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.
The quote is from a letter written by Barmé as an answer to criticism from the Chinese embassy in Canberra to the content of the Centre yearbook 2012, Red Rising Red Eclipse.