Quote of the Week: Human Rights Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang Uses Taboo “C” Word about Xinjiang

“If you say Xinjiang belongs to China, then don’t treat it as a colony,” Mr. Pu wrote in May 2014. “Don’t act as conquerors and plunderers, striking out against any and all before and after, turning them into the enemy.”

浦志强在 2014 年 5 月时曾写道,“说新疆是中国的,就别把它当殖民地说新疆是中国的,别当征服者和掠夺者,先发制人后发制人都为制人,都是把对方当敌人。”

(Tweet by Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), a human rights lawyer now facing charges of “incitement to racial hatred,” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Cited in NYT article on May 15, 2015, Chinese Rights Lawyer Detained in 2014 Will Stand Trial)

 

Peter Hessler on the China Translator and “Defensive Censorship”

In Travels with My Censor: A Book Tour, author Peter Hessler decides the best way to understand censorship in China is to spend some quality time with the humans — they aren’t machines or faceless apparatchiks — who practice it. Very educational for him and us, I’d say. This piece in The New Yorker also leaves me feeling he is more attuned to life in China than Evan Osnos, who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (Censorship Percentage Stats) explaining why he refused to have his Age of Ambition translated, censored and published in China. Below, Hessler explains how censorship works at a book publisher:

At Shanghai Translation, each manuscript passes through three levels of political review: the editor, his supervisor, and the head of the company. Occasionally, the higher levels make a change, but the vast majority of censorship is handled by editors like Zhang. In 2013, when the Times ran an article about foreign authors publishing in China, it noted that “publishing houses are required to employ in-house censors, most of them faithful party members.”

But this isn’t accurate. At Shanghai Translation, there’s no employee whose primary job is to monitor political content. Such a distinction may seem academic, but it matters greatly in a country with many types of political control. In China, newspapers and magazines are censored much more heavily than books, and state-run papers like China Daily actively promote the Party line. On the Internet, censors excise all references to certain taboo topics.

But for an editor like Zhang, who is not a Party member, there is no ideology and no absolute list of banned subjects. His censorship is defensive: rather than promoting an agenda or covering up some specific truth, he tries to avoid catching the eye of a higher authority. In fact, his goal — to have a book translated and published as accurately as possible — may run counter to the goals of the Party.

Foreign Authors and the Allure of “Special Editions” of their Books for Chinese Eyes

“Please kindly let me know if it is possible for us to cooperate on a special version of your book for its China publication,” read a Shanghai publisher’s letter to Evan Osnos, formerly The New Yorker’s China correspondent.

Writing in the May 2 edition of the New York Times (China’s Censored World), Osnos gives us an idea of what such “special” renditions can entail.  One agent, writing on behalf of a Beijing-based potential publisher of Osnos’ unpublished manuscript, proposed that the author “agree to revise nearly 1/4 of the contents.”

Nowadays, Western authors and academics don’t always say “No” to China’s censors. [Read more…]

Chen Zhongshi’s “White Deer Plain”: Censored to Win Coveted Mao Dun Literary Prize

Au pays du cerf blanceWhite Deer Plain, a newly launched movie based on Chen Zhongshi’s novel of the same name (白鹿原, 陈忠实著), has aroused controversy both as a book and as a film. The novel tells the tale of two families, Bai and Lu, living through the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the beginning of the Republic and the rise of Communism in Shaanxi Province. It won the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 1997, but as documented in an article today (删改性写), not before the sensitive political content and sex scenes were appropriately trimmed:

《白鹿原》曾因其尖锐的历史政治观点及大胆的性爱描述,在竞选第四届茅盾文学奖前进行过一定程度的编辑和删减。据人民文学出版社副总编辑何启治(《白鹿 原》首版编辑)回忆,当时评委会负责人打电话给陈忠实,转述了一些评委要求他进一步修订作品的意见。这些意见主要认为:书中关于政治斗争的若干描写可能引 起误解,应以适当方式予以廓清;另外,一些与表现思想主题无关的较为直露的性描写应加以修改。陈忠实随后对《白鹿原》进行了适当修改。

Which makes you wonder: which version of the novel were Baoqing Shao and Solange Cruveillé working from when they translated the novel into French (Au pays du Cerf blanc)?

“Mosuo Culture Bonfire Parties”: Hamming it up for the Tourists, Attendance Required

Mosuo women on Lugu LakeCanada’s Globe and Mail recently ran a piece on the impact of modernity and tourism on the Mosuo (摩梭族), a matriarchal tribe that resides around Yunnan’s Luguhu Lake (泸沽湖). In China, a Matriarchy under Threat has now been translated, edited and published as 《云南摩梭人遭遇现代化挑战》in the August 17, 2011 edition of Cankao Xiaoxi (参考消息).

Cankao is a respected and influential Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. Virtually no English is used and little or no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often “airbrushed.”

As usual in my pieces on Cankao Xiaoxi, I run the original English copy immediately below. For the benefit of English speakers who cannot read the Chinese version published and distributed throughout China, I cross out the English words that were deleted when the article was translated into Chinese, and indicate any added copy (normally just for readability’s sake) by putting it [in brackets]. This way one can better see how Cankao’s editors “package” foreign copy for domestic consumption.

