China wields a little red pen

Susan Wyndham Literary Editor
August 1, 2008
 
 

THE Chinese Government is stopping local production of Australian books that refer to the China-Tibet border, the Dalai Lama and other subjects that "infringe its sovereignty".

The academic publisher UNSW Press recently employed a printing company in Guangdong, in southern China, to print Putting Queensland On The Map, a biography by Felicity Jack of her great-grandfather, Robert Logan Jack. Jack was a Scottish geologist and explorer who came to Australia and also went to China in the 19th century, and in recounting his travels the book refers to "the China-Tibet border".

China does not accept the border exists because it claims Tibet as part of China. After the book was printed, the printer sent an email to UNSW Press saying: "Chinese authorities have found sentences within the text which infringe their sovereignty and have refused to grant an export authorisation."

Elspeth Menzies, publisher at UNSW Press, told the Herald: "Someone at the printer then went through the text and suggested we remove one mention of the China-Tibet border.

"When we refused, they suggested that we print in Hong Kong, which would have been much more expensive. So we moved the print job to a different printer in Thailand."

A Melbourne publisher, Hardie Grant, had a similar problem with a reference book being printed in Hong Kong for an international market. It was advised to remove a picture of the Dalai Lama and parts of the text in The Knowledge Book, such as a statement that "millions lost their lives" during China's Great Leap Forward under Mao Zedong.

Chinese printers have long been used by Western publishers for high-quality, inexpensive production of illustrated books.

Publishers have in the past been asked to remove references to Tibet, Tiananmen and Taiwan in books being sold into China, and Australian authors have found Chinese translations of their books stripped of controversial material.

Maree McCaskell, chief executive of the Australian Publishers Association, said the latest interference "doesn't surprise me at all. In the Chinese mind they are correcting errors of fact made by benighted Westerners."