In a recent article titled “Authors Accept Censors’ Rules to Sell in China,” the New York Times offered Harvard social scientist Ezra Vogel as exemplary of an apparently growing cohort of writers willing to see their work edited so that it may reach Chinese readers. In citing the impressive Chinese sales of Vogel’s Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, though, and lumping Vogel with the likes of Dan Brown, J. K. Rowling, and E. L. James, the article may leave its readers with the impression that commercial concerns inspired Vogel to accept compromises to his book. In fact, though, Vogel viewed the publication of his book in mainland China as a chance to help inform the legions of young Chinese who have been seeking a greater understanding of their country’s history than government censorship typically affords. As Vogel explains below, the book—all income from the Chinese sales of which he has conferred on his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan—has been a breakthrough on that front.
I recently returned from a tour of some ten Chinese cities where I was lecturing in Chinese about Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who moved the country toward reform and opening. It was a bit daunting to find that this year more Chinese have learned about Deng from my book, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, than from any book by a Chinese author. From mid-January some 650,000 mainland Chinese bought copies of the mainland Chinese version of my book and countless numbers have found other ways to acquire the book or parts of the book.
I believe many Chinese readers bought my book because censors allowed it to be published with the basic facts of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Incident and readers are eager to find the truth about their own history. For over two decades, since the Incident, Chinese authors have not been allowed to discuss it, and blogs mentioning “June 4” have been forbidden. The Chinese press in Hong Kong described the issuing of my book in the mainland as a “breakthrough” because it meant that young Chinese on the mainland, for the first time in their lives, could read about the Tiananmen Incident.
The first Chinese edition of my book on Deng was published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press as a direct translation with no omissions. It was distributed in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore where it sold some 50,000 copies during the first year, partly in simplified characters, partly in more complex characters. I am told that many copies of this edition made their way into China.