How a journal censored my review on Xinjiang (1)

My Response to Timothy Grose’s “How an Academic Journal Censored My Review on Xinjiang”
Han Xiaorong
Department of Chinese Culture
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

As the editor-in-chief of China and Asia, I was solely responsible for selecting reviews for the first issue of our journal, and none of our advisers or editorial board members was involved in the selection process. In other words, Tim was on target by focusing his criticism on me.

Due to miscommunications between our book review editor and me (for this I offer my sincere apology to all parties involved), we acquired two book reviews (one was from Timothy Grose about Xinjiang, and the other reviews a book about the Chinese Communist revolution) that were not directly relevant to our journal’s central theme, which is China’s historical relations with other Asian countries. This is why I did not include these two reviews in our first issue. For the list of works published in the first issue of our journal, please click here.

Each piece in that issue deals with China’s historical interactions with other parts of Asia, specifically between China and the Indian Ocean world and between China and Korea.

My plan was to try to find more suitable journals for these two reviews, and, if that failed, we would consider publishing them in future issues.

I did suggest the removal of the first paragraph as well as the first two sentences of the second paragraph of Tim’s review, because I believed the views expressed about the situation in Xinjiang were primarily of a political nature and were about a current event that was still developing. It is typical for an academic book review to start with the book rather than a political message. If censorship was my aim, I would have rejected the review immediately without revisions, because the book under review and the rest of the book review were also critical of China’s practices.

In my own career, I have written both research articles and opinion pieces, and I have always submitted the former to academic journals and the latter to newspapers or social media. I believe the section I have suggested Tim to remove is more appropriate for a newspaper or social media rather than an academic journal.

Tim found that I had published an article in 2013 in Ta Kung Pao, which he describes as “Hong Kong’s pro-CCP paper,” and even reported this to Brill in order to support his censorship claim. Tim probably does not see this as a form of censorship in itself. That article was actually published in Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao (and later reprinted elsewhere – a fact Tim failed to acknowledge). Lianhe Zaobao publishes content from a variety of viewpoints, for which it was blocked intermittently in mainland China from 2012 to 2018.

I listed six reasons behind ethnic conflict in southern Xinjiang in that article, and Tim chose only to mention the last one about external influences. He declined to mention that, of the other reasons I put forward, at least three can be interpreted as criticisms of the Chinese government’s policies and practices.

My views on Xinjiang may differ from those of Tim, but that does not mean the suggested revision of his book review and the delay of its publication were due to censorship. I did not agree with all the authors who wrote for our first issue on everything they wrote and included in their pieces. Having being a migrant scholar for many years, I have built my career on the study of history, relations between nations, and ethnic and minority groups. My own fieldwork and research has been stymied by restrictions on archival access and censorship due to various reasons. Tim’s article presented a one-sided caricature of me as an authoritarian censor to insinuate that I must have censored his book review. I have already received hate mail calling me a “Communist censor,” stemming from the promotion of Tim’s viewpoint on social media without seeking clarification from me. Those interested in getting a complete picture of the work I have done as a scholar can visit my profile.

In hindsight, I see this as a problem caused by the lack of clear communication between our book review editor and me and between Tim and us, and I would like to apologize to Tim for any anxiety and confusion this has caused. We will work harder and do better on communications in the future. This being said, I deny Tim’s accusations about censorship.

I want to assure colleagues that our journal is fully committed to academic freedom, and we welcome debate and criticism conducted in a professional and academic manner.

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