In reversing censorship, a publisher defies China

Cambridge University Press reversed its decision to block online access to hundreds of scholarly articles in China on Monday (Aug 21).
Cambridge University Press reversed its decision to block online access to hundreds of scholarly articles in China on Monday (Aug 21).PHOTO: FACEBOOK/CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - One of the world's leading academic publishers, Cambridge University Press, on Monday abruptly reversed its decision to bow to censorship of a leading journal on contemporary China, after its agreement to remove offending papers from its website in China ignited condemnation from academics.

The Cambridge University Press said last week that it had gone along with demands from a Chinese publishing import agency and cut 315 papers from the online version of the journal, The China Quarterly, that can be read in China.

Academics criticised the decision as a worrisome intrusion of censorship into international academic research where the Chinese government has become increasingly energetic in pushing its views, and in discouraging work that offends it.

The pressure from academics worked.

Tim Pringle, editor of The China Quarterly, said on Twitter that the press "intends to repost immediately the articles removed from its website in China."

Pringle said the decision was made "after a justifiably intense reaction from the global academic community and beyond."

Pringle said in a telephone interview from London that Cambridge University Press would also make the reposted papers available free of charge, doing away with the hefty charge that one-time readers of the site usually pay.

"It puts academic freedom where it needs to be, which is ahead of economic concerns," Pringle said.

Cambridge University Press said in an online statement that its decision to cut the papers had been temporary, ahead of planned talks with the publishing agent that have not yet been held.

"The university's academic leadership and the press have agreed to reinstate the blocked content, with immediate effect, so as to uphold the principle of academic freedom on which the university's work is founded," it said.

On Tuesday, searches for potentially sensitive topics like "Tiananmen" on the Cambridge University Press's webpage for The China Quarterly indicated that many papers and reviews were now downloadable free of charge, including in China.

Now, though, the Press may have to prepare itself for potential repercussions from the Chinese censors, who are unlikely to be happy with the public rebuke and reversal.

It was unclear how the 315 academic articles that they said offended official sensibilities would now be censored, if at all.