China’s Publishers Court America as Its Authors Scorn Censorship
May 29, 2015
Protesters, including some Chinese writers, at the New York Public Library this week while a Chinese publishing delegation attended BookExpo only blocks away.
A few years ago, the Chinese writer Murong Xuecun had the kind of career most novelists dream about. His eight books had sold two million copies in China, and he had amassed more than eight million social media followers.
But in 2011, he decided to stop publishing. He was afraid of running afoul of Chinese censors, and was even more concerned about the self-censorship that had crept into his work. Now he wishes he had never published some of his earlier books, which tiptoed around political issues.
“When I look back on them, I feel ashamed of myself,” said Mr. Murong, 41, who lives in Beijing and whose real name is Hao Qun.
Mr. Murong was among a handful of writers who gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library on Wednesday night to protest the limits on free speech and expression in China. The gathering, organized by thePEN American Center, was prompted by the presence of a large delegation of Chinese publishers at BookExpo America, a major publishing trade event taking place in Manhattan this week.
The juxtaposition was striking. This week, thousands of booksellers, librarians, publishers and authors mingled at BookExpo, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where Chinese publishers were being feted as international guests of honor. To mark the event, the Chinese government sent a 500-person delegation from 100 publishing houses, and 26 of its top authors. Chinese publishers claimed close to 25,000 square feet of floor space at the hall and planned 50 events around the city, including poetry readings, film screenings, author panels and presentations from its largest publishers.
Not many blocks away, Mr. Murong stood on the library steps and read aloud from an open letter he had written to Chinese censors in 2013, after his social media account was blocked and its contents deleted. “You treat literature as poison and free speech as a crime,” he said.
He was joined by prominent American writers like Jonathan Franzen, Paul Auster, Francine Prose and A. M. Homes, and by the China-born novelists Ha Jin and Xiaolu Guo. They took turns reading works by Chinese authors who are in prison or under house arrest for their writing, including the Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser, the writer Liu Xia and her husband, the poet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion.
“There are all of these writers in China who are in jeopardy for expressing themselves, and if you have a government-sanctioned delegation, you’re only getting part of the story,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the PEN American Center, an organization that promotes free speech.
BookExpo’s organizers called China’s featured role at the expo an unprecedented and historic meeting between the world’s two largest publishing industries.
“We’re going to remember this for a generation, because it’s going to be the beginning of opening some doors,” said Steve Rosato, the event director for BookExpo. He said the event was not an appropriate forum to address censorship.
“We’re not in the position to do anything around that,” he said when asked about PEN America’s objections. “China is a significant market and they represent a significant trade opportunity.”
China’s prominence at this year’s BookExpo highlights both the growing interplay between Chinese publishers and the international literary community, and the difficulties of doing business when standards for freedom of expression differ significantly.
China has accelerated its effort to export books and authors as part of a broader strategy to exert “soft power” by raising its cultural profile internationally. Chinese publishers have heavily promoted their catalogs at the London and Frankfurt book fairs in recent years.
Major deals are taking place between American and Chinese content companies. Earlier this year, the American e-book distributor Trajectory signed a deal with a Chinese digital company, Tencent, to distribute Tencent’s catalog of 200,000 Chinese e-books in North and South America.
“Western publishers are interested in getting access to the Chinese market, and the Chinese government is interested in getting more authors known in the West,” said Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of “China in the 21st Century.”
Some American publishers say that their business is booming in China and that they have not faced significant government interference.
“The Chinese appetite for Western books is really impressive,” said Niko Pfund, president of Oxford University Press. “I’ve been amazed and pleasantly surprised by how smooth and uncomplicated it has been.”
The Chinese book business has ballooned into an $8 billion industry, the second largest after the United States. Chinese publishers released 444,000 titles in 2013, up from around 328,000 in 2010. The country is adding around 20 million new English speakers a year.
Chinese publishers have been eagerly acquiring Western titles, especially by British and American authors. In 2013, they bought the rights to more than 16,000 foreign books, including nearly 5,500 from America, more than double the number purchased a decade earlier. HarperCollins exported around 9,700 English-language titles to China in 2014, and cites China as one of its fastest growing international markets. Business books and children’s books are among the most popular categories, it says.
Penguin Random House said that it exported more than 50,000 of its English-language print and e-book editions to China annually.
“Chinese people are very curious about culture in other countries,” Wu Xiaoping, president of Phoenix International Publishing Group, said in an interview through a translator after appearing on a panel at BookExpo. “There will be more and better relationships between Chinese and U.S. publishers.”
When asked whether certain topics were off limits for writers and if his publishing house adhered to government guidelines, he replied, “No comment.”
In China, censorship — and, more commonly, self-censorship — has long been a feature of the publishing industry, which is controlled by the ruling Communist Party. The government’s roughly 580 state-run publishing houses ensure that domestic fare does not broach so-called sensitive topics: gay rights, the discontent of China’s ethnic minorities, and the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests of 1989.
“Chinese censorship works before the writer even starts writing,” said Bao Pu, publisher of the New Century Press in Hong Kong, who participated in the PEN event. “Why write a piece that you know will never get published?”
