Leading Western Publisher Bows to Chinese Censorship

Leading Western Publisher Bows to Chinese Censorship


In August, Cambridge University Press, one of the oldest publishing houses, said it had removed more than 300 articles from the Chinese site of the journal China Quarterly. The articles mentioned the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultural Revolution and other topics deemed inappropriate by the authorities. The publisher later reversed course after an outcry.

Several scholars on Wednesday denounced Springer Nature’s censorship in the mainland, which was first reported by The Financial Times. They accused the company of prioritizing profit over free speech.

“Springer’s censorship is a disservice to everyone,” said Kevin Carrico, a China scholar at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “Springer’s success relies on its authors and its readers, and both are being cheated in this arrangement.”

Michael Cox, a scholar who serves as editor of the International Politics journal, one of the Springer Nature publications that is being censored in China, said he would press the publisher to reconsider.

“My first priority is to maintain and defend the principle of academic freedom,” said Mr. Cox, who is also professor emeritus at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Since coming to power in 2012, Mr. Xi has significantly tightened control of the internet. He has also encouraged universities to be more vigilant about the spread of Western influences. While foreign news sites and social media portals are widely blocked in China, overseas academic journals had largely avoided mass censorship until recently.

Susie Winter, the publisher’s director of communications and engagement, called the company’s action “deeply regrettable,” but said that it had been taken “to prevent a much greater impact on our customers and authors.”

“This is not editorial censorship and does not affect the content we publish or make accessible elsewhere in the world,” she said.

Another Springer Nature publication, the Journal of Chinese Political Science, is also being censored in mainland China.

Many of the censored articles focus on issues that government has long deemed sensitive, including human rights. But even articles that only briefly touch on these topics appear to be blocked, suggesting that Springer Nature is using broad criteria in deciding which content to censor. For example, one censored article focuses on the disputed South China Sea, a topic widely covered in China’s state-run news media.

Springer Nature did not elaborate on its methods, saying only that it deferred to the local authorities in deciding which articles to block.

Several scholars expressed concern that Springer Nature had seemingly given the Chinese authorities such expansive authority.

“This is not even effective censorship,” Professor Carrico said. “It takes such a clumsy broad-brush approach that even completely uncontroversial articles could be blocked.”



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