Cambridge University Press reverses block on banned articles in China, decides not to kowtow to Beijing

Most of the censored works touched on the Tiananmen crackdown, Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong or Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 3:43pm

Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest publishing house, has reversed its decision to bow to Chinese government censorship and unblocked online access in mainland China to hundreds of banned articles.

The Britain-based publisher said late last week that it had taken down more than 300 articles from The China Quarterly at the request of the General Administration of Press and Publication.

Cambridge University Press pulls sensitive journal articles in China at the request of Beijing

But China Quarterly editor Tim Pringle said on Monday night that CUP would repost the papers.

“Following a meeting with officers from Cambridge University Press, The China Quarterly has been informed that CUP intends to repost immediately the articles removed from its website in China,” Pringle said.

He acknowledged the “justifiably intense reaction from the global academic community and beyond,” adding that the journal’s publication criteria would remain the same. More than 1,000 people had signed a petition requesting CUP refuse the censorship request.

Cambridge University said the decision to block the articles had been made “reluctantly” following a direct order from its Chinese importer. The move to reinstate them was to “uphold the principle of academic freedom on which the university’s work is founded”.

The reposted articles, most of which touched on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, the Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong or Taiwan, were now freely available, without charge, Pringle said.

Odd inclusions on Chinese censors’ crude Cambridge University Press blacklist

Christopher Balding, an associate professor of economics at the Peking University HSBC School of Business in Shenzhen, said CUP’s latest decision was an encouraging step forward.

“My hope would be that this doesn’t end the discussion in any way, but that it prompts Western universities, academics, and publishing houses to strongly consider how to engage with China on these issues of censorship,” said Balding, who started the petition to have CUP reverse its ban.

He said he was sympathetic to CUP’s position and anticipated it would face consequences for this decision.

“There’s been a significant crackdown in academic censorship and control over the past couple of years, trying to impose definitely more limitations on Chinese scholars and scholars working in China,” Balding said.

Don't like our rules? Then leave, Chinese state newspaper says after Cambridge censorship row

Arthur Waldron, a China specialist at the University of Pennsylvania whose China Quarterly article on warlordism versus feudalism was on the blacklist, said: “This is a very, very wise decision on Cambridge’s part because Cambridge, for hundreds of years has been the gold standard for scholarly publishing, and if they allow one country to say ‘you can’t publish this here’, they open the door to … interventions and complaints.”

He said it was important for publishers such as CUP to take a clear stand, and not make concessions to the government.

“It’s now up to China to decide what they’re going to do,” Waldron said.