CRF Blog

Censors Without Borders

by Bill Hayes

Emily Parker, a senior fellow at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, has written an interesting essay titled Censors Without Borders. It’s about censorship and China, but not the internal censorship we normally read about.

While Beijing’s censorship is well known, the self-censorship of Western writers is shrouded in uneasy silence. The idea that scholars “collectively are compromising our academic ideals in order to gain access to China offends people intellectually, but we all do it,” a professor at a prestigious American university told me in a telephone interview. He requested anonymity out of fear of alienating not Beijing, but his colleagues in the United States.

This caution shapes the overall body of Western books about China, which some say emphasizes the country’s economic success over its political repression. But this may also be a result of a widespread view that the Chinese model, whatever its unsavory aspects, has worked. “China is now seen as such a success,” said Ian Johnson, the author of “Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China” and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from China for The Wall Street Journal. “I think on a deeper level the books on China reflect the West’s deeper angst about its own position in the world, and an uncritical view on China that the Chinese themselves often don’t share.” [more]