No one ever openly and proudly admits that they are engaged in censorship. I get it. Even the Propaganda Department would like to be known as the Publicity Department.
And yet, like the famous quote about obscenity, when it comes to censorship, I know it when I see it. And despite Han Xiaorong’s attempts to explain away what happened at the journal China and Asia, this seems to me to be an extremely clear-cut case of censorship.
Han claims that the reference to Xinjiang’s concentration camps at the beginning of Grose’s review is “political” and thus somehow inappropriate. But as someone who writes a fair amount of book reviews, I’ve never encountered an editor who was resistant to linking a book review to pressing current affairs. This applies even to journals focused on history. Books are, after all, read in the context of the world as it is today, and I find it frankly impossible to read Cliff’s book without thinking about the ongoing tragedy in Xinjiang.
Han is writing about ethnic relations in China from a place of extreme comfort and privilege, as a Chinese resident of Hong Kong where academic freedom is still somewhat in place (although not fully used often enough, sadly). Yet in his neat bifurcation of academia and “politics,” Han overlooks the fact that erasing any mention of these concentration camps from academic discussions of Xinjiang is in itself an overtly political act.
Would colleagues feel comfortable with a white academic demanding the removal of references to Black Lives Matter in the review of a book on race relations in America? And then refusing to publish the review he requested? Would we feel comfortable with a German editor in occupied Poland telling a book reviewer in the 1940s that there can be no mention of the Nazi concentration camps in his review of a book on perceptions of Jews in Europe?
As for Han’s comments about the media in which he has published, I will focus my comments on Ta Kung Pao, a paper with which I am most familiar. Both Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po are owned by the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong and are propaganda mouthpieces of Beijing. I know because both have over the past six months engaged in a stalking and harassment campaign against me when I visit Hong Kong, precisely because I do in fact make use of Hong Kong’s rapidly dwindling academic freedoms. To have one’s opinions published in one of these papers, one’s opinions must fit snugly within official Party-state orthodoxy.
I was not previously aware that one’s opinions also must fit snugly within official Party-state orthodoxy in order to be published in some Brill journals. Yet this appears to be the case, from the recent mess at Frontiers of Literary Studies in China to this debacle at China and Asia. This should lead serious academics to think twice before being in any way involved with these journals.
The camps in Xinjiang are not, as Han claims, “a current event that is still developing,” as if we have to somehow sit in silence, reserve judgement, and see how things turn out. These camps are rather a human tragedy that is mercilessly unfolding, and that anyone with even a hint of a conscience must condemn in the strongest possible terms.
I would encourage any and all China focused academics to raise the matter of the concentration camps in Xinjiang in any context, at any time- there is no gray area on these camps, and going along with silencing of the type that Han attempted to enforce here is to stand together with the oppressors. Use the platforms that you have to push back against this silencing and make the world aware of the horrors that the CCP state is perpetrating.
Kevin Carrico <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Senior Lecturer, Chinese Studies