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North Korean complaints get a Chinese book banned

Ye Yonglie on the border

Ye Yonglie, a prolific biographer, science writer, and popular historian, visited North Korea (the DPRK) and wrote a book about the country. Titled The Real DPRK (真实的朝鲜), the book was immediately popular when it was released to bookstores and Internet portals in March.

In July, it was pulled from bookstores and wiped from the web.

In the September issue of Open Magazine (开放杂志), Ye explains why: the DPRK's embassy in China complained to the Foreign Ministry about the book's portrayal of the country, and as a result, GAPP issued a ban order for the sake of preserving "international harmony" during the Olympics.

Ye makes a number of interesting points in his article. He notes that banning a book is a process — in this case, The Real DPRK was initially taken out of major bookstores and removed from web portals but could still be found in many places, drawing a second letter of complaint from the North Korean embassy. Smaller literary websites escaped the ban entirely, and Ye's article has driven traffic to them: Pashu's serialization, for example, currently has more than three times the traffic of the next highest-ranking title in its category.

Ye also discusses the difficulty he had in getting the book published in the first place. He's a well-known author whose name drives book sales, so he found lots of interest from publishers — until they actually read the manuscript, that is. When he finally found a publisher to take it on, he was told to keep quiet about it. He comments,

It's impossible to "keep things low-key" in the Internet era. The three web portals serialized it, and Beijing Radio aired a complete audio version.

Ye closes his piece by lashing out at the government for capitulating to foreign pressure and turning on one of its own citizens.

The Real DPRK was quite the success during the four months it was on sale. Although the readership numbers Ye mentions in his article might sound like hype, the online serialization really was popular. But not, it appears, with the people who counted.

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