After initially kowtowing to Chinese censors and removing hundreds of articles about China of “politically sensitive” nature from a prominent China journal, the Cambridge University Press (CUP) has apparently decided to take a stand for the ideals of freedom of thought and expression after all, reversing course and allowing the articles to go back online.
Last Friday, the world’s oldest publishing house issued a statement explaining that it had blocked more than 300 articles from appearing on the Chinese website of its China Quarterly journal following a request from Beijing authorities who threatened to have the entire site shut down. The articles dealt with subjects that are taboo in Chinese academia, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Taiwan, and were written by well-respected scholars from across the globe, who were not informed their articles would be harmonized.
Quickly, academics joined together to condemn the CUP for helping the Communist Party to “whitewash” Chinese history, worrying about what consequences the decision would have for academics, particularly those based in China, and their subjects. In an open letter published online, scholars Greg Distelhorst and Jessica Chen Weiss charged that “This censored history of China will literally bear the seal of Cambridge University.”
— Greg Distelhorst (@gregdistelhorst) August 18, 2017
In another open letter, James A. Millward, a professor of history at Georgetown University, called the decision a “craven, shameful and destructive concession to the PRC’s growing censorship regime,” asking the publisher: “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?”
Cambridge University, which owns the publisher as well as the journal, has responded to this viral firestorm of academic outrage by making an abrupt U-turn, announcing that all of the articles which had been blocked online in China will be restored immediately in order to “uphold the principle of academic freedom on which the university’s work is founded,” explaining that the initial move was only a “temporary decision” made in the lead up to a discussion with the publication’s Chinese importer.
— Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni) August 21, 2017
Following this announcement, Tom Pringle, the editor of China Quarterly, released a statement online applauding the university’s decision.
“Access to published materials of the highest quality is a core component of scholarly research,” he wrote. “It is not the role of respected global publishing houses such as CUP to hinder such access. The China Quarterly will continue to publish articles that make it through our rigorous double-blind peer review process, regardless of topic or sensitivity.”
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