China pressures respected journal to censor articles

A major academic publisher in the United Kingdom has caved in to China’s official censors and has blocked online access from that country to more than 300 articles in a leading academic journal – The China Quarterly or CQ.

It comes as the Communist Party leadership steps up pressure on academic views not sanctioned by the government and is implementing a general crackdown on what it sees as ‘Western’ views.

Tim Pringle, editor of CQ, published by Cambridge University Press or CUP, said in a letter to its editorial board made public on 18 August: “CUP inform us that they have blocked this material in China to avoid having their entire site shut down.”

“We complied with this initial request to remove individual articles, to ensure that other academic and educational materials we publish remain available to researchers and educators in this market,” CQ said in a statement.

The General Administration of Press and Publication in China recently sent CUP a list of more than 300 CQ articles and book reviews to be pulled from the CUP site in China.

Pringle said most articles and reviews included in the list are about sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, China’s Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan. “They range from material published in the last months right back to the 1960s.”

The 300 articles and reviews published in the journal had been censored by China’s import agencies, China Educational Publications Import and Export Corporation, under the Education Ministry, and China National Publications Import and Export group, which regulates the international operations of China’s publishing industry.

Not an isolated move

Pringle, a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said: “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.”

CUP said it was “troubled by the recent increase in requests of this nature” and would take up the matter with the “relevant agencies” at the Beijing International Book Fair next week.

A similar request was made a few months ago regarding more than a thousand e-books published by CUP, which belongs to the University of Cambridge, but academic journals had not been targeted until the CQ list came through, Pringle said.

Louisa Lim, author of a book on Tiananmen, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, said searching for Tiananmen on the China Quarterly gets 50 results overseas, but only five within China.

“We are aware that other publishers have had entire collections of content blocked in China until they have enabled the import agencies to block access to individual articles. We do not and will not, proactively censor our content and will only consider blocking individual items – when requested to do so – when the wider availability of content is at risk,” CUP said.

“We will not change the nature of our publishing to make content acceptable in China, and we remain committed to ensuring that access to a wide variety of publishing is possible for academics, researchers, students and teachers in this market.”

It noted that China signed up to the International Publishers Association last year, which has as one of its guiding principles the freedom to publish. “The issue of censorship in China is not a short-term issue and therefore requires a long-term approach. There are many things we can’t control but we will continue to take every opportunity to influence this agenda.”

Often regarded as the world’s leading China studies journal, CQ says its articles “are subject to rigorous, double-blind peer review and are of the highest international standing” and it includes papers by many authors based in mainland China.

So far, CQ appears to be the only major China studies journal to be subject to these measures “but it is likely other journals will be affected in the near future”, Pringle said.

The list of CQ articles blocked in China is available at this link.