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China closes book on Taiwan's top bookstore

By Alexis Lai and Meng Meng, CNN
June 21, 2013 -- Updated 1008 GMT (1808 HKT)
A close-up of Eslite's multi-story flagship bookstore in Taipei.
A close-up of Eslite's multi-story flagship bookstore in Taipei.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China banned media coverage of opening of Shanghai bookstore by prominent Taiwan retailer Eslite
  • Propaganda department did not provide reason for media blackout
  • Ban follows Eslite's announcement that it will lease space in what is slated to be China's tallest commercial tower

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China has long banned the sale of certain books, but now it has banned media reports on the opening of a Taiwanese book chain in Shanghai.

The Eslite bookstore -- which in Taiwan stocks titles banned on the mainland -- announced this week it had signed a letter of intent to lease 6,500 square meters spanning three floors in the Shanghai Tower, a new development that will be China's tallest when it opens in 2015.

A source at the Shanghai Labor Newspaper confirmed to CNN that the paper's editor-in-chief on Thursday received a terse directive from the Shanghai Municipal Propaganda Department not to report the deal.

"The matter about Taiwan Eslite Bookstore [intending] to open a branch in Shanghai should not be reported anymore," Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported the message as saying.

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The source, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the message was communicated by SMS text message, an unusual medium for propaganda directives to the media, which are typically delivered in writing.

The directive did not provide a reason for the media blackout and a spokesman at the Shanghai Municipal Propaganda Department told CNN he was "not aware" of the matter.

Eslite's deputy communications manager, Jessie Lu, declined to comment on whether the media blackout would affect the bookstore in any way.

"Eslite respects the rules and regulations in mainland China, including those on the book market," she said.

The bookstore chain also would not comment on which titles would be available at the new Shanghai branch although Lu acknowledged that the retailer would not be able to sell books banned by China at its mainland locations, including Taiwanese public intellectual Lung Ying-tai's book about the Chinese civil war, "Big River, Big Sea—Untold Stories of 1949."

Founded in 1989, Eslite is Taiwan's largest bookstore chain, with more than 40 locations, including a 24-7 branch in the capital of Taipei.

Its multi-story flagship in Taipei, located a block from the iconic Taipei 101 tower, is wildly popular among locals and tourists.

It opened its first overseas branch in August 2012 in Hong Kong, where titles banned on the mainland are freely available. While Hong Kong falls under Chinese sovereignty, the special administrative region enjoys a high degree of autonomy and is not subject to China's regulations on banned material.

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