Chinese comic book artists are starting to reach global readers and might have a relatively free hand if they steer clear of taboos like sex and separatism.
"In people's imaginations, comics are for little children," Shi Ming of the writers association PEN told AFP as the Frankfurt Book Fair made space on its countless shelves for a couple of dozen comics made in China.
"Comics give you the impression you should not take it seriously," Shi explained. "Authors and publishing houses are using this to transport some other messages."
Private literary agent Wang Ning, who displayed Chinese comics on the guest of honour's stand, said: "You can publish everything except sex, Tibet and Xinjiang," a restive ethnic Uighur region in northwestern China.
Unsuccessful attempts were made to find a stand official able to speak about comics from Chinese state-owned publishing groups.
But Wang said a major change occured in 2005 when French publisher Xia Pan commissioned a compilation of 10 modern stories entitled Chroniques de Pekin (Beijing Chronicles), to which a German edition was added this year.
Written and illustrated by Beijing residents it portrays "different pictures and a more complete picture maybe" of China than that given by media, according to Joachim Kaps, managing director of the German distributor Tokyopop.
His company is based in Japan, which along with Korea churns out the popular Manga style that Kaps said now accounts for about two thirds of all comics sold in Germany.
"There's much more in China than you see in the news," he told AFP.
"We hope that for the young generation this can open their minds a little bit."
Wang felt the comic genre had a similar effect on its authors.
"To do their best, Chinese comic artists must open their minds," he said, noting that US and Swiss companies were also now publishing Chinese works.
US futurist and best-selling author John Naisbitt, who on Wednesday presented his book, China's Megatrends, quoted former Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping as saying: "We have to move from indoctrination to emancipation."
Naisbitt said emancipation of the mind was the most important of eight pillars on which he sees the country being built in the next 20-30 years.
It will help China "move from Olympic medals to Nobel prizes and to deal with freedom and fairness," he told AFP after addressing an official Chinese event.
Shi Ming, an author and board member of PEN's German chapter, said that while Chinese censorship had spread to commercial and personal issues such as one's faith, "it's only a question of time" before it eased bit by bit.
"The social discussion is getting wider and wider" and topics like local corruption or women who want more than one child have been aired for years."
Shi said Chinese leaders were debating how to take the country forward and said the fact they accepted inevitable scrutiny as guest of honour at the world's biggest book fair was a good sign.
"They don't want to replace the system, they want to change it," he noted.
Editors, meanwhile, "are looking for commercial successes by publishing new books even with critical content," Shi said, adding that "published ideas could have an influence on public opinion."
Beijing Chronicles speaks about personal issues, urban renewal decisions and the selection of Olympic athletes, and Wang said he would try to get the comics distributed in the country where they were drawn.
"When we did this book we cancelled some sexy things and some other things," he nonetheless acknowledged. "So this book is OK for China."Reuse content