Update on Chinese Censorship of Academic Publications

As reported in mid-August, representatives of the Chinese government asked Cambridge University Press (CUP) to remove from its Chinese website 315 China Quarterly articles on so-called “sensitive” topics (Taiwan, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen, etc.). At that time, CUP also conveyed to the Association for Asian Studies a Chinese request that 100 Journal of Asian Studies articles be blocked in China. Under pressure, CUP reversed its decision and lifted the block of the China Quarterly articles before any JAS articles were affected. AAS has issued a statement in strong defense of academic freedom. Since then, AAS officers and staff have continued monitoring the situation. There are no new updates concerning our Journal of Asian Studies, which remains fully accessible to AAS members in China.

However, other publications have been affected by censorship in China, and this episode has prompted many members of the academic community to discuss academic integrity, scholarly labor, and possible responses, as well as the likelihood that other countries might make similar demands of academic publishers. A group of scholars has now started an online petition calling on others to stage a peer-review boycott of any academic publisher that practices (or fails, if asked, to explicitly state that it will refuse to be complicit in) censorship in China.

Below, please find a number of relevant news articles and commentaries published since early September:

• The biggest and most recent development in this situation is that for-profit publisher Springer Nature, which puts out journals including International Politics and the Journal of Chinese Political Science, acknowledged that it has made more than 1,000 articles on topics such as the Cultural Revolution and Tibet inaccessible to users of its website within China. Benjamin Bland of the Financial Times, who has been digging deep into issues of Chinese academic censorship, broke the story; readers who don’t have subscriptions to the FT can read a summary at Reuters. (You can follow Bland’s additional commentary on Twitter).

• The Editorial Board of the Washington Post has published an op-ed condemning Springer Nature’s decision to acquiesce to Chinese censorship demands, writing that “When it comes to the principle of free expression, there is no way to say that half or even 99 percent is good enough.”

• The University of Nottingham’s Jonathan Sullivan is author of one of the articles Springer Nature made inaccessible in China; at the China Policy Institute: Analysis (CPI: Analysis) website, he asks, “Dude, Where’s My Paper?”

• CPI: Analysis is running a full week of commentaries about censorship, so readers interested in this topic should check that site regularly for the next few days. The two commentaries published so far are “Controlling the Chinese Information Environment,” by Sullivan and CPI: Analysis editorial assistant James Farley, and “The Soft Power of Chinese Censorship,” by Christopher Balding of Peking University’s HSBC Business School.

• In addition to the China Quarterly and Journal of Asian Studies articles marked for censorship by Chinese authorities, Cambridge University Press also received a request from Chinese authorities to remove certain articles from American Political Science Review and three other journals from its site in China. CUP denied these requests. 

• In the newest issue of Critical Asian Studies (Vol. 49, no. 4), the journal’s editor and board write that they have learned two CAS articles were reprinted in China—with significant cuts made for political reasons—without permission from the authors, the journal, or its publisher, Taylor & Francis.

• Two podcasts devoted episodes to the topic of academic censorship in China: Sinica Podcast hosts Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn interviewed Georgetown University professor Jim Millward, and at the Little Red Podcast, hosts Graeme Smith and Louisa Lim spoke with four scholars about researching—and experiencing—academic censorship in the PRC.

• Subscribers to the London Review of Books can read an essay on the censorship situation by London-based writer Huang Yuan.

• And, to end on a somewhat lighter note, see this tongue-in-cheek letter published by China Quarterly contributor Michel Bonnin at the Los Angeles Review of Books China Blog, in which he asks the Chinese authorities—in the name of academic integrity—to censor one of his articles.