Literary Cablegate, Number 2 of Many

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck on Flickr, Twitter

Second in a series of posts where I’m picking through WikiLeaks Cablegate for literary topics. See my first post in the series for an important introduction, and view the entire series here. At the time of my first Literary Cablegate post (then called Literary WikiLeaks), not all of Cablegate had been published; showed 665 hits for the search term “literature” and 334 for the term “literary”. Now that all of Cablegate has been released (a.k.a. “Cablegate2”; see my remarks on the controversy surrounding the comprehensive Cablegate publication), shows 1,214 hits for “literature” and 403 for “literary.”

I’m going through all of them.

I’m focusing only on cables where “literature” or “literary” is used in the sense of short stories, essays, the humanities, etc. So I’m mostly ignoring cables mentioning literature as in, say, campaign literature, or the medical literature for a malady (unless the cable mentions one of Oliver Sacks‘s highly literary case studies, you see?). Given the importance of intellectual property (or lack thereof) to free speech and the Internet, copyright and copyleft issues will be included as well. Literary Cablegate blog posts will feature about 8 cables each, starting from the most recently written cable. I’ll take on the 403 cable hits for “literary” first.

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Here we go!

  • The United States maintains an annual “Special 301 Report” that, in the words of the United States Trade Representative, reviews “the global state of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement” and “reflects the Administration’s resolve to encourage and maintain effective IPR protection and enforcement worldwide.” The Report lists nations perceived as threats to copyright interests. Some nations wind up on the Watch List, and others on the more severe Priority Watch List. In a cable dated February 2010, the US Embassy in La Paz said Bolivia’s laws granted powerful intellectual property rights:

    the existing copyright law does protect literary, artistic, and scientific works for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. Bolivian copyright protection includes the exclusive right to copy or reproduce works; to revise, adapt, or prepare derivative works; to distribute copies of works; and to publicly communicate works. Although the exclusive right to translate works is not explicitly granted, the law does prevent unauthorized adaptation, transformation, modification, and editing. The law also provides protection for software and databases.

    Compare the Bolivian law’s extreme length of copyright (50 years) to the US Pirate Party’s intent to reduce the length of copyright to 14 years and legalize all noncommercial sharing, and to the efforts of Creative Commons.

    Regardless of Bolivian law, the US Embassy noted, copyright was so laxly enforced in Bolivia that their

    Video, music, and software piracy rates are among the highest in Latin America, with the International Intellectual Property Alliance estimating that piracy levels have reached 100% for motion pictures and over 90% for recorded music. There are no legal sources of audio-visual materials in most of the country, since it would be impossible to compete with pirated products prices: in the capital of La Paz there is only one store that sells legal CDs. Bootleg CDs, DVDs, computer software, pharmaceutical products, and other goods are sold on street corners and in stores across the country.

    The Embassy blames the rampant piracy on Bolivia’s lack of human and financial resources to enforce copyright, and says pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to file patents in Bolivia due to fears of trade secret theft and counterfeiting. Despite all the piracy, the US Embassy suggests keeping Bolivia only on the Special 301 Report’s Watch List and not its Priority Watch List just so as not to frustrate Bolivia and thereby damage the copyright interests’ outreach efforts. In 2010 and 2011 Bolivia did remain on the ordinary Special 301 Watch List.

    (Original Cable “Special 301 La Paz Input” 10LAPAZ368.)

  • A February 2010 cable from Baghdad discusses the membership of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA), formed in October 2009 as, according to the cable, “a nationalist, non-sectarian political” group. The cable identifies Hassan Sunayd as one “key figure” of SLA, describing him as

    SLA candidate 4 in Dhi Qar. A well-known poet and literary figure in Iraq, Sunayd has been in Da’wa’s political bureau since the late 1980’s. A member of the previous COR’s Security and Defense Committee, he is Maliki’s closest friend, one of his security advisors and liaison to the KRG leadership. Having survived physical torture during the Saddam regime, he has used his position as spokesman for the SLA to rail against the threat of resurgent Ba’athism and was critical of purported U.S. efforts to interfere in the de-Ba’athification process.

