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48 is the New 50, But Who’s Counting? My Encounter with Chinese Censorship

China may soon overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy, but it will never have a sustainable economic foundation so long as the Communist Party so mindlessly censors free expression.

Recently Evan Osnos, a staff writer at The New Yorker, published an account of his experience with Chinese censorship in China’s Censored World. It made me recall my own experience getting published in China.

Speech Speech!

The US edition had 50 speeches.

The US edition had 50 speeches.

In 2004, I wrote a resource for speechwriters.  Published by McGraw-Hill, it’s called 50 High-Impact Speeches & Remarks: Proven Words You Can Adapt for Any Business Occasion.

The book had an introduction by former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, a master story teller.

By analyzing 50 speeches in a two-column format (speech text on the left, my analysis on the right), I hoped to show readers how an effective speech could be deliberately constructed. The book had some good notices, sold a few copies, and ten years later I continue to receive royalties that twice a year allow me to take my wife to dinner if we skip the appetizers.

I was somewhat surprised that the rights for a Chinese edition were acquired. It was translated and published. McGraw-Hill duly sent me a handsome volume of my book in Chinese.

It’s always a pleasure for an author to hold one of his editions for the first time. In thumbing through the book, however, I saw something odd.  The table of contents, like in the American edition, listed the speeches by number. But while the American edition listed 50 speeches, the Chinese edition listed only 48.

At first I didn’t think too much of it. Publishers routinely tinker with what an author submits. It’s called editing.

What Was Missing?

But then I decided to determine which two speeches were missing in the Chinese edition.

Once I did, it became clear that we were not talking about editing, but censorship

Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body.

Please, Not “Human Rights”

The Chinese edition had just 48 speeches.

The Chinese edition had just 48 speeches.

One of the speeches mentioned human rights. I knew that “human rights” was one of the phrases that Chinese censors routinely blocked.

But the reason why Chinese censors rejected the second speech perplexed me. It was a speech by Bob Wright, the former chairman of NBC. It was called “The Work of America: A Catholic Perspective on Rebuilding Trust.”

Please, Not the Pope

I soon learned why the speech was flagged: it mentioned the Pope.

I did a little research and learned that the Communist Party has an issue with the Catholic Church in China over who has the authority to appoint Bishops. So because the speech mentioned the Pope, it was out.

Yue Han Ka Duo Zhu Says Censorship Sucks

It saddens me to think of the tens of thousands of censors secretly and mindlessly sitting at desks in Beijing denying their fellow citizens free expression.

I don’t think the U.S. economy has much to fear from China so long as the regime squanders so much human capital limiting its citizens the free exchange of information.

On eBay, I found what appears to be a pirated edition of my book. It can be yours for $89.10.

On eBay, I found what appears to be a pirated edition of my book. It can be yours for $89.10. They transliterate my name as Yue Han Ka Duo Zhu.


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