Writer blasts Playboy for dropped HK novel extract

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 1997, 12:00am

NOVELIST Paul Theroux has blasted Playboy magazine editors for refusing to print an extract from his recently-published novel, set in Hong Kong, lest it disrupt sales of spin-off products in mainland China.

In today's Sunday Morning Post, Theroux alleges that, by accepting and then refusing to print an extract from Kowloon Tong, the magazine's editors were 'standing shoulder to shoulder' with the Chinese officials who appear to have banned his book.

He writes: 'No part of a woman's anatomy is spared the scrutiny of Playboy's photographers, but it seems there are certain political or cultural concepts which are forbidden or at least regarded as dangerous or ambiguous.' Attempts to have the book published in China have collapsed after Beijing's Office of Press and Publications complained about its 'inaccurate depiction of mainland Chinese businessmen in Hong Kong, in particular mainland Chinese businessmen from the People's Liberation Army'.

A central character in the book is Mr Hung, a 'slug-like' PLA-linked businessman who appears to stop at nothing to get control of a British-owned clothing factory.

Playboy managing editor Jonathan Black said his magazine had dropped an extract after senior management had written memos expressing 'concern' about the book's impact on the lucrative market for Playboy products in China.

'However, I made the decision and I had not read those memos myself,' he said.

He said that the extract was dropped because the magazine was 'overdosing' on Hong Kong.

Ironically, Playboy is leading a challenge to censorship of Cable TV in the US, alleging it infringes free speech.

Playboy's Hong Kong licensee, Chaifa Holdings, has more than 500 outlets in China, and annual sales of its clothing, shoes and other products unrelated to the magazine top HK$300 million.

Based on information provided to the stock exchange, Playboy in the United States will easily make more than US$1 million (HK$7.73 million) a year in licence fees from China.

John Chan Chun-tong, Chaifa's chairman, said Playboy had no circulation in China apart from Hong Kong. Mainland consumers did not even know about the brand's link with the magazine.

'The magazine's sales in Hong Kong are only a small amount,' Mr Chan said.

The English version of Kowloon Tong, published by Penguin, is still freely available in Hong Kong.

Claire Cumming, sales and marketing manager for Asia, said: 'It has been a huge seller, not only in Hong Kong but also internationally.'