Hong Kong scholar cancels book after censorship tussle with China-owned publisher
A translation scholar has cancelled plans for her book to be published after she refused the Hong Kong publisher’s request to edit politically sensitive contents.
Dr Uganda Kwan Sze-pui, originally from Hong Kong, was set to publish a new book entitled Globalising Hong Kong Literature with the Chinese state-owned company Joint Publishing by the end of last year, but the plan was scrapped.
Kwan, an associate professor at the Division of Chinese at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, will now publish the book with Taiwanese company Linking Publishing.
The book deal and its cancellation was revealed by Chinese University of Hong Kong scholar Wong Nim-yan, who is a friend of Kwan’s, in an article published on Monday in Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao.
Wong said she had been told about the incident when she met Kwan at a conference co-hosted by Joint Publishing on December 6 last year. The conference on Hong Kong research publications over the past 30 years, was an event marking the 70th anniversary of the company.
Wong, an assistant professor at CUHK’s Department of Chinese Language and Literature, quoted Kwan as saying that she had intended to give her new book as a gift to those who attended the conference.
“I cannot find a more ironic time in which to digest the news,” Wong wrote in the article. “I naively thought [the book] was only going to be put on hold, and that it would be released afterwards.”
Wong said that she had received an email from Kwan explaining why the book could not be published.
“The publisher could not publish it because its contents include ‘June 4’ and describes the publishing situation in China during its reform and opening up the 80s and 90s. The publisher had hoped the author would edit them out herself,” Wong wrote. June 4 refers to the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.
“The author considered this for some time and could not agree with this ‘non-academic’ edition. She decided to end the collaboration on the last day of 2018,” Wong added.
In the article, Wong also wrote that Kwan had refused her friends’ offer to launch a petition to support her, given that she has been living outside Hong Kong for years. Wong said Kwan would publish the book, uncensored, with another publisher.
Reflecting on the incident, Wong said Hong Kong used to be a relatively freer place in which to publish academic research and literature – compared with mainland China – but that the rules had changed.
“If there is a petition, maybe the editors – who have to deal with unpredictable censorship, who have to stop, hold, review and cancel books that could soon be published – should receive more support from us,” she wrote.
SUP owns more than half of the bookstores in Hong Kong, including 53 branches of Commercial Press, Joint Publishing, Chung Hwa Book Company and Cosmos Books. It also owns nearly 30 publishing houses.
SUP’s honorary president Lee Cho-jat said last year that while the SUP is owned by the state, the Liaison Office does not directly manage it.
HKFP has reached out to Joint Publishing and Kwan for comment.