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German publisher caves to Beijing’s demands and censors kids coronavirus book

The Chinese government threatened legal action if it didn't censor the part that suggested the coronavirus originated in China.
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Germany has caved to Beijing who demanded a book to be recalled for stating that the coronavirus originated in China. The Chinese government has been trying to make the world forget where the virus allegedly originated and a German publisher is complying.

The book, whose German title translates to “A Corona Rainbow for Anna and Mortiz,” was published by Hamburg-based Carlsen-Verlag. According to the publisher, the “affectionate nonfiction story” was written to provide “the most important tips for daycare centers and elementary schools on how to behave properly during coronavirus pandemic.”

The book explains the changes to everyday-life caused by the pandemic and the measures kids can take to protect themselves from the virus.

“It was important to the publishers to offer such a book as quickly as possible in the spring of 2020 to convey these aspects in a way that is suitable for children and based on facts, providing tips for behavior in everyday life,” the publisher told DW.

However, Beijing took issue with the book for directly linking the origin of the virus to China. The Hamburg-based Chinese consulate threatened the publisher with criminal charges if it did not publicly apologize and recall the book.

Carlsen-Verlga publishing house complied with the demands, at least the part about recalling the book. It is working on a new censored edition that will not say that the virus originated from China.

The publisher said that, at the time of original publishing, reports claimed the virus originated from China, adding that “today we would no longer use this wording, as its meaning has proven to be far more open to interpretation than we had intended.”

But why would Beijing care about the wording in a kids book? And why would a major publisher in Germany cave to China’s demands?

Every time China is accused of being the origin of the virus, it takes action. Beijing criticized former US President Donald Trump for using the term “Chinese virus” when referring to the coronavirus.

The WHO said it had a hard time when they arrived in Wuhan to investigate the origins of pandemic. Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who creates illustrations to criticize the government, got the best of Beijing’s disapproval for airing the film Coronation, a documentary that reveals the government’s questionable response in the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan.

China is hell-bent on controlling how the world views it.

“The People’s Republic of China is trying to control how we think and talk about China. They feel there should only be good stories about China,” says Ralph Weber, an expert of Chinese relations and associate professor for European Global Studies at the University of Basel.

According to Weber, who has previously lived in China, the government wants to change the narrative so that what history might remember is good things, such as “how China fought the coronavirus pandemic with great efficiency.”

“In the beginning, the Chinese propaganda itself said that the disease had first started in China. It even referred to it as ‘Wuhan pneumonia.’ But now, it wants to erase the memory of the virus’ origins with a worldwide political correctness campaign,” said Chinese journalist Shi Ming.

She further explained that the Chinese government is trying to change the narrative because of the potential for insurmountable compensation claims that would result if the origin of the virus was undoubtedly linked to China.

According to Weber, Carlsen-Verlga could have stood up against China, “but the question is rather, what would have been the consequences.” Beijing is known for propaganda, and would have probably smeared the publisher by, for example, using pro-government Chinese people to post bad reviews on online book stores.

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