    A somewhat substantial search of Google’s various resources as well as academic journals and US newspaper archives turned up no discussion of Hassan Sunayd’s literary background, with one minor exception. (Sometimes his first name is transliterated as Hasan, sometimes his last name as al-Sunayd.) According to an April 14, 2008 BBC transcript, Sunayd recited a poem at a ceremony held in Baghdad to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the martyrdom of Islamic scholar Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Sunayd is mentioned with some frequency as a spokesperson for the Iraqi government.

    Professor Hanan Hammad at the TCU History Department told me Sunayd used the pen name “Jawad Jamil (could be Jawwad Gamil). he lived in Iran in early eights along with members of al-Da’wa Islamist Party. his sister Balqis is also a poet, but with the Communist party. nothing indicate that he’s a great poet/ intellectual.” My searches for his pen name turn up nothing.

    (Original Cable “Coalition Profile: Pm Maliki’s State Of Law Alliance” 10BAGHDAD499)

  • The US State Department maintains an annual Trafficking in Persons Report to “engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and as a resource for “governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.” In a February 2010 cable, the first of three parts (part 2, part 3), the US Embassy in Paris gave its input for the tenth annual report. The cable notes “France prosecutes French nationals who travel abroad to engage in child sexual tourism” and goes on to say

    Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand faced criticism during the reporting period related to his 2005 literary work, which included depictions of sexual tourism in Asia. In “The Bad Life,” Mitterrand details the experiences of an unnamed protagonist with so-called “boys” in the brothels of Thailand. Facing pressure to resign for engaging in sexual tourism before he joined the government, Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand stated during an October 8, 2009 television interview that he had never had sex with a minor. “Each time I was with people who were my age, or were five years younger,” the 62 year-old Mitterrand said, adding: “I condemn sexual tourism, which is a disgrace. I condemn pedophilia in which I have never participated in any way.”

    The Guardian extends Miterrand’s quote a sentence: “The book is in no way an apology for sex tourism, even if one chapter is a journey through that hell, with all the fascination that hell can inspire.” The BBC termed Mitterrand’s book an “autobiographical novel” and said the scandal would have brought him down in other countries, “not because he is gay, but because there is an inconsistency between a government committed to fighting sex tourism and a minister who has been a sex tourist. But in France, where a belief in the right to privacy and a liberal view on sex are both near sacrosanct, many believe it would be hypocritical to hound Frederic Mitterrand from office.”

    The cable says France prosecutes child sex tourism, and Mitterand claims he was involved with people basically his age. More importantly, the book is, autobiographically based or not, a work of fiction. How much of it is true to Mitterrand’s life is therefore hard to evaluate beyond educated guessing. Mother Jones, reviewing the book, says the French right wing targetted Mitterand by quoting the book out of context. The Mother Jones reviewer makes the book sound pretty good:

    The Bad Life is a stunningly candid and beautiful book. Described by its author as an “autobiography which is half real and half dreamed,” it recounts his life as a child of privilege born into Paris’s haut bourgeois sixteenth arrondissement, his experience of homosexuality, and a number of deeply felt personal relationships. Much of this is set in a social milieu of movie stars, politicians, renowned artists, and other public figures. […]

    The Bad Life is an intimate, courageous memoir in which Mitterrand is brutally honest not only about himself, but with himself. If it includes a few sordid accounts of a homosexual underworld that some would rather not be asked to consider, it does so within a larger portrait of one man’s life and desires, a nuanced collection of affecting incidents examined with an unsparing eye.

    The entire scandal was complicated by Mitterrand’s defending Roman Polanski shortly beforehand, demanding the director be released after arrest in Switzerland over his US conviction for sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Yet again, the publisher calls The Bad Life a “novel inspired by autobiography.” You don’t take Philip K. Dick’s autobiographical novel VALIS as definitive proof of anything, do you? Or Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead. Writers build off their own experience, but don’t exactly replicate it in fiction. No crime was shown here. Mitterrand is still in office.

