In 2002 I published an article about Liu Xiaofeng (刘小枫) in the magazine 书城 (Book Town), and they cut one or two sentences where I had mentioned Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), without notifying me in advance. That was the only experience I had personally of Chinese censorship, until now.
Towards the end of 2012 I attended a conference in China and presented a paper on religion as a factor for building ”harmonious society”, also making comparisons with the Nordic revival movements and building a democratic ”harmonious” welfare society (福利社会) in Sweden. Just at the end of the year a journal affiliated to the university arranging the conference sent me an e-mail saying in English that they had selected mine and a few other articles for publication. It is a good Chinese journal, listed with Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI 中文社会科学引文索引), and with international ambitions, so I was glad to hear they liked my article. I worked on it for some time and then submitted again.
Just over a week ago I received an e-mail from the same editorial department, in Chinese, and only signed ”the editorial department”. The subject was ”return of manuscript” (退稿), and the main content was that mine and a few other articles ”cannot quite agree with the requirements of the journal” (不是很能契合学刊的要求). First I was very puzzled, but then I realized that I had been censored (审查). Not just a few lines here and there, but the whole article.
I wrote directly to the editors, expressed my surprise and asked for an explanation. No answer came. I wrote again, a second and a third time, and only then there was an answer, ten days after the original e-mail. This was an actual apology, and even an explanation of the pressure they had got not to publish mine and a few other articles as they were ”too sensitive”. Who was giving pressure? I don’t know. Maybe there was no one, but merely self-censorship. It is very discomforting and disturbing to experience such a thing from persons you know and trust.
Having studied China for more than 20 years I know that such things, unfortunately, are everyday matters (!) in China, and I have heard friends telling me many stories about it. But how to deal with it as a non-Chinese researcher? I cannot censor myself. Should I not publish in Chinese journals? I think that an ”as if” stance like the one taken by Geremie R. Barmé and the Australian Centre on China in the World can be the answer:
…to act as if the People’s Republic had already sloughed off the vestiges of Cold War-era and Maoist attitudes, behaviour and language. We engage with the People’s Republic as if it enjoyed an environment like that of any other mature, open and equitable society.