TIME’s Beijing bureau received a note this week from the customs department that 62 copies of its May 14, 2012 issue entitled The People’s Republic of Scandal were being “safeguided by customs” to be “dealt with”. Read Hannah Beech’s account of their fruitless attempts to get their magazines back:
My colleague Jessie Jiang began working the phones. She first called the number on the receipt for the Beijing customs office. After many failed attempts to get someone to address TIME’s concerns, a customs official explained to Jessie that the magazines had probably been confiscated because of the “sensitive” nature of the issue. “As you know, China is very strict when it comes to ideology,” the customs officer told Jessie.
Beijing customs said they had no authority to allow the release of the magazines without a letter from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication. But several representatives of that bureau said there were no employees there who dealt with such matters—and that they had never written a letter reversing a confiscation decision before. One of the officials told Jessie: “This is China. We don’t allow foreign magazines to be distributed.” (Which, given the number of foreign publications available at upmarket newsstands in Beijing, is obviously untrue.)
So Jessie went up the chain of command and tried calling the national-level General Administration of Press and Publication. For several days, no one answered the phone. Then on May 17, someone finally took her call. A woman said that she had no authority and that her colleague who did have powers over such matters was “in a meeting.” The woman told Jessie that her colleague would call her back. Needless to say, Jessie never received a reply.
Days later, Jessie tried the national bureau one last time and reached a different official. This bureaucrat was full of admonition. If customs kept the 62 copies, “they had their reasons,” she snapped. If we really wanted our magazines, we would have to contact a state-owned import company that could liaise with her office and try to facilitate something. But, as we know, no state firm would dare risk itself for sensitive magazine from a foreign media company. We had essentially reached a dead end.