    (Original Cable “France: Input For The 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report (part 1 Of 3)” 10PARIS196)

  • A February 2010 cable from the Consulate Shenyang US Embassy in China noted traffic across the border between China and North Korea. “For all the talk about frozen trade between the DPRK [North Korea] and China,” the cable says, the Consulate General Office noted people crossing the border talking business and culture. For example,

    At the train station many different groups of North Koreans were seen waiting to take the train up to Shenyang [China]. On board, a middle-aged North Korean female trader was reading a Sino-Korean literary journal and a Dandong business weekly.

    The apparent significance for the Office is the interest North Koreans show in the Chinese, as evidenced in part by the Sino-Korean literary journal. One wonders which journal the woman was reading. In the United States, “literary journal” tends to mean a venue for highbrow literary work, as opposed to a “magazine,” which can run the gamut of literary taste classifications.

    (Original Cable “Prc-dprk Border: Amcit Crossers, Trade Push, Border Smuggling, Regional Growth” 10SHENYANG21)

  • A February 2010 cable from Berlin discusses German copyright law in the context of foreign investment in Germany.

    Germany is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Germany is also a party to the major international intellectual property protection agreements: the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Brussels Satellite Convention, and the Treaty of Rome on Neighboring Rights. […]

    Germany has signed the WIPO Internet treaties and ratified them in 2003. Foreign and German rights holders, however, remain critical of provisions in the German Copyright Act that allow exceptions for private copies of copyrighted works. Most rights holder organizations regard German authorities’ enforcement of intellectual property protections as sufficient, although problems persist due to lenient court rulings in some cases and the difficulty of combating piracy of copyrighted works on the Internet.

    The Berne Convention — spelled Bern or Berne — was instigated by the writer Victor Hugo in the late 19th century. It says copyright is established when the creator puts the work into fixed form, bypassing the need for registration. The Berne Convention also establishes a minimum term of 50 years after the author’s death for written works. Cory Doctorow talks a bit about the Berne Convention in this Guardian article.

    (Original Cable “Germany – Revised Investment Climate Statement 2010” 10BERLIN166)

  • A February 2010 cable from Geneva and the US Trade Representative discusses January 2010’s 7th Working Party meeting on Yemen’s Accession to the World Trade Organization, the in-progress effort to enter Yemen into the WTO. In a section about trading rights, the cable noted

    The US and EU had additional concerns about certain requirements that only Yemeni nationals could be granted the technical clearance needed to import medicines, medical equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, books, newspapers, audiovisual and other artistic literary works, and requested that the Trading Rights Action Plan be updated to include information on these technical clearance requirements.

    I suspect the technical clearance for Yemeni nationals who regulate the import of “artistic literary works” involves Yemen’s prohibition against the import of “Any item offensive to Muslim culture.” (Yemen’s population is 98% Muslim.) Reporters Without Borders ranks Yemen within the bottom 10 of all nations for press freedom. This might or might not be relevant: a May 25, 2009 piece in the Yemen Times by Dr. A. K. Sharma said if “a nation has to import and export not only goods and commodities but also knowledge and skills, it has got to have an army of well-equipped and professionally competent translators.” Currently Yemen isn’t a member of the WTO.

    (Original Cable “7th Working Party Meeting On Yemen’s Accession To The Wto Held January 26, 2010” 10USTRGENEVA12)

  • A February 2010 cable from Beijing discussing the climate for foreign investment into China notes the country is a member of the Berne Convention (discussed above).

    (Original Cable “2010 Investment Climate Statement – China” 10BEIJING303)

  • Another February cable discussing the climate for foreign investment, this time from the Colombo embassy, notes Sri Lanka is a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (discussed above). Original literary works are protected under a 2003 Sri Lanka copyright law that was “intended to meet both U.S.-Sri Lanka bilateral IPR agreement and TRIPS obligations to a great extent.” In a January 2003 article for Daily Variety, an entertainment-industry trade magazine, Bryan Pearson said the new law aimed to crack down on piracy; pirating software was “not illegal in Sri Lanka,” Pearson wrote, and the island was a “paradise for fraudulent imports.”

