What actually went down in the Cambridge University Press Chinese censorship scandal

The Tab recaps the saga

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Over the past few days, the national papers have been full of articles about Cambridge University Press and Chinese censorship. Here's what happened.

Last week, Cambridge University Press removed 315 articles from their website in China, all published by the journal China Quarterly.

On Thursday 17th August, a copy of a letter sent to China Quarterly's editorial board by it's editor, Dr Tim Pringle, was posted to Twitter. The letter made clear that the articles were removed following a request by the General Administration of Press and Publication, a Chinese state press censor.

Most of the articles removed were about Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Some of the articles were written as recently as a few months ago, others dated back to the 1960s.

The news of the CUP's decision to remove the articles prompted outrage from academics and senior press figures alike. The BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, tweeted, “I witnessed the Tiananmen massacre. China denies it happened. Now @Cambridge_Uni Press seems willing to go along with the Chinese approach.”

James Millward, a Professor of History at Georgetown University, was one of the academics whose work was on the list of those removed. He penned an open letter to CUP, stating "Cambridge University Press’s decision to censor the journal China Quarterly as it is viewed online in China is a craven, shameful and destructive concession to the PRC’s growing censorship regime. It is also needless."

Cambridge's own Professor of Modern Chinese History, Professor Hans van de Ven, was hesitant to directly criticise CUP. However, in a statement he did say, "“For me, as someone concerned mostly with events in China, it is the deepening ideological grip of the Chinese Communist Party on Chinese media as well as on Chinese university campuses that I worry about most, and have now for a number of years."

Then, yesterday morning, Dr Tim Pringle released a statement on Twitter: the CUP decided to restore the censored articles, thereby risking its website being banned completely in China.

That afternoon, the central University released a statement. They said, “Academic freedom is the overriding principle on which the University of Cambridge is based. Therefore, while this temporary decision was taken in order to protect short-term access in China to the vast majority of the Press’s journal articles, the University’s academic leadership and the Press have agreed to reinstate the blocked content, with immediate effect, so as to uphold the principle of academic freedom on which the University’s work is founded.”

As ever, we'll keep you up to date with any further developments.