To summarize the deletions you’ll find below:

  • All mentions of the Communist Party, and government policy aimed at changing Mosuo behavior, have been deleted
  • References to “male lovers” have been heavily edited
  • Some phrases that imply that Han visitors treat the Mosuo as curiosities have been deleted
  • The writer’s explanation as to why the society evolved into a matriarchal one has been deleted   [Read more…]

Ethnic China Chic: “Minority” Theme Parks in the Middle Kingdom

The instant I saw the New York Times’ piece on China’s “minority theme parks”—Disneyland-like affairs highlighting the culture of China’s 55 “ethnic minorities”—I  knew it would soon appear in the Chinese press. But how would it be reshaped to render it politically correct for the masses, I wondered?

Quite differently than I expected, frankly. The report has been quickly translated and published by Cankao Xiaoxi (参 考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi is a respected and influential Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. As noted in past pieces, virtually no English is used and little or no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often “airbrushed.”

Predictably, text alluding to dissatisfaction among non-Han in the neighborhood has been deleted. So has a comment by a Dai bed-n-breakfast owner to the effect that some nearby Dai villages are “primitive.” But I’ve been reading Cankao Xiaoxi for over two decades, and I am surprised at how much of the original—some rather unflattering—has been left untouched this time around. For instance, the translated copy includes the fact that these parks are generally owned and run by Han Chinese, and sometimes Han even “dress up as natives.”

This bald statement from the original also appears faithfully translated in the Chinese:

The parks are money-making ventures. But scholars say they also serve a political purpose — to reinforce the idea that the Chinese nation encompasses 55 fixed ethnic minorities and their territories, all ruled by the Han.

To show you how censorship works in the People’s Republic,  the original article from the New York Times is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that were deleted from the Chinese version published in Cankao Xiaoxi.  Enjoy!

China’s Han Flock to Theme Parks Featuring Minorities

(New York Times, by Edward Wong, Feb 23, 2010)

MANZHA, China — Tucked away in China’s steamy tropical southwest are the villages of the Dai people, famous throughout the country for a raucous annual tradition: a water-splashing festival where the Dai douse one another for three days in the streets using any container they can get their hands on — buckets, wash basins, teacups, balloons, water guns.

But in Manzha and four surrounding villages, the springtime festival has taken on added significance — or insignificance, depending on how you look at it. Imagine a nonstop Mardi Gras with fire hoses: at a site called the Dai Minority Park, water-splashing extravaganzas take place every day. [Read more…]

Newsweek via Cankao Xiaoxi: The Tibetans Have Never Had it So Good

In the run-up to Obama’s White House meeting with the Dalai Lama, Isaac Stone Fish (Newsweek’s Beijing correspondent) penned an interesting piece that argues that China’s rule has indeed brought indisputable benefits to the Tibetans. It’s all part of a grand “bargain”:

It’s true that, so far, all the money has failed to buy Tibetan loyalty. Beijing won’t deal with the Dalai Lama, even though Tibetans revere him, nor will it let his monastic followers build any power or voice any nationalist sympathy. Instead, the government is offering Tibetans the same bargain it has offered the rest of the country: in exchange for an astronomical rise in living standards, the government requires citizens to relinquish the right to free worship and free speech. The Chinese government has kept its end of the deal. Even if Tibetan residents never signed the contract, they have benefited from its enforcement—a fact Obama might keep in mind when he meets the Dalai Lama.

Newsweek’s report has now—just one day after Obama met with the Dalai Lama—been translated by Cankao Xiaoxi (参 考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi is a respected and influential Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. As noted in my past pieces, virtually no English is used and little or no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often deleted or reshaped.

To show you how censorship works in the People’s Republic,  the original article from Newsweek is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that were deleted from the Chinese version published in Cankao Xiaoxi, while words that have been added are noted [in brackets]. Tellingly, the description of the tit-for-tat bargain—economic prosperity in lieu of free speech and worship—has been radically “repackaged” in Cankao Xiaoxi’s version for China’s masses. [Read more…]

China Censorship Primer: Just Say “No” to Female Orgasms

Don’t let media in the West fool you—talking about sex in China is not taboo. But apparently references to female genitalia and orgasms are still big no-nos.

To see how such touchy subjects are handled in Chinese media, let’s take a look at what happened to the Guardian’s China to Open First Sex Theme Park (May 15, 2009) when it was translated and published in Cankao Xiaoxi.

As noted in my earlier updates on Cankao Xiaoxi, this daily newspaper is a respected Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. Virtually no English is used and no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often deleted. [Read more…]

“Brothers”: Here’s Newsweek’s Book Review Repackaged for Chinese Eyes

Isaac Stone Fish’s review of Yu Hua’s Brothers (兄弟) has only been online for a few days at Newsweek, but it has already been translated for readers in China by Cankao Xiaoxi (参考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi, a Chinese-language digest of world news, is on virtually every newsstand in China by 7:30 am.

To show you how censorship/repackaging works in the People’s Republic, Newsweek’s original book review is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that did not appear in the published Chinese translation (Cankao Xiaoxi, March 25, 2009, p 15) :

[Read more…]

Tibet Travel Piece Revamped for Chinese Eyes

Newly accessible from Beijing via a luxury train ride, Lhasa and a few other sites in Tibet are the subject of a travel review just published in the New York Times. Author Joshua Kurlantzick will no doubt be touched to see an extract of “Tibet, Now” appear almost simultaneously in Chinese in the December 12 edition of Cankao Xiaoxi.

He may be surprised at how it has been repackaged, however…