    (Original Cable “Investment Climate Statement, 2010 – Sri Lanka” 10COLOMBO72)

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    Literary Cablegate, Number 2 of Many by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me:

Concerns about WikiLeaks Cablegate2 Ameliorated

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck Gets Pulled Over (Flickr; Twitter)

Hopefully you’ve read my prior post about searching WikiLeaks cables for literary topics, which WikiLeaks linked to on Twitter. If not, go read it real quick; I’ll wait.

Okay. At the time of that post, WikiLeaks was still redacting the US State Department cables they’d published, in conjunction with other media partners. A redaction is a removal of sensitive information from a document — in this case, mostly the names of informants (sometimes whistle-blowing informants, sometimes ill-intentioned informants). The worry motivating redactions was that bad guys (for lack of a better word) would retaliate against informants for their interaction(s) with the State Department. Just a few days after my post, WikiLeaks published all 250k+ of the State Department cables, raw, without redactions. Whoa, what happened?

When WikiLeaks was originally working with media partners on Cablegate, editor-in-chief Julian Assange gave an encrypted file of the cables to Guardian journalist (and confessed phone hacker) David Leigh, who later printed its password in his book (which prompted x7o to remark “#idliketothink that if JA had given me the password for cablegate, it wouldn’t now be the title of a chapter in an international bestseller”). The Guardian denies wrongdoing, claiming WikiLeaks told Leigh the password was temporary, which is technically impossible and not the sort of thing an elite cypherpunk such as Assange would mistakenly say. Other disasters, some not nearly as flagrant, combined and led to the file’s decryption by the dark sub-floor of the Internet.

Pretty soon all of the unredacted cables were springing up on websites (including at least one with a customized search engine), and taking up residence on popular file-sharing services. Therefore anyone motivated enough could locate them; some debate just how easily non-technical people could locate the unredacted cables, but really, it’s not that hard — especially for foreign intelligence agencies, computer-adept terrorists, etc.

In a surprising response to the rise of unredacted cables, WikiLeaks published the entire set of unredacted cables themselves, now known as Cablegate2. They also published a press statement:

PJ Crowley, State Department spokesman on the cables issue earlier this year, told AP on the 30th of August, 2011 that “any autocratic security service worth its salt” would probably already have the complete unredacted archive.

Two weeks ago, when it was discovered that information about the Leigh book had spread so much that it was about to be published in the German weekly Freitag, WikiLeaks took emergency action, asking the editor not allude to the Leigh book […]

WikiLeaks advanced its regular publication schedule, to get as much of the material as possible into the hands of journalists and human rights lawyers who need it. WikiLeaks and its partners were scheduled to have published most of the Cablegate material by November 29, 2011 – one year since the first publication. Over the past week, we have published over 130,000 cables, mostly unclassified. The cables have lead to hundreds of important news stories around the world. All were unclassified with the exception of the Australian, Swedish collections, and a few others, which were scheduled by our partners.

WikiLeaks has also been in contact with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty at a senior level. We contacted the US embassy in London and then the State Department in Washington on 25 August to see if their informant notification program, instituted last year, was complete, and if not, to take such steps as would be helpful. Only after repeated attempts through high level channels and 36 hours after our first contact, did the State Department, although it had been made aware of the issue, respond. Cliff Johnson (a legal advisor at the Department of State) spoke to Julian Assange for 75 minutes, but the State Department decided not to meet in person to receive further information, which could not, at that stage, be safely transmitted over the telephone.

