Local Chinese library burns books in clean-up drive

BEIJING (Reuters) - Government officials in a northwestern county in China face punishment after images of them burning books outside a library went viral, sparking concern on social media about the destruction of cultural and intellectual heritage.

In recent days a screenshot of an article about a clean-up at a state-run library in Zhenyuan, a small county in Gansu province, has circulated on Chinese social media, showing two women burning what appeared to be a pile of papers and books.

“The library has completely cleaned and quickly destroyed illegal books, religious publications, and especially books and articles with biases,” said the article, which local media said was originally posted on the library’s website, but was no longer accessible.

In a statement on Monday, the county government said there would be “an in-depth investigation of the specific employees, who will be seriously held accountable” for their actions.

“The employees did not seal and collectively destroy [them] according to regulations, but rather burned the 65 illegal books in the small plaza in front of the library,” it said.

It did not say what punishments the employees would face, or give details about the books destroyed.

In October, the Ministry of Education called on school libraries nationwide to get rid of books “that damage the unity of the country, sovereignty or its territory; books that upset society’s order and damage societal stability; books that violate the (Communist) Party’s guidelines and policies, smear or defame the party, the country’s leaders and heroes”.

The Zhenyuan government propaganda department declined to comment on whether the book-burning was related to the national campaign and referred requests for comment to the library. Officials at the library did not respond to phone calls.

The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

While many comments and hashtags relating to the topic could no longer be found on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform that is subject to official censorship, a few remained.

Many referenced the idiomatic phrase “burning books and burying Confucian scholars”, an edict issued by China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, more than 2,000 years ago to destroy works he regarded as politically dangerous.

“These so-called illegal publications or religious publications could be a record of the culture of our times,” one Weibo user said. “After being destroyed, they may never be found again.”

Reporting by Huizhong Wu; Editing by Ryan Woo and Alex Richardson