British Council responds to criticism over LBF line-up

British Council responds to criticism over LBF line-up

The British Council has responded to criticism from exiled Chinese poet and essayist Bei Ling over its programming for the London Book Fair's British Council Cultural programme this year, with director literature Susie Nicklin justifying the authors chosen as "the leading voices writing from China today".

Writer Bei Ling, speaking to the Guardian, said he had written to the British Council to express his surprise over its plans to host Chinese-state approved writers and organisations.

He said: "I was amazed that no independent voice, no exiled or dissident writer from China is being represented at the London Book Fair," with the Guardian reporting him as accusing the fair of "self-censorship to keep Chinese authorities on board".

Nicklin, in a statement on the British Council Literature website, countered his claims. "The authors taking part in the British Council Cultural programme are internationally recognised as the leading voices writing from China today," she wrote. "As the British reading public is aware, the situation for writers in China is not the same as it is in the UK. The British Council is a cultural relations organisation; it is our role to bring authors and audiences together worldwide to create opportunities for discussion and debate."

She added: "The chance to visit the UK, to meet British writers, publishers, agents and audiences is one that they [the Chinese authors] have been anticipating for years . . . There was no disagreement with the Chinese government about the final list of British Council writers who regularly appear on well-respected lists of the best novelists and poets in China. These writers live in China and write their books there; other writers have left China. The British Council respects both groups and there will be plenty of opportunities for both sets of writers to put their views across in the UK."

Authors including Mo Yan, Han Dong and Li Er will be among the delegates taking part in the programme.