As China tries to expand its influence abroad, it's going beyond politics and business to target literature and publishing. German publishers are among those that have been targeted by censors, as DW has learned.
The books were hot off the press when the request for changes came. Nora Frisch, owner of a small publishing house in the southwestern German city of Esslingen, was asked to stop the publication of a novel.
Dragonfly Eyes was written by Cao Wenxuan, a well-known Chinese author of children's and young adult books. Shortly after the German translation was completed, the Chinese publisher, who had licensed the translation, contacted Frisch and told her to take the book off the market.
The publisher told Frisch she would have to make some corrections. Otherwise, she was warned, a planned reading tour with the author would be canceled. "She was really verbally aggressive," recalled Frisch, whose Drachenhaus Publishing Company specializes in Chinese culture and literature.
As Chinese authorities have begun paying more attention to how China is perceived abroad in recent years, censorship has increased. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed that he expects Chinese media and publishers to contribute to the country's soft power by "telling China's story well."
The impact of this policy recently became apparent in Germany, when Thalia, a large chain of bookstores, suddenly designated an unusual amount of shelf space to Chinese literature in some of its stores. Clients quickly noticed that the shelves lacked any literature critical of the Communist Party. Instead, speeches by Xi Jinping were front and center.
Thalia later admitted that the display had been curated by China Book Trading, a German subsidiary of China International Publishing Group, which is owned by the ruling Communist Party. Thalia didn't disclose whether China Book Trading had paid for the prominent shelf space.