Cambridge University Press reverses decision to censor books in China

By Allen Cone  |  Aug. 21, 2017 at 5:15 PM
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Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Cambridge University Press, the world's oldest publishing house, has changed its mind on censoring content in China.

The 485-year-old publisher, based in Ebgland, had agreed to suppress access to 300 articles from The China Quarterly that dealt with subjects sensitive to the Chinese authorities, including the Tiananmen Square massacre. China said the publisher would not be able to publish other material in the country if it didn't concur.

But it reversed its decision after a petition Monday signed by more than 600 academics from around the world protested what they called China's attempts to "export its censorship on topics that do not fit its preferred narrative."

Cambridge University, which owns the publisher, said the academic leadership of the university had reviewed the publisher's decision and agreed to reinstate immediately blocked content to "uphold the principle of academic freedom on which the university's work is founded."

Initially the publisher said in a statement Friday it "complied with this initial request to remove individual articles, to ensure that other academic and educational materials we publish remain available to researchers and educators in this market."

Tim Pringle, editor of The China Quarterly, told the BBC that its initial willingness to block articles indicated "a deeper underlying issue around the contradiction between academic freedom and the allure of the Chinese market.

"As the editor of the leading China studies journal, we'd obviously put academic freedom above all other considerations which isn't to underestimate the difficult position CUP found themselves in."

James Millward, professor of history at Georgetown University, said he had been refused entry to China because of pieces he had written

He contrasted the original decision with the stance of the The New York Times and the Economist, which are banned because they refused to be censored in Chinese.

He said to The Guardian: "Cambridge University Press, on the other hand, is agreeably donning the hospital gown, untied in the back, baring itself to the Chinese scalpel, and crying 'cut away!' ... This is not only disrespectful of CUP's authors; it demonstrates a repugnant disdain for Chinese readers, for whom CUP apparently deems a watered-down product to be good enough."

Cambridge University Press, granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, is the second-largest university press in the world behind the Oxford Press, according to the Guinness World Records. Its first press was printed in 1584.

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