Authors accept censors’ rules to sell in China

Such compromises are becoming increasingly common as American authors,publishers are drawn to Chinese market.

Written by New York Times | Beijing | Published: October 21, 2013 2:40:40 am

Chinese readers of Ezra F Vogel’s sprawling biography of China’s reformist leader Deng Xiaoping may have missed a few details that appeared in the English edition.

The Chinese version did not mention that Chinese newspapers had been ordered to ignore the Communist implosion across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. Nor that General Secretary Zhao Ziyang,purged during the Tiananmen Square crackdown,wept when he was placed under house arrest. Gone was the tense state dinner with the Soviet leader Mikhail S Gorbachev when Deng let a dumpling tumble from his chopsticks.

Vogel,a professor emeritus at Harvard,said the decision to allow Chinese censors to tinker with his work was an unpleasant but necessary bargain to reach the kind of enormous readership many Western authors can only dream of. His book,Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China,sold 30,000 copies in the US and 650,000 in China. He said,“It was better to have 90 per cent of the book available here than zero.”

Such compromises,almost unheard of just five years ago,are becoming increasingly common as American authors and their publishers are drawn to the Chinese market. With a highly literate population hungry for the works of foreign writers,China is an increasing source of revenue for American publishing houses.

Foreign writers who agree to submit their books to China’s fickle censorship regime say the experience can be frustrating. Qiu Xiaolong,whose mystery thrillers are set in Shanghai,said Chinese publishers who bought the first three books in his Inspector Chen series altered the identity of pivotal characters and rewrote plot lines they deemed unflattering to the Communist Party. He said,publishers insisted on removing any references to Shanghai,replacing it with an imaginary Chinese metropolis called H city because they thought an association with violent crime,albeit fictional,might tarnish the city’s image. Having been burned three times,Qui said he has refused to allow his fourth novel,A Case of Two Cities,to be printed in China.

James Kynge,a columnist for The Financial Times and the author of China Shakes the World: A Titan’s Rise and Troubled Future — and the Challenge for America,walked away from a potentially lucrative deal last year after one publisher demanded that an entire chapter be cut.

But such stands,it seems,are becoming increasingly rare. Many writers say they are torn by their desire to protect their work and the need to make a living in an era of shrinking advances. For others,it is about cultivating an audience in China ,a rising superpower that cannot be summarily ignored.


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