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article imageAuthors accept censors' guidelines to sell books in China

By Layne Weiss     Oct 20, 2013 in Entertainment
Beijing - Due to censorship rules, Chinese readers of books originally published in English could be missing quite a few details. Here is one author's story.
The Chinese version of Ezra Vogel's biography of Deng Xiaoping, left out the fact that Chinese newspapers were ordered to turn a blind eye to the Communist collapse across Eastern Europe in the 1980s, The New York Times reports.
Also not mentioned in the Chinese version; The fact that Zhao Ziyang, who was dethroned at the height of Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 for his attempts to stop the massacre, cried when he was placed under house arrest. The Chinese version of Vogel's book also fails to to mention a dinner between Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping, where Deng, pre-occupied by the large assembly of students protesting at the square, let a dumpling fall from his chopsticks.
Mr. Vogel says allowing Chinese censors to make these adjustments to his work was an "unpleasant, but necessary bargain," His book sold 30,000 copies in United States and 650,000 in China.
“To me the choice was easy,” he said during a book tour of China that drew appreciative flocks of people in nearly a dozen cities. “I thought it was better to have 90 percent of the book available here than zero.”
These compromises were almost entirely unheard of just five years ago, but are now becoming more and more commonplace as American authors and their publishers are drawn to the Chinese market. China has a highly literate population of readers who love the works of foreign writers, making it an increasing source of earnings for American publishing houses. Last year, according to the Association of American Publishers,e-book earnings for American publishers from China grew by 56 percent. Chinese publishing companies bought more than 16,000 titles from abroad in 2012, up from 1,664 in 1995.
This month, Chinese book agents and publishers gathered at the Frankfurt Book Fair to bid aggressively on the works of Western writers and to makes generous offers, especially to works by the most popular authors. China is also considered a "gold mine" for royalties, giving writers even more of an incentive to accept censorship rules. Last year, author JK Rowling received $2.4 millions in royalties from China, and Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, earned $804,000.
Not every author will have luck, however. Certain books which are sexually explicit or deal heavily with Chinese politics or history or politics are butchered, for lack of a better word. Some are beyond saving, according to Chinese censors' standards.
A Chinese publisher paid quite handsomely for the rights to E.L. James' erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, last year, but has been having an extremely difficult time bringing it to press, according to industry executives.
Foreign writers who have accepted Chinese censorship rules say the process can be quite frustrating. Qiu Xiaolong writes a series called Inspector Chen, which is based in Shanghai. He says Chinese publishers who bought the first three books of the series changed the identity of the central characters and rewrote plot lines which they felt were damaging to the Communist party. Qiu was most astonished by the fact that the publishers insisted on taking out all references to Shanghai, where the series is based, and replacing it with an imaginary Chinese metropolis called "H."
Qiu was born and raised in China, but writes in English. During a phone interview with the Times, he said he "reluctantly" agreed to the changes after a very heated conversation. “Some of the changes are so ridiculous they made the book incoherent," he said. Qiu has refused to allow his fourth novel, A Case of Two Cities,to be printed in China.
Other authors have also refused to allow their books to be printed in China because of the censorship rules. Other authors have resisted, too. In 2003, Hillary Rodham Clinton ordered her memoir Living History pulled from Chinese shelves after she discovered that large sections of the book had been edited out without permission. In 2008, Alan Greenspan refused to accept major changes to his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, barring the book from being printed in China.
It is becoming very rare for authors to take this sort of stand. Many writers say they are torn by their desire to safeguard their work and their need to make a living in an era "of shrinking advances." For others, it's about building an audience in the world's most populous country. China is an incredible market for Western writers who are willing accept certain changes. If you were an author, what would you do? Would you be willing to accept the changes? How much would you be willing to take?
More about China, Censorship, ezra vogel, Jk rowling, frankurt book fair
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