Saturday, April 23, 2011

Burning Books

They're not burning books, but they are shredding them, along with DVDs that have been illegally produced, defying copyright laws. China's National Office of Eliminating Pornography and Illegal Publications is out to prove that it is prepared to comply with international laws protecting intellectual property. All contraband is to be destroyed.

To that end, the agency claims over 26 million illegal items are set to be destroyed at specially set-up depots across the country. In Beijing and an additional thirty other locations across China, ceremonies to destroy illegally-produced books, music, software and DVDs are to commence. Tons upon tons of dictionaries, cookbooks, Chinese translations of the classics, pulp fiction and textbooks to be shredded and recycled.

Destroying in the process creative, industrialized artistic and intellectual content. Because copyright triumphs over access. Cheap, unauthorized access, that is. This is a departure for a free-wheeling, free enterprise society that has suffered criticism for its knock-offs underselling far more expensive 'licit' produced products respecting copyright.

But China has wholeheartedly embraced capitalism, and capitalism celebrates the art of making money, inclusive of creative intelligence earning a living for itself. Just as, for example, the pharmaceutical industry defends its high-priced products as providing the wherewithal for future research, a creative artist is enabled to continue creating by the living earned through individual endeavours.

It does go against the grain in a very significant way to destroy books that could be useful in imparting knowledge and entertainment. Burning books was always the damning privilege of totalitarian governments concerned with repressing knowledge and destroying all vestiges of thought that did not accord with their agendas.

Of course, China is not incinerating the confiscated publications that have been damned to destruction. It is shredding them; no less destructive, but enabling the materials to be re-used in the interests of "helping the environment", a shabby but useful cloak of deceptive social awareness.

It is, alas, one of those damned whichever-direction-you-choose situations.

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