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December 08, 2004

Edited in the East

If the alliteration brings to mind the old expression "banned in Boston," that was the idea.

In October, I became an author twice cen sored in my new home. First, I was invited by a local journalist to be "the American" to contribute one of several foreigners' reflections on living in Nantong. These were for a special issue for a big Global Mega-Cities Development Conference. I wrote up a piece reflecting my overwhelming positive experience, but the "journalist" asked me to soften or delete several arguably "negative" comments, plus my company's website address. I accepted most of his suggestions, but insisted as a matter of principle on leaving in one comment about a difficult former government official (the word "former" in fact represented prudent self-cen sorship) and another about occasionally getting overcharged by taxi drivers and street vendors. As to the first, I wrote that such problems occur in the U.S., too. As to the second, I'm sure I conveyed the charm of my experiences in noting that the would-be price gougers usually respected me for knowing the market price and being able to discuss it with them in Chinese. I typed at the top of the final revision of my letter that it couldn't be published with any unauthorized changes. The journalist said he would have to go up two levels to get approval for my critical comments. I said that was fine, and it was ok with me if the final decision was not to publish. I was positively floored a few weeks later to pick up several copies of the paper and discover that the guy went ahead and edited my letter the way he wanted it and published it.

At about the same time, I received a long distance call from the U.S., from the co-editor of a book on U.S.-China Relations published in the States. It is being published at the end of this year in Chinese translation by the respected Xinhua Press. The editor, who has become a good friend, felt awkward about the call. He reported that the only way my chapter -- on four private associations active in bilateral relations -- could be included in the translated edition was if I agreed to 80% of a section on a group called Hu man Ri ghts in China being edited out. Partly out of utilitarian, career considerations (i.e., building my cv) and partly out of respect for and appreciation of a couple of scholars who gave me a break, I agreed to the request. (One other contributor, with a chapter that dealt with a certain renegade island off the east coast of China, faced the same dilemma and I believe made the same decision.)

Readers might have noticed that I've carefully disguised a few words that might bring our little weblog to the attention of people here who apparently earn their living through such vigilance. I draw my inspiration from the mortgage spammers, who have found a way to elude anti-spam software.

With accolades to the First Ammendment,

Posted by now at December 8, 2004 12:43 PM