Report on Foreign Authors and Censorship in China

May 21, 2015

A new report from the Pen American Center, “Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship,” includes a set of “core principles” for authors to consider when preparing to publish translations of their works in mainland China. For books that include sensitive content, the report recommends that authors should 1) “ensure that the contract with the Chinese publisher includes an agreement that any and all cuts or alterations made to the text must be approved in advance by the author,” 2) “negotiate with the publisher if any alterations to the text are proposed, to ensure that as much of the book’s original content is retained as possible” and 3) “engage an objective, expert third-party translator to vet the translated work -- particularly any sections dealing with sensitive topics known to be censored -- to ensure that no unauthorized alterations have been made.”

The report draws from interviews with foreign authors who did not discover censorship in Chinese translations of their works until after they were published, as well as interviews with foreign authors who have variously consented to and refused proposed changes in Chinese-language editions. The report recommends that authors resist censorship that “fundamentally alters the overall arguments expressed in the book” or that “fundamentally diminishes” the book's literary merit, or that deletes or distorts references to major historical, political or human rights topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre. It also includes suggestions for authors who choose to accept censors' cuts or changes to their books to make the fact of those changes more visible to Chinese readers.

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