for children published on the mainland.
Intriguingly, a publication official said the move was aimed at making people’s ideas conform to Communist Party dogma. It has to be wondered how children’s picture books can be loaded with ideologies that are deemed to be in conflict with Communist values. It remains unclear how many publications will be affected eventually. But there has been a suggestion that very few would go to press.
Textbooks on the mainland have long been subject to censorship, be they local or imported. Previously, education authorities had stepped up efforts to limit the use of foreign textbooks in universities, saying there was a need to guard against the infiltration of western values. Some professors were sacked for defaming the communists.
Equally sensitive is online content. Many foreign websites and social media are still off-limit to mainland internet users. While there have been calls to relax the restrictions for business use, cyberspace is still heavily guarded. There are also laws that limit the spread of information that is, too often, arbitrarily deemed unacceptable by the state. There can be no dispute that reading materials for the young should be free from harmful content. The authorities have every reason to take action should any particular publication be found to be inappropriate. But an indiscriminate curb on foreign content does not seem justifiable.
Given that conformity and stability are of paramount importance on the mainland, Beijing may think the restrictions are essential. But the move not only goes against the liberal exchange of ideas and intellectual stimulation, it does not square with the image expected of a rising global power.