This is getting intense

Though these comments seem clear enough at first glance, they left some things unknown. Did WikiLeaks publish Cablegate2 to protect sources, as Glenn Greenwald stated? If so, how does the publication protect sources? What does Human Rights Watch and what does Amnesty International make of Cablegate2, and what did they advise WikiLeaks? Inquiring minds who have been supportive of WikiLeaks (a risky, though legal, thing in the US) deserve to know the full reasoning behind the Cablegate2 publication, I think, without any big steps in the argumentation left for educated guesses.

Some answers arrived today in a New Scientist interview with Assange. He specified three independent justifications for publishing Cablegate2.

  • To protect at-risk people. Assange said: “for harm minimisation, there are people who need to know that they are mentioned in the material before intelligence agencies know they are mentioned — or at least as soon after as possible.”

  • To establish an authentic version of Cablegate2. Assange “point[ed] to stories published in Tajikistan and Pakistan that have been based on fake cables.” [He said:] “WikiLeaks is a way for journalists and the public to check whether a claimed story based on a cable is actually true. They can come to our site to check. We have a 100 per cent accuracy record.”

  • To help reformers racing against the corrupt’s clamping down. Assange: “a race commenced between the governments who need to be reformed and the people who can reform them using the material.”

When WikiLeaks first published Cablegate2, I, like WikiLeaks Crowd-Sourceress Asher_Wolf, had (and have) several concerns. Here are mine:

  • WikiLeaks didn’t call for amnesty for at-risk, whistle-blowing informants.

  • WikiLeaks didn’t apologize to at-risk, whistle-blowing informants.

  • WikiLeaks apparently didn’t request public comment from Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International.

  • WikiLeaks had only given a truncated remark about Cablegate2 protecting sources. With the New Scientist Assange interview this concern is now redressed.

You might respond that the first three concerns above can’t be redressed given WikiLeaks’ limited resources and the quantity of the cables, or maybe that redressing the three concerns isn’t WikiLeaks’ proper role as a conduit for whistle-blowing leakers, or maybe that addressing them would cause legal problems or PR problems for their brand (their reputation affects whether whistle-blowers trust them). I can understand those responses, though I’m not sure how to fully evaluate them. I do think WikiLeaks needs to do more for the named, whistle-blowing informants.

But after today’s New Scientist interview, I do feel that on balance, WikiLeaks did the right thing by publishing Cablegate2. I hope, however, that people and organizations of sufficient importance work toward protecting the named, whistle-blowing informants, and that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International weigh in publicly on WikiLeaks’ Cablegate2 publication (in which case I’ll consider their reasoning). After all, WikiLeaks followed the computer security community’s practice of widely publishing threats (viruses, etc.) that are already out in the wild since doing so, despite risk, solves problems more quickly; yet, assuming the same strategy extends to protecting people offline might be a problematic example of what Evgeny Morozov calls Internet-centrism: relying too much on technical knowledge when addressing problems not adequately described in technological terms.

Actually read this

As Clay Shirky says, in the United States, publishing leaked documents is basically legal (see New York Times v. United States as well as the First Amendment); it’s leaking them that’s often illegal (and risky). Today the Internet has lowered the costs associated with publishing. We with Internet connections are all now publishers, though not all journalists. While instituting legal licensing to determine who gets to be a publisher would be ridiculously bad for freedom, our larger bullhorns — especially those of the more prominent netizens among us — come with more serious responsibility than might be first imagined.

Older generations, I think, see publication itself as some measure of approval of the published content; in this view, WikiLeaks publishing the unredacted cables amounts to the organization approving of the lack of redactions. This view makes a degree of sense in the past world where the process of publication was expensive, time-consuming, and relatively uncommon.

But now, to use two metaphors each from a different science fiction writer (William Gibson, then Cory Doctorow), with the Internet the human race has sprouted an information exoskeleton, an outboard brain. If the principle “non-secure, online info available anywhere is available everywhere” isn’t completely true yet, it will be more or less true within a decade or, at most, two. This is the ideology of radical transparency. WikiLeaks is helping to usher in a world where not writing down secrets (or typing them out) will be the only way to keep them. That world, I think, will be one of reduced secrets and, accordingly, a better, more just one.

