Auto-da-fé of the Dragon

Article published on April 5, 2004
community published
Article published on April 5, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Whether it’s because of Airbus, weapons sales or even books, faced with the potential power of the Chinese market, Europe is ignoring the question of human rights.

Thanks to the actions of European Union officials, we have become used to witnessing acts of cowardice towards certain people in the world as soon as the Union’s economic interests are at stake. The people of Kurdistan, Chechyna or Tibet, who listen to the Union’s pious declarations about ‘defending human rights’, could tell you something about that. Be it through opposition to change, hypocrisy, self-interest or bargaining, Europe is close to mixing the material and geopolitical interests which tie it to one or other of the four countries that have carved ou the Kurdish homeland, Putin’s tyrannically democratic Russia, and Hu Jintao’s ‘market socialist’ China.

France has recently moved a step closer towards a tyrannical alliance for base commercial reasons. For several months, the French Government has repeatedly reminded Europe that when it comes to profit morality counts for nothing. Why? To assure sales of its Airbus planes, high speed trains (TGV), weapons and other high tech military material (which is less talked about but probably an even more lucrative market).

This base attitude has been illustrated three times since this special ‘Year of China’ began in France. Firstly, associations which hadn’t been approved by Beijing were banned from participating in the procession along the Champs Elysées for Chinese New Year. Then, members of Falungong, who were stationed along the route Hu Jintao took during his visit to France and who silently demonstrated their presence by wearing inoffensive piece of yellow material, were arrested. Falungong is a peaceful organisation of Buddhist gymnasts which has been slanderously labelled a ‘sect’ by Beijing and consequently by the world’s media. For several years it has been subjected to fierce repression simply because its ecological assertions implicitly question the madness of the ill-advised development China has been forced to undergo for 20 years. Finally, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gao Xingjian, who has lived in France for many years and became a French citizen in 1998, was refused an invitation to the Salon du livre, a literary event where the dominating theme was the ‘Year of China’.

The French Government’s submission to Beijing’s orders has thus been coupled with grovelling by all the French publishers who attended the Salon. That Statesmen should kiss the feet of the powerful to sell their wares is understandable; it’s part of their job after all. Isn’t Chirac an intimate friend of Serge Dassault, war manufacturer and the cause of death on all the world’s battlefields? But in publishing? It would not have been difficult for all the honest publishers to lower their ‘stalls’ to half-mast to protest against Gao Xingjian’s banishment from this grand celebration of literature. But not one of them lifted a finger to denounce such shameful behaviour. Only one person and one retailer saved some face. The writer Frederic Beigbeder dared to have T-shirts printed with Gao Xingjian’s face on them – behaviour which caused him to be roughly thrown out of the Salon when he presented one of his T-shirts to Jacques Chirac who was opening the event. And the retailer VILO didn’t flinch from placing on its stall the book ‘The Insomniac, Bureaucracy, Hard labour and Business’, whose cover shows a Chinese bureaucrat with his face stained with red ink. But apart from these two displays of rebellion, there was a deafening silence.

How can such cowardice be explained? After all, Gallimard, Le Seuil, Albin-Michel and all the other French publishers don’t sell planes, trains or weapons to China. But no doubt on learning that 80% of French newspapers would now be in the hands of Lagardère and Dassault, they wanted to anticipate the probable future purchasing of their publishing houses by these two defence and media moguls.

For a few weeks The Eiffel Tower was lit up in red to celebrate the ‘Year of China’ - it is a red of shame.