Recently, in northwestern China, library workers wanted to show their enthusiasm and loyalty to the Communistic Party by burning and destroying books, including politically incorrect and religious ones, that don’t comply with the Party’s ideologies. After that, they make a report and take a photo to show their work. It has alarmed Chinese society and particularly its intellectuals, seeing their society is spiraling into more authoritarianism and has a familiar eerie feeling back into the historical precedents of the beginnings of Chinese communism and Nazi-era Germany.
After a report on the Library Society of China’s website from a library in Zhenyuan County, it attracted many Chinese social media users. The library stated that it removed everything from pictures, photos, books, papers, and publications, that deviated from the ideology of the Communistic Party; it was an effort to “fully exert the library’s role in broadcasting mainstream ideology.” The event was attended by education and culture bureau officials; it had employees burning a stack of books and displayed with a red banner declaring it would “ grasp the themes of education and promote the comprehensive and strict development of the party”.
The event was likely a response from the Ministry of Education to cut short anything that diverges from the Party. Over the last few weeks, China has tighten its control on school classrooms following the strong Hong Kong protests. The nationwide memo banned all materials and things that would harm national unity and sovereignty(anything that goes against Communistic Party indoctrination and beliefs).
However, many Chinese, like the media-controlled news outlets, felt that was too much. Chen Youxi, a well-known lawyer, warned the officials that book burning would bring about something similar to the Cultural Revolution, which was from the 1960’s, and used to purge the Party. The Beijing News called for an investigation as well, but they, along with Youxi, was automatically censored.
The Zhenyuan government offered no public statement, but told the local media they will look into it. Social media posts have been deleted and even some posts suggested that those materials shouldn’t have been available in the library in the first place.
Others spoke out as well. A historian in Beijing, Zhang Lifan said the outcry online meant that many were anxious about the frustrations of oppressing intellectuals and the freedoms of free speech. The Zhenyuan incident reflects the climate in which local officials find it as a way to gain the Party’s favors. Another who spoke out as well is Qiao Mu, a former professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University who was forced to resign due to making a political speech in 2014; he said, over the years, there’s been an increase of suspensions or being fired for political speeches. Just this year, a few professors were pressured and shamed due to their students siding with Hong Kong protestors.
On Twitter, many reacted and responded by comparing the incident to the first Chinese emperor who burned books and buried intellectuals alive, 1930’s Germany where Nazis burned “Un-German” books targeting minorities, and Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China, who joked about burying 46,000 scholars compared to the Qin emperor’s 460. This news further spread to other media outlets and people started giving their own view on how it was like comparing it to a 19th-century poem and the first Chinese emperor.