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Concerns about WikiLeaks Cablegate2 Ameliorated by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Searching Wikileaks Cables for Literary Topics, First of Many

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck on Flickr, Twitter

This week WikiLeaks published thousands more US diplomatic cables as part of its Cablegate operation. Among many other items, Cablegate has confirmed or revealed the following:

  • Referring to the United States’ secret air strikes in Yemen, Yemen’s president promised US general David Petraeus that “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” (Original Cable, Salon, BBC.)

  • Though Canada publicly claimed opposition to the Iraq war “for domestic political reasons and out of a deep-seated Canadian commitment to multilateralism,” it secretly told the United States it was “prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins,” using Canadian naval and air forces “discreetly” on behalf of the US. (Original Cable, CBC News.)

  • The United States ordered American diplomats to secretly and illegally collect top United Nations officials and others’ credit card numbers, biometric data (fingerprints, iris scans, DNA), passwords, and more. (Original Cable, NYT, Guardian.)

  • In 2009 U.S. Senator John McCain promised Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi some American military hardware. (Original Cable, Politico.)

  • Texas security contractor DynCorp pimped little boys to be raped by Afghan policemen at a DynCorp-organized party. (Original Cable, Houston Press, Guardian.)


WikiLeaks initiated a crowdsourcing effort, #wlfind on Twitter, ensuring its latest cable releases would be looked through. Inspired by Furry Girl (Twitter), who put together a post about the latest cables in her area of expertise (sex work), I decided to do something similar for literary topics. If you’re eager to dig through some cables yourself, try this cablegate search engine, and then share your findings online.

(Also! Watch Glenn Greenwald defend Wikileaks and Julian Assange on CNN with this embed.)

I restricted my work to this most recent batch of cables. Here are the search results, and the total number of hits when I first searched, for: literature (665); literary (334); … wow! This is going to take more than one post.

Reading the below, one should bear in mind Evgeny Morozov‘s astute critique of Internet-centrism, a lazy perspective that ignores the importance of local cultures when interpreting material and instead focuses faith on technology. I’m not at all an expert on foreign countries, etc. I can only fish out cables with some literary significance in the hope others might benefit from them.

  • In April 2006, a few months after gun-firing Chinese police in Dongzhou subdued villagers protesting land confiscations (WaPo), the American consulate in Guangzhou invoked a metaphor of Lu Xun‘s (“China’s most prominent modern author”): the Chinese sense, in the area, of rapid economic growth is that it “eats people.” From the cable (my link):

    in his “Diary of a Madman” short story […] the supposedly mentally deranged narrator has looked at the whole of Chinese history and found its grandeur and power to be founded on the eating of people

    The cable claims

    there is a conscious attempt led in part by Guangzhou’s most progressive and highly influential magazine, the “Nanfengchuang” (the “South Wind Window”), to revive the spirit of the New Culture Movement of the 1920s of which Lu was a key figure

    The cable goes on to advocate for increased injections of humanities programs to teach core American democratic values. These, the cable argues, will make rapid economic growth in the area more humane. After all, the cable says,

    there is a very large audience for American literature and thought. American literature specialist Ernesto Suarez, our Fulbright Scholar at Guangzhou’s Zhongshan University, is in demand not only at Zhongshan but also at other institutions every weekend throughout China. Recently, the Shantou University English Language Department approached the Consulate about strengthening the American literature component of its program in line with the desire of students to learn not merely the language but also the values of the American people speaking that language.

    (Original Cable.)

    The Cold War-style argument that humanities talks and courses (apparently) alone can sufficiently soften the steamroll of global economics makes one worry (especially in light of other cables).

  • A 2007 cable from the Beijing Embassy summarizes a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference that included China’s suggestion that the US State Department study up on its Confucius.

