Odd inclusions on Chinese censors’ crude Cambridge University Press blacklist
List may have been hastily compiled to send a message, observers say
Chinese censors seemed to have compiled an inconsistent blacklist of articles for Britain-based Cambridge University Press (CUP) to pull from its mainland China online platform, researchers said on Monday.
By late on Monday, CUP had decided to reverse its previous decision and would repost the articles immediately, Tim Pringle, editor of London-based The China Quarterly, said.
The publisher confirmed late last week that more than 300 academic articles from The China Quarterly were blocked on the mainland at the request of the General Administration of Press and Publication.
The administration sent the list to CUP via a book importer, according to Pringle.
Most of the banned papers touched on subjects like the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
But Shakhar Rahav, from the University of Haifa in Israel, said he was surprised to find his 2012 article about Wang Meng, a former culture minister and a well-respected author on the mainland, on the censored list.
Although the piece focused on events in the wake of Tiananmen, it was not critical of the government, he said.
“This is not a systematic block of all the problematic articles,” Rahav said. “It is more like a symbolic act: censoring a few keywords and sending some signals abroad.”
Also on the blacklist was a review of The Man on Mao’s Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry, a memoir by Mao Zedong’s interpreter and former ambassador to Britain Ji Chaozhu.
Hong Kong Baptist University political scientist Edmund Cheng said preliminary analysis suggested the list might have been hastily compiled by people with little knowledge of academic works.
Cheng’s paper on political activism in Hong Kong was taken down, but articles on the annual pro-democracy rallies, a topic more frequently censored by Chinese media, were left off the list, he said.
Also absent from the list were papers on the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Great Famine, which resulted in millions of deaths between 1958 and 1962.
A 2013 review of late Nobel Peace laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo’s book No Enemies, No Hatred also escaped the scrutiny, although Liu’s name and the phrase “I have no enemy” are both blocked by Weibo’s search engine.
“It looks like some people were trying to get their homework done,” Cheng said. “They wanted to show they did something for the cybersecurity law.”
The initial decision by CUP, the centuries-old publishing arm of Cambridge University, set off a torrent of criticism, including from overseas specialists in the field.
In an open letter, Georgetown University history professor James Millward said the decision was “a craven, shameful and destructive concession to [China’s] growing censorship regime” and a violation of academic independence.
Researchers also petitioned the publisher to restore mainland access to the politically sensitive articles.
Christopher Balding, an associate professor in economics at the Peking University HSBC School of Business in Shenzhen, said he started a petition to pressure not just CUP, but also universities and academics involved with China as well as Chinese universities and academics “to stand up to” censorship by the Chinese government.
But state-run tabloid Global Times said in an editorial on Monday that Western publishers had to abide by Chinese law.
“If they don’t like the Chinese way, they can stop engaging with us,” the editorial said. “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.”
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press