Media regulation

History books get the axe; another Zhang Yihe title falls

Mainland edition of Past Stories of Actors by Zhang Yihe.

The Baidu news feed coughed up an article this afternoon from Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao that's a report on a South China Morning Post story concerning eight books that were banned by GAPP this week.

The titles mainly have to do with reflections on 20th century history by Chinese intellectuals; the SCMP cites an anonymous official who says they were included on a list of books that "stepped over the line" in 2006. Here's the list as printed in SCMP:

  • Cang Sang (沧桑) by Xiao Jian (晓剑) tells the story of a man in northern Shaanxi from the 1911 Revolution to the Great Leap Forward.
  • I Object: The Road to Politics by a People's Congress Member (我反对:一外人大代表的参政传奇) by journalist Zhu Ling (朱凌) tells of the 12-year struggle of activist Yao Lifa (姚立法) to run for a seat in the local legislature.
  • Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars (伶人往事) by Zhang Yihe (章诒和) is an account of the lives and deaths of seven Peking Opera artists.
  • The Family History of an Ordinary Chinese (一个普通中国人的家族史) by Guo Ya (国亚) describes the experiences of a normal Chinese family during the war of liberation, the Cultural Revolution and other eras.
  • The Other Stories of History: My Days at the Supplement Division of the People's Daily (风云侧记——我在人民日报副刊的岁月) by Yuan Ying (袁鹰) is a memoir of time working for the People's Daily.
  • Era of History (年代怀旧丛书) edited by Kuang Chen (旷晨) is a historic series on major events from the 1950s to the 1980s.
  • This is How it (如焉) by Hu Fayun (胡发云) tells the story of a woman who fell in love with the internet at the cost of her relationship with a vice-mayor during the Sars outbreak.
  • The Press (新闻界) by Zhu Huaxiang (朱华祥) uses fictional characters to tell of the intrigues and behind-the-news stories of China's media industry.

Perhaps coincidentally, the Mirror yesterday ended its serialization of The Press with the 70th installment, smack in the middle of a chapter (see China Media Project for details).

Some quotes from the SCMP:

[GAPP] deputy director Wu Shulin told propaganda and publication officials at a meeting last week that the eight books were banned and vowed to impose severe punishment on their publishers.

The ban and Mr Wu's criticism of the books' publishers were confirmed yesterday by an anonymous publication administration official.

A source said Mr Wu told the meeting that Yuan's book had leaked state secrets.

But one person who attended the meeting said the ban on Zhang's work was a reflection on her position as the daughter of China's top rightist from the 1950s, Zhang Bojun, rather than on the book itself.

"Ms Zhang's publisher, the Hunan Publishing House, is undergoing a big personnel reshuffle and will be hit by financial penalties and tougher restrictions on their future operation," the source said.

It said Mr Wu addressed the meeting by saying: "How dare you publish the book by this writer [Zhang Yihe]."

Zeng Pengyu, a reporter with the Beijing Youth Daily, wrote about Past Stories of Actors on his blog back in November. He noted that the publisher was cautious, and predicted that the authorities would ultimately pull the book:

Past Stories of Actors are Not Like Smoke

Last month I went to Taipei. As soon as I walked into the Chengpin Bookstore, I saw Zhang Yihe's new book, Past Stories of Actors, placed in the most eye-catching position, and I was ecstatic. Prior to this she had published a book called "A gust of wind carries away the verses of the ages" - a line from Peking Opera - that talked of Mei Lanfang and Ma Lianliang; it was in its second edition in Taiwan. Past Stories of Actors is her third book, and it talks of famous Peking Opera actors like Shang Xiaoyun, Ye Shenglan, Yan Huizhu and the suffering and obliteration they encountered during the Cultural Revolution.

Cover of the Taiwan edition.
I did not think twice but handed over the money for the two books, which together cost me NT$600, or RMB 150 yuan, truly expensive. Back at the hotel when the other members of my party saw them, they all ran off to the bookstore to make purchases; when we returned to Beijing later on, practically everyone had a set, and I brought back a number of copies for colleagues in Beijing.

The second day of my return, I saw on Joyo that there was a mainland edition of this book, also called Past Stories of Actors, and I almost fainted because the price was just 29 yuan. Looking at the table of contents it was basically the same as the Taiwan version, but like The Past is Not Like Smoke, the mainland version had expunged quite a bit of sensitive detail, particularly opinions on the Cultural Revolution that were at odds with the leaders. So the true, complete versions are still the Taiwan and Hong Kong versions.

Last week I sent a reporter out for an interview, planning to publish it in this week's book section. It turned out that the reporter came back empty-handed. Inquiring why, I found that the publisher did not dare to do promotion, afraid of causing problems. But with The Past is Not Like Smoke as the lead car, the fact that Past Stories of Actors was able to have a mainland version is something almost unheard of.

If you do not want to have the same regret as The Past is Not Like Smoke, then go buy a copy of Past Stories of Actors quick - don't delay a minute. Wordly affairs are unpredictable; nonchalance may still be possible today, but who knows whether things will all go bad tomorrow?

Update: Zeng also points out that as of this evening, Joyo only has Past Stories and The Press for sale; the other titles are "out of stock." Dangdang has six of the titles available, but the rest are out of stock.

He notes:

Of these eight books, the most suprising to me was the last one, The Press. I read a few chapters and thought it average. After hearing the news today I went for another look, and found that it talks of the problems encountered two years ago when a southern newspaper agency joined up with a major northern paper. Lots of stuff in there, heh heh, truly the stuff I've seen, heard, and know. No wonder it's being treated this way.

Also: See Zhang Yihe's response, translated at ESWN.

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There are currently 2 Comments for History books get the axe; another Zhang Yihe title falls.

Comments on History books get the axe; another Zhang Yihe title falls

Six of the eight "banned" books are available on Dangdang? That doesn't make sense.

RE: Zhang Yihe: So the 'sins' of the father are still to be paid by the descendants? I seriously thought today's rulers were past that.

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