    Spokesperson Qin Gang said at the March 8 regular press briefing that the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006 issued today by China’s State Council Information Office serves as “a mirror for United States to view its own human rights condition” and “understand why it has no right to use double standards in criticizing other countries.” Qin continued, saying the MFA would give the State Department copies of the “Four Books and Five Classics” of Chinese literature as a guide to good governance. Asked if the report constituted a double standard on China’s part by interfering in the domestic affairs of the United States, Qin referred the reporter to his previous statement.

    (Original Cable.)

    The Confucian work “Four Books and Five Classics” praises feudal values.

  • A 2008 cable from Taiwan noted growth in the market for simplified-character Chinese books as government restrictions on the products loosened and more translations of foreign books into Chinese were imported from mainland China.

    A survey done by local book dealers in 2006 showed that 50 percent of simplified-character Chinese books sold in Taiwan are on literature, history, and philosophy; 10 percent on social science, law, politics, and the military; 10 percent on Chinese medicine and art; 10 percent on education, finance and engineering; with the remainder on tourism and other topics. As for the consumers, Chu Fu-ming, head of the Eslite flagship bookstore’s simplified-character Chinese book section, told AIT, “those who buy simplified-character Chinese books are mostly intellectuals and academics. Only 20 percent of the buyers are in their twenties, while 40 percent are in their thirties and forties, and the remaining 40 percent are over 50 years old. Older people are especially noticeable because they come in the mornings and spend a long time poring carefully over selections,” Wu observed, with “history books being the most popular.”

    The cable worries about simplified-character textbooks supplanting US textbooks more and more, since Chinese college professors were finding the former less expensive and easier to assign.

    (Original Cable.)

  • In the Chinese city of Zhenjiang, readers of Nobel Prize-winning American novelist Pearl Buck (Mike Wallace interview; Nobel write-up), who spent much of her time in China, worried, according to a 2008 cable, that Buck wasn’t getting enough attention in the United States.

    Comment: Zhenjiang’s fervor for its long-ago American “daughter” points to possibilities for the upcoming celebrations of the 30th anniversary of U.S.-China relations.

    (Original Cable.)

  • A 2003 cable cited “the latest Human Development Report on the Arab states” as noting

    The economic, political, artistic, and literary creativity of the Arab states are being stifled by the exclusion of women, among other factors. As an example, the report notes that Turkey alone published more works of creative literature over the past year than the entire Arab world combined.

    (Original Cable.)

    Female Turkish novelist Elif Shafak spoke at a 2010 TED conference on the ability of fiction to overcome identity politics.

  • A 2003 cable said although “European public opinion may be skeptical about the politics of GOT joining the European Union, […] civil society has shown that sharing space with Turkey in the
    cultural realm is as natural as can be.” The cable cited the European popularity of Istanbul-born novelist Orhan Pamuk as evidence of Turkey’s “de facto integration into European cultural life.”

    His recent novel “My Name is Red” won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2003; this award was the latest in a series of European honors dating back to his 1991 Prix de la Decouverte Europeenne for the French translation of his second novel, “Sessiz_Ev” (“The Quiet House”).

    (Original Cable.)

  • With a 2005 cable, the American embassy in Tel Aviv took note of an editorial referencing Egyptian playwright Ali Salem:

    “We have already seen that both Israel and Egypt generally obey when there is an American scolding…. Why not initiate, for example, the award of an honorary doctorate by an American university to Ali Salem for his contribution to peace between the peoples?”

    (Original Cable.)

    The original op-ed can be found here.

  • According to a 2006 cable, staff from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Director-General’s office “held misperceptions” about the World Digital Library, “a project to put rare and remote items on the web.” The staff worried over Google’s involvement, saying it troubled European nations, and that the countries might be more receptive to a UNESCO label.

    (Original Cable.)

Thus far I’ve come away with the impression that the United States strongly believes spreading American culture is an effective way to spread its core democratic values, but other countries often see this as hypocritical given the States’ frequent disregard of those values. If you’re interested in reading more about that, I recommend Evgeny Morozov’s book The Net Delusion. Another observation: writers and their work do make more of an impact in international politics than you might suspect.

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Searching Wikileaks Cables for Literary Topics, First of Many by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at