CUP jour­nal row ‘shows need for new ap­proach to Chi­nese cen­sors’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LEADER - Holly.else@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

It is time to “re­con­sider” how Chi­nese cen­sor­ship is dealt with by the rest of the world, ac­cord­ing to an aca­demic who started a pe­ti­tion against Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press’ now-re­versed de­ci­sion to block ac­cess to po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive jour­nal ar­ti­cles in China.

Christo­pher Bald­ing, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at Pek­ing Univer­sity, said that for too long uni­ver­si­ties have as­sumed that China would grad­u­ally em­brace aca­demic free­dom as a re­sult of in­ter­ac­tion with the West, but it is ev­i­dent that this ap­proach is not work­ing.

CUP removed 315 ar­ti­cles from the web­site of its flag­ship Chi­nese stud­ies jour­nal in China be­cause an agency of the Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment threat­ened to pull all its con­tent if it did not com­ply.

The jour­nal ar­ti­cles and book re­views in ques­tion fea­tured in China Quar­terly be­tween the 1960s and re­cent months and cov­ered is­sues that the Com­mu­nist state deems po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive, such as the Tianan­men Square protests, the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, Ti­bet and Tai­wan.

Ex­perts be­lieve it to be part of a wider clam­p­down on Western lit­er­a­ture that re­sponds to po­lit­i­cal un­rest in Hong Kong and an­tic­i­pates the rul­ing party’s na­tional congress later this year.

On 21 Au­gust, the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, of which CUP is part, said that the “ar­ti­cles would be re­in­stated, fol­low­ing a re­view by the aca­demic lead­er­ship of the univer­sity”.

The in­ci­dent sparked anger among the aca­demic com­mu­nity, with a flurry of open let­ters de­nounc­ing the de­ci­sion and the pe­ti­tion call­ing on CUP to refuse the China Quar­terly cen­sor­ship re­quest.

Pro­fes­sor Bald­ing’s pe­ti­tion, which had more than 700 sig­na­tures, says: “As aca­demics, we be­lieve in the free and open ex­change of ideas and in­for­ma­tion on all top­ics, not just those we agree with. It is dis­turb­ing to aca­demics and uni­ver­si­ties world­wide that China is at­tempt­ing to ex­port its cen­sor­ship on top­ics that do not fit its preferred nar­ra­tive.”

It adds that, if CUP com­plied with China’s de­mands, “aca­demics and uni­ver­si­ties re­serve the right to pur­sue other ac­tions in­clud­ing boy­cotts of Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press and re­lated jour­nals”.

Pro­fes­sor Bald­ing told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that for too long uni­ver­si­ties have just ac­cepted the sta­tus quo with re­gard to China.

“Ev­ery­body is ac­qui­esc­ing to Chi­nese de­mands on cen­sor­ship, and no­body is tak­ing a step back to re­con­sider why we are do­ing the things that we are do­ing,” he said. “For too long the as­sump­tion was that if there was in­ter­ac­tion that there would be a change of think­ing in China. But clearly, there has

been a pretty sig­nif­i­cant crack­down, so there needs to be a def­i­nite re­think­ing of ap­proach.”

In an open let­ter to CUP, James Mill­ward, pro­fes­sor of history at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, who has pre­vi­ously been banned from trav­el­ling to China, said that the de­ci­sion to cen­sor the con­tent was “a craven, shame­ful and de­struc­tive con­ces­sion to the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China’s grow­ing cen­sor­ship regime”.

He adds that CUP had removed the ar­ti­cles with­out con­sult­ing the au­thors, coun­ter­manded the peer re­view process and over­rid­den the jour­nal’s edi­tors about its con­tent.

“This com­prises a clear violation of aca­demic in­de­pen­dence out­side as well as in­side China,” he writes.

But Hans van de Ven, a pro­fes­sor of mod­ern Chi­nese history at Cam­bridge, said that the pub­lisher faced a “dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion” and that striv­ing to be open and to en­gage with China on the is­sue was im­por­tant.

The Cam­bridge spokesman said: “While this tem­po­rary de­ci­sion was taken in or­der to pro­tect short-term ac­cess in China to the vast ma­jor­ity of the press’ jour­nal ar­ti­cles, the univer­sity’s aca­demic lead­er­ship and the press have agreed to re­in­state the blocked con­tent, with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, so as to up­hold the prin­ci­ple of aca­demic free­dom on which the univer­sity’s work is founded.”

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