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.

New year, old methods

New years usually come with promises, expectations and hope for a brighter future. The first days of 2013 has proved rather an exception, at least here in China.

First Guangdong province propaganda chief (广东省委宣传部长) Tuo Zhen (庹震) heavily censored a new year special issue (新年特刊) of outspoken Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekly (Nanfang zhoumo 南方周末). This sparked fierce protests and leading journalists directly published a protest. Now ”the management” of the newspaper has also taken over its Weibo account from the editors. Interestingly Tuo is new in Guangdong, just as the up-and-coming party chief of the province, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), one of the ”post-60” young leaders. Nothing ”new” or ”young” in behaviour, however.

Protester in Guangzhou with mouth cover saying ”prevent speech cover” (避言套), a pun with 避孕套 (condom), only changing the middle character…

On New Year’s Eve another outspoken magazine, Yanhuang chunqiu (炎黄春秋), was notified that its website would close, which it did in the morning 4 January. The editorial department continuously comments and updates on its Weibo. The print version seems to be unaffected this far, but such a closure is not a good sign.

Are such acts sign of the ”four new modernizations” (新四化) that CPC no. 2, Li Keqiang, likely the next Chinese premier, has been talking about during the autumn 2012? One of these ”new” modernizations is ”application of information technology” (”IT-ization”) (信息化), and it seems that this ”application” is not beneficial to freedom of speech, but rather the contrary.

While brave people stand up for their rights in Guangzhou, supporting Southern Weekly, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia (刘霞), sits isolated in house arrest in their flat in Beijing. She has been there more than two years now, just for being Liu Xiaobo’s wife. 6 December 2012 some reporters from Associated Press (AP 美联社) managed to pass the guards and make a short interview with her, and crying she described the absurd life she is forced to live. On 28 December 2012, Liu Xiaobo’s birthday, a group of her friends, including Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Youyu (徐友渔) and Liu Di (刘荻), also managed to enter her flat and talk to her. How come Liu Xia is not a major cause for concern and action outside China? Her house arrest is surely not legal even by PRC standards, and the emotional pressure on her must be enormous. One cannot but think of Wei Jingsheng’s (魏京生) proposal for a ”fifth modernization” in 1978, namely democratization. 35 years later it is still valid.