The venerable Cambridge Universtiy Press (CUP), the world’s oldest publishing house, is under fire from academics after it admitted to censoring hundreds of “politically sensitive” articles in a leading China journal at Beijing’s behest.
On Friday, the CUP said that more than 300 articles had been scrubbed from the China Quarterly’s Chinese website following a request from Chinese censors, which threatened to have its site shut down. Apparently, the articles had been chosen for deletion not through a careful reading and examination of the text, but by quick searches for certain naughty words.
— M. Taylor Fravel (@fravel) August 20, 2017
Some of the harmonized articles include: “Resistance, Chaos and Control in China: Taiping Rebels, Taiwanese Ghosts and Tiananmen,” “Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities,” “Revelations that Move the Earth to Tears: A Collection of Post-Cultural Revolution Poems and Essays by Chinese Youth,” “The Tragedy of Tibet” and “Fang Lizhi (1936-2012): An Appreciation.”
And the exact same search for China Quarterly articles in Cambridge Core, with and without VPN. pic.twitter.com/4rsgzRDrvE
— Michel Hockx (@mhockx) August 21, 2017
The articles were written by some of the world’s most well-respected China scholars like Ezra Vogel, Andrew Nathan, Frank Dikötter and David Shambaugh. The authors were not informed that their articles, which had gone through peer-review and editing, had been blocked in China
In a statement released on Friday, the CUP explained that while it was committed to the ideals of freedom of thought and expression, it had to make this sacrifice for the greater good.
We complied with this initial request to remove individual articles, to ensure that other academic and educational materials we publish remain available to researchers and educators in this market.
We are aware that other publishers have had entire collections of content blocked in China until they have enabled the import agencies to block access to individual articles. We do not, and will not, proactively censor our content and will only consider blocking individual items (when requested to do so) when the wider availability of content is at risk.
However we are troubled by the recent increase in requests of this nature, and have already planned meetings to discuss our position with the relevant agencies at the Beijing Book Fair next week.
While many are sympathetic to the dilemma faced by the CUP, a dilemma that many organizations, media outlets and authors have also faced over whether to censor their content to gain access to the Chinese markets, academics have largely spoken out against the publisher’s final decision.
— John Garnaut (@jgarnaut) August 18, 2017
What a shameful act by Cambridge UP! Yet another example of the CCP's efforts to censor information & shut down academic freedom globally.
— James Leibold (@jleibold) August 18, 2017
— Dan Mattingly (@mattinglee) August 18, 2017
In an open letter, James A Millward, Professor of History at Georgetown University called the CUP’s decision a “craven, shameful and destructive concession to the PRC’s growing censorship regime,” worrying about the consequences it would have for both academics and their subjects:
But the still greater concern is that if China Quarterly and then other journals published by Cambridge (such as the Journal of Asian Studies) — powerful institutions with global clout, not vulnerable individuals — just go along with this request to censor scholarship on these topics, will scholars inside or outside China still be eager to work on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Uyghurs, Tian’anmen, Taiwan independence advocates, Liu Xiaobo, the Dalai Lama, Chinese dissidents, Falun Gong and so on? Or will they chose safer subjects? And how should the people who are the subject of these articles feel about Cambridge’s decision to airbrush them from the record? CUP may hide behind the excuse that this is a “pragmatic” decision to preserve “Chinese” access to its less sensitive material, but who the hell gives Cambridge University Press the right to decide that Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kong activists and dissidents of all sorts are less worthy than other content? It is noteworthy that the topics and peoples CUP has so blithely chosen to censor comprise mainly minorities and the politically disadvantaged. Would you censor content about Black Lives Matter, Mexican immigrants or Muslims in your American publication list if Trump asked you to do to? So why do you think it’s fine to cut the oppressed and disenfranchised out of China Quarterly?
Scholars Greg Distelhorst and Jessica Chen Weiss echoed this criticism in another open letter, arguing that because of the CUP’s decision, Chinese readers will only be able to read the “sanitized” version of their country’s history. “This censored history of China will literally bear the seal of Cambridge University,” the two academics wrote.
— Greg Distelhorst (@gregdistelhorst) August 18, 2017
When a government or party curates your historical record, it uses your reputation to rewrite history. 1/
— Greg Distelhorst (@gregdistelhorst) August 18, 2017
Andrew Nathan, who edited and translated The Tiananmen Papers told the Guardian that he doesn’t believe the benefits of making changes at the behest of Chinese authorities outweigh the costs:
If the Press acceded to a Chinese request to block access to selected articles, as I gather is the case, it violated the trust that authors placed in it and has compromised its integrity as an academic publisher.
I imagine [CUP] might argue that it was serving a higher purpose, by compromising in order to maintain the access by Chinese scholars to most of the material it has published. This is similar to the argument by authors who allow Chinese translations of their work to be censored so that the work can reach the Chinese audience. [But] that’s an argument I have never agreed with.
Of course, there may also be a financial motive, similar to Bloomberg, Facebook, and others who have censored their product to maintain access to the Chinese market. This is a dilemma, but if the West doesn’t stand up for its values, then the Chinese authorities will impose their values on us. It’s not worth it.
Meanwhile, others have argued that the CUP is not actually powerless against Chinese censors, and has the means to stage a counter-attack by denying Chinese scholars what they want: international recognition.
huge pressure in parts of prc system to publish in good western journals; @CambridgeUP should cut that off, let them work it out internally
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) August 21, 2017
But, hey, at least the CUP has the support of the Global Times, which published an editorial on Sunday arguing that it’s all a matter of principle:
Western institutions have the freedom to choose. If they don’t like the Chinese way, they can stop engaging with us. If they think China’s Internet market is so important that they can’t miss out, they need to respect Chinese law and adapt to the Chinese way. Now it seems that some Western institutions would like to make adjustments, while some forces are unhappy about it.
This should be a rivalry between the two sides. One can accuse the other of caving in to the Chinese market. But ironically some only criticized the “tough stance” of the Chinese government and felt aggrieved that China’s laws and regulations can make some Western institutions respect Chinese regulations. These Westerners are arrogant and absurd.
The West’s values and interests have been positioned at the core of human society. This is a rule made by the West’s strength. If China becomes powerful and has the ability to maintain its own interests, it is bound to take actions. It is worth noting that China’s Internet laws and regulations are defensive, not offensive to the West.
It doesn’t matter if some articles on the China Quarterly disappear on the Chinese Internet. But it is a matter of principle. Time will tell whose principles cater more to this era.
With Xi Jinping’s ideological crackdown likely to only intensify as time goes on, time will certainly tell.
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) August 21, 2017
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