China has punished library staff for burning books – but only for doing so publicly.
During a nationwide cull of “illegal” publications that strays from the ideal Communist Party line, two library workers at a Zhenyuan state-run library in the Gansu province were photographed destroying the books. Despite the workers only doing as they were demanded, they have been punished for burning the books in public- against ‘regulations’.
The picture of the library officials burning anti-communist literature was widely shared on social media, creating concern for China’s cultural heritage.
The Zhenyuan county government said there would be “an in-depth investigation of the specific employees, who will be seriously held accountable”.
“The employees did not seal and collectively destroy according to regulations, but rather burned the 65 illegal books in the small plaza in front of the library,” explained the county government.
Officials did not say, however, what punishments the staff would face for the public book burnings, or give details about the works destroyed.
Michael Anti, journalist and TED talker, tweeted the photo with the words:
“What’s the most remarkable thing about this photo? It was these library librarians who took the initiative to choose to burn the book and executed the superior’s order on cleaning up. They carefully and conscientiously interpreted idioms that people can associate with, and put them on the official website as a result.”
In October 2019, the China Ministry of Education told school libraries to dispose of literature “that damage the unity of the country, sovereignty or its territory; books that upset society’s order and damage societal stability; books that violate the Party’s guidelines and policies, smear or defame the party, the country’s leaders and heroes”.
The photo taken outside Zhenyuan’s library was reportedly posted on the county government’s website a week after the Ministry of Education launched the campaign.
The South China Morning Post reported that the picture was published alongside a now-deleted report which said staff had done a “thorough clean-up” of donated books and destroyed “illegal publications and religious publications, especially books, pictorial publications and visual content that showed leanings”.
Many Chinese are unhappy about this campaign saying it has taken the country ‘back 2000 years’ to the Qin Shi Huang era.