News that China is extending its censorship to new domains barely provokes a yawn these days, since it’s such a common occurrence. But even for those jaded by constant reports of the Chinese authorities trying to control what people see and hear, news that it is now actively censoring books written by Australian authors for Australian readers is pretty breath-taking. The Chinese government has done this before for single books whose message it disliked, but now it seems to be part of a broader, general policy:
Publishing industry figures have confirmed that the censors from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China are vetting books sent by Australian publishers to Chinese printing presses, even though they are written by Australian authors and intended for Australian readers.
Any mention of a list of political dissidents, protests or political figures in China, including president Xi Jinping, is entirely prohibited, according to a list circulated to publishers and obtained by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
As the story in the Australian newspaper The Age explains, the reason why Chinese censors are able to impose their views on books designed for the Australian market is that it’s cheaper to have books printed in China than in Europe, say, especially it if involves color illustrations. As a result, publishers can be faced with the choice of accepting Chinese demands, or not publishing the book at all because the costs are too high.
The list of taboo topics is long, albeit pretty specific to China. It includes mention of major Chinese political figures, such as Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping, as well as a list of 118 dissidents whose names may not be mentioned. Political topics such as Tiananmen Square, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Tibetan independence, Uyghurs and Falun Gong are all out. Pornography is completely forbidden, but even artistic nudity can be censored. The Chinese authorities are very sensitive to how maps are drawn, since they can involve disputed borders. More surprising is the ban on mentioning major religions.
The Age article notes that the rules had been in place for some time, but largely ignored. Now, however, the censors are checking every page of every book, and enforcing the rules strictly. It’s yet another sign of Xi Jinping’s obsessive desire to control every facet of life — even outside China, if he can.
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