Cambridge caves to China censor pressure

Cambridge University Press (CUP) has been widely criticised for its decision to comply with a Chinese government request to block more than 300 articles from its journal The China Quarterly.

Professor Sebastien Veg, Associate Researcher at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, who had two papers blocked by CUP, told Blue Skies China: “There is no ideal solution for CUP but I find their decision disappointing.”

“It seems preferable to me to let the Chinese authorities do the censoring and make sure Chinese academics are informed about who is denying them access to the entire Cambridge database,” he said.

In a statement, Tim Pringle, editor of The China Quarterly, expressed “deep concern and disappointment” at the move.

“We note… that this restriction of academic freedom is not an isolated move but an extension of policies that have narrowed the space for public engagement and discussion across Chinese society,” he wrote.

Pringle’s views were echoed across the community. Jonathan Sullivan, Director of the China Policy Institute and a member of The China Quarterly’s Executive Committee, said academics were “aghast” at the demands from Chinese authorities. “In my opinion, it is a needless overreach of the country’s authoritarian information order,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the China Policy Institute. “My view is also that CUP’s decision to accede to the demands is a misguided, if understandable, economic decision that does harm to the Press’ reputation and integrity.”

CUP says the decision to comply with the Chinese import agency request to remove certain articles will allow its other academic and educational materials to remain available in China. “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,” the firm said in a statement on 18 August. “China signed up to the International Publishers Association last year, and one of the body’s guiding principles is that of freedom to publish… There are many things we can’t control but we will continue to take every opportunity to influence this agenda.”

Meanwhile Renee Xia, the international director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, is quoted in the Guardian saying CUP had “sold its soul for millions of Chinese govt dollars”.

In the same Guardian story, Andrew Nathan, who has several landmark Tiananmen Square papers censored as a result of CUP’s decision, said “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.”

As for the content blocked, Veg said it was likely the topics, not the content itself, which piqued the censors’ interest. Like all work in The China Quarterly, he says, his most recent paper – a study of Hong Kong localism – was a purely academic analysis, with no personal opinion involved. “I don’t think specific articles were singled out for censorship,” he said, “Rather I expect that a list of themes and keywords generated the list of articles, including Tiananmen, Tibet, Taiwan, HK etc.”

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