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2019-12-11 11:58:37

Authorities in northwestern China’s Gansu province said they will punish the local library staff members responsible for burning “illegal books” and triggering public backlash over the act.

In a statement Monday, the local government in Zhenyuan County said it had reprimanded library representatives for improperly handling “pirated illegal publications,” adding that the responsible staff members would be punished following an investigation. The announcement came a day after a photo of two women burning books outside the library went viral Sunday.

“(We will) learn from this, deal with matters according to laws and regulations, and prevent such incidents from happening again,” the statement said.

When Sixth Tone called the county library Wednesday, a staff member declined to comment on the incident, saying all interview requests must be directed to the local publicity department. An officer at the Zhenyuan publicity department refused to comment on the nature of the punishments, saying only that there have been no updates to the investigation.

On Oct. 23, the county library announced it had “cleaned up illegal and religious publications” and removed books, periodicals, and visual content with “certain inclinations.” The library had removed 65 such books and organized staff to destroy them on Oct. 22, according to a screenshot of the now-deleted announcement, published on the local government’s website.

The book-burning incident attracted significant attention after the screenshot surfaced online last week. Many said the act reminded them of fenshu kengru — burning books and burying scholars — incidents dating back centuries to the reign of Qin dynasty Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

A now-deleted commentary on The Beijing News also criticized the act, characterizing burning books as “beyond unacceptable.”

“The treatment of books and other publications at any time tests a society’s attitude toward knowledge and civilization,” the author wrote. “It should not be arbitrary or brutal, and it must withstand the dual considerations of civilization and law.”

A day prior to the Zhenyuan government announcing the purge of so-called illegal publications, the Ministry of Education had ordered elementary and middle school libraries across the country to remove books and periodicals in poor condition or deemed “illegal” or “inappropriate.” The notice defined illegal books as those whose content “goes against the policy direction of the party.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Staff members at a county library burn “illegal books in Zhenyuan County, Gansu province, October 2019. From the county government’s website)