Han Han Describes Censorship in Chinese Publishing

By Jason Boog Comment

Chinese Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan generated controversy for describing censorship as “unpleasant but necessary.”

Chinese author Han Han published This Generation earlier this year, collecting essays and blogs he wrote about living in the Communist country. In that book, he spoke frankly about censorship in his country.

Below, we’ve collected five quotes from the book illustrating how censorship really works in the Chinese publishing industry. As you can see below, Han writes without capitalization in his prose.

1. “you need a book number to be able to publish, and only publishing houses can issue book numbers, and only with official approval can you have a publishing house, so from the very start it’s impossible to have free publishing in china.”

2. “my first book, Triple Door, for instance, took forever to be published because it was too downbeat. Downbeat is a fatal flaw, because you can always revise something that’s a bit sloppy or straighten out the kinks in a ropey argument.”

3. “my latest novel, for example, got the thumbs down, because its protagonist is surnamed hu. even if i’ve only written five thousand words so far, the publisher is convinced it must be a political allegory.”

4. “the most awful element in retrospective censorship is the punishment phase: i’m not going to interfere, but if you dare to publish something shady, i’ll see that you suffer. if i’m in a good mood i’ll see you lose your job and get kicked out of the company altogether, and if i’m in a bad mood then i’ll throw you in jail—so do as you think best.

5. “i don’t know how a country where a writer starts shaking as soon as he picks up his pen can become a cultural powerhouse”