Western writers who publish their work in China are not immune to the country’s more rigid standards. Some, like the scholar Ezra F. Vogel, have reluctantly cooperated with publishing house censors. The mainland Chinese version of his biography on Deng Xiaoping omitted a number of adjectives about Mao Zedong and entire passages about Deng, but Mr. Vogel has said that the deletions were necessary to reach an audience hungry for mostly unexpurgated history about their country.
In a few cases, writers have backed out of publishing deals rather than submit to censorship. Evan Osnos, the author of “Age of Ambition,” a book about economic and social change in China, decided not to publish a translation in mainland China after editors there told him they would delete references to the artist Ai Weiwei and Mr. Liu, the jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner. “To me, making those cuts wouldn’t be engaging Chinese readers, it would be isolating them,” he said in an email.
Other writers were never consulted about changes made to their work, and learned only after publication. The writer Andrew Solomon was infuriated to learn that “The Noonday Demon,” his book about depression, had been altered without his approval, omitting his references to being gay.
“I think there’s a suggestion that because China is an enormous market, we have to defer to the Chinese internal standards of censorship,” Mr. Solomon said. “It’s somewhere between naïve and hypocritical to engage with China and not acknowledge the severity of this problem.”
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
周三晚間，數名作家聚集在紐約公共圖書館(New York Public Library)的台階上，抗議中國限制言論自由和表達的舉措，慕容雪村也在其中。龐大的中國出版商代表團來到曼哈頓，參加於本周舉辦的重要出版業活動美國書展(BookExpo America)。中國代表團的到來，促使美國筆會中心(PEN American Center)組織作家參加這次集會。
兩種活動的並置產生了鮮明的反差。本周，數以千計的書商、圖書館負責人、出版商和作家匯聚在雅各布·K·賈維茨會議中心(Jacob K. Javits Convention Center)參加書展，中國出版商作為國際貴賓受到盛情招待。為了慶祝這一活動，中國政府派出了由100家出版公司的500名人員及26名頂級作家組成的代表團參展。中國出版商在展廳中佔據了大約2.5萬平方英尺（約合2300平方米）的展位，還計劃在全市各地舉辦50場活動，包括詩歌朗誦、電影放映、作家座談及大型出版商的展示活動。
與他一同抗議的有喬納森·弗蘭岑(Jonathan Franzen)、保羅·奧斯特(Paul Auster)、弗朗辛·普羅斯(Francine Prose)和A·M·霍姆斯(A.M. Homes)等美國作家，以及在中國出生的小說家哈金和郭小櫓。他們輪流朗讀因為寫作而被監禁或軟禁的中國作家的作品，比如藏族詩人茨仁唯色(Tsering Woeser)，作家劉霞及丈夫——詩人、諾貝爾和平獎得主劉曉波。劉曉波以顛覆國家罪被判11年監禁，目前正在服刑。
加州大學歐文分校的歷史教授華志堅(Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom)說，「西方出版商有進入中國市場的興趣，中國政府也想讓西方了解更多的中國作家。」華志堅著有《21世紀的中國》(China in the 21st Century)。
「中國對西方圖書的興趣真的令人印象深刻，」牛津大學出版社(Oxford University Press)社長尼科·豐德(Niko Pfund)說。「事情的順利和便捷讓我又驚又喜。」
企鵝蘭登書屋(Penguin Random House)稱，它每年會向中國出口5萬餘本英文紙質書和電子書。
「中國人對外國文化非常好奇，」鳳凰國際出版公司(Phoenix International Publishing Group)總經理吳小平在書展的一場討論會結束後，通過翻譯接受採訪時說。「中國和美國出版商之間的關係會愈發密切和友好。」
在中國出版作品的西方作者也無法逃脫中國更為嚴苛的標準所帶來的影響。例如，學者傅高義(Ezra F. Vogel)就不情願地與出版社的審查者進行了合作。他寫了一本鄧小平傳記，但這本書的大陸版省略了一些關於毛澤東的形容詞，還刪節了一整段關於鄧小平的內容。但傅高義表示，為了讓那些對本國基本完整的歷史如饑似渴的讀者讀到這本書，這些刪節是必要的。
少數情況下，作者沒有向審查屈服，而是選擇了放棄出版交易。《野心時代》(Age of Ambition)的作者歐逸文(Evan Osnos)決定不在中國出版此書的譯本，因為編輯此前告訴他，他們要刪去關於藝術家艾未未和仍處於監禁之中的諾貝爾和平獎得主劉曉波的內容。這本書講的是中國在經濟和社會方面的變化。他在一封電子郵件中說，「在我看來，刪除這些內容並不是在與中國讀者交流，而是會把他們孤立起來。」
還有些作者在作品出版前根本不知道作品內容的變動，直到作品出版後才知道。當《正午的惡魔》(The Noonday Demon)一書——這是一本關於抑鬱症的書——的作者安德魯·索羅門(Andrew Solomon)得知自己的書在未經他允許的情況下被更改之後十分生氣，更改後的版本刪除了他提到自己是同性戀的內容。