Two British publishers have censored books intended for Western readers to ensure they can be printed cheaply in China, in the latter case by companies that have succumbed to Beijing’s restrictions on freedom of expression.
Octopus books, part of the Hatchet Literary Empire, and the London-registered Corto, have removed references to Taiwan and other subjects banned by the Chinese authorities from a number of books, according to two people familiar with the subject.
The revelations follow a series of censorship disputes in the publishing sector. In 2017, academic publishers Springer Nature and Cambridge University Press They were criticized after it became clear that each of them had blocked access to hundreds of articles in China.
But evidence obtained by the Financial Times gives the first indication that even books sold in the West are undergoing repairs to appease Beijing.
Since 2020, Octopus, “a leading publisher of non-fiction books,” has removed at least two books from references to Taiwan, a democratic country that China claims is its territory. In one case an entire section relating to Taiwan was cut.
During that time Quarto, a photo book publisher that in 2020 released the New York Times bestseller This book is anti-racistDelete mentions of Hong Kong and the opposing artist Ai Weiwei from separate publications.
The nationality of the people mentioned in one book was also changed from Taiwan to East Asia, while references to Tibet, an area annexed to China in 1951, were amended in two books to point to Chinese territory.
Both Octopus and Quarto censored books after suppliers in China, who face legal restrictions on what they could print, said they had failed to publish the original text. People familiar with the changes did not want to publish the names of the books that were affected because it could risk anonymity, but the FT has seen documents confirming the edits.
“Why do they still choose China to print the books at a cheaper cost, because they understand the law and the restrictions on the content?” Asked Rose Lokio, a professor of journalism at the Baptist University of Hong Kong. She added that the controversy was just the latest “profit-driven” example of “how foreign companies are proactively cooperating with censorship.”
Advertisers across the industry told FT that printing in China, where production fees are lower than elsewhere, has become increasingly difficult.
Last year, the American printing company RR Donnelley & Sons released a memo seen by the FT, saying that its Chinese printers had failed to produce books reminiscent of human rights violations. Xinjiang And proposals originating from Covid-19 in China.
People familiar with the subject said that Quatto and Octopus had printed particularly sensitive books outside of China, but cost pressures discouraged them from doing so in all publications.
“[Octopus Books] Do not agree with this on the moral level. but [the company] Does not share enough to raise the price of [its] Books, “said a Hatchet employee, who did not want to be named.
Publishing is supposed to be an “idea industry,” so censorship feels particularly “cunning,” Adam added.
A Quarto spokesman said the publisher has not made any changes at the request of vendors and always defends the editorial integrity of its library.
But, the spokesman added, the company had a “fiduciary duty to act in the interests of our shareholders” and to work with suppliers in China who “consistently provide” value for money.
A spokesman for Octopus Books said all books with sensitive text-relevant details are not printed in China. Changes made “are not material and we always ask the author’s permission first to check that they are convenient to continue.”
A spokesman for RR Donnelley said the company operated one of the world’s largest print networks and “in situations where materials are rejected, or may be rejected, we may offer alternative production locations.”
Another report by Alex Barker, Patricia Nilsson and Eleanor Olcott in London
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