Forced to comply or shut down, Cambridge University Press’s China Quarterly removes 300 articles in China

Quartz, 18 August 2017

By Echo Huang and Isabella Steger – China’s crackdown on academic freedom has reached the world’s oldest publishing house.

Cambridge University Press (CUP) said it has pulled over 300 articles and book reviews on its China site from the China Quarterly (CQ), one of the most prestigious journals in the China studies field, at the request of the government’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). The news came to light after an undated screenshot of an email to CQ’s editorial board from the journal’s editor, Tim Pringle, went viral on social media today (Aug. 18).


According to Pringle, CUP complied with the request so as to prevent the shutdown of the entire CUP site. Most of the articles in question relate to topics deemed sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, such as the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and date back to the 1960s, wrote Pringle, adding that CUP had received a similar request to take down more than a thousand e-books a few months earlier.

Yang Guobin, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is also a CQ editorial board member, wrote on social networking site Weibo (link in Chinese) yesterday (Aug. 17) after he received Pringle’s email: “This is one of the most important international publications in contemporary Chinese studies, yet it’s subject to such restrictions… This is unheard of. Isn’t the Chinese government trying to promote contemporary Chinese studies?”

James Leibold, an associate professor at Australia’s La Trobe University whose research focuses on Xinjiang, called CUP’s decision “shameful” in a tweet.

Neither Pringle nor CUP’s office in Cambridge responded immediately to requests for comment from Quartz. The School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where CQ is based, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s GAPP couldn’t be reached for comment.

A Chinese academic based in Hong Kong, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions from speaking publicly, said the academic community was “totally shocked” by Pringle’s comments, and noted that there is a broad deterioration in academic freedom in China. What is more worrying, the academic added, is that the long arm of Beijing’s censorship apparatus is clearly extending beyond its own borders, citing the recent case of the detention of Feng Chongyi in China, a professor working at the University of Technology Sydney.

Reported by Echo Huang and Isabella Steger for Quartz