The decision by the Cambridge University Press to bow to Chinese censorship and block over 300 articles on its China site has shocked the academic world. Journalist Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, reports on the issue for the New York Times and tested from Beijing what he could no longer get.
Until now, foreign academic presses were largely immune to this sort of censorship. In recent years, the websites of most foreign news organizations have been blocked in China, as have social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and the search engine Google.
But because of their small readership, and high subscription costs (one China Quarterly article costs more than $20), academic journals were not targeted.
The new measures seem in line with announcements made by President Xi Jinping in February 2016 that all media content on any platform must come under the Communist Party’s “guidance.”
“The same rules apply to any foreign content, academic or otherwise, that is accessible within China,” said David Bandurski, the co-director of the China Media Project and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. “Given Xi Jinping’s determination to rein in dissenting views in the information space, foreign publishers are misleading themselves if they believe they can escape pressure like that facing China Quarterly.”
Searching for the word “Tiananmen” at the journal’s main page yields 50 results, with the top two relating to the “Tiananmen Papers,” a 2001 compilation of secret documents that is widely considered essential for understanding the events of 1989. Other top hits include an assessment of China’s universities in the aftermath of the student-led movement, and the effect of the crackdown on relations with Taiwan.
Performing the same search within China, however, yields only five hits, either tangential mentions or urban-planning articles about the square.
The block appears to go beyond Cambridge University Press’s website to include searches through third-party databases, including JSTOR, a digital library that academics around the world use to perform full-text searches of nearly 2,000 journals, including China Quarterly.
As of Friday night, it was unclear whether all JSTOR access was now blocked in China.
After news of the censorship spread, academics inside and outside China expressed alarm.
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