By Oiwan Lam

A photo showing staff members of a library in Gansu burning books in front of the building has caused an uproar on Chinese social media since Sunday, December 8.

The image was published on the library website of Zhengyuan county in Gansu province on 23 October with an announcement that the act is to “fully exert a library's central role in broadcasting ideology through mainstream society." The news was originally released and circulated on mainland Chinese social media platforms including WeChat and Weibo and later picked up by overseas Chinese news outlets before it went viral online. The library page was removed as a large number of critical comments emerged.


Screenshot From Chinese Social Media

The book-burning was a response from grassroots party officials to an administrative directive released by the Ministry of Education on October 15. The ministry demanded that all primary and elementary school libraries should cull books that are harmful to national interests, Chinese culture, and socialist core values.

Ideological struggle has become a norm in China and all films, books, TV drama, news and information items are subjected to censorship. However, the act of burning books openly in front of the library reminded people of the ancient barbaric act of “burning of books and burying of scholars” during the Qin Dynasty.

Even among Chinese state-affiliated news outlets, the book-burning act has caused controversy. An opinion piece running in the Beijing News called for an investigation of the incident stating that “how society treats books reflects its attitude toward knowledge and civilization.” But the commentary was quickly withdrawn and taken offline soon after and related discussion muted.

A majority of the comments from outside of China took the incident as another sign of Chinese authoritarianism. For example, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio commented on Twitter and said, "
nothing says authoritarian like a good old fashioned book burning."

For intellectuals living within China, the political act of burning is much more serious as it shows how the Chinese Communist Party's grassroots organs embrace dictatorship without hesitation.

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The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Global Voices, a border-less, largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts, and translators.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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