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China publishers drop US books as geopolitical tensions rise

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Chinese book publishers are releasing far fewer US-themed titles as tensions rise between the superpowers and Beijing tries to curb what it sees as American influence on its citizens.

Official figures show Chinese publishing houses last year classified 1,960 books by the books regulator as belonging to the US, less than half from 2018.

The decline came as the regulator – the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party – suspended or delayed approval of several popular American authors such as Michael Lewis. his book Premonition: An Epistemological StoryBestseller in the West, failed to find a publisher in China.

The regulator, which issues an official recommended list of US-themed books, has also sought to promote titles important to the US, a notable departure from previous years where publications on US culture and tourism were among their recommendations. are at the top.

“There’s been a change in taste generally in the Chinese market away from a lot of American [topics],” said Joe Lusby, co-founder of Pixie Bee, a Hong Kong-based consultancy that helps Chinese publishers acquire American titles. “A lot of it is clearly driven by the geopolitical environment.”

American authors, from scholars to business leaders, have long been popular among Chinese readers eager to understand the world’s most advanced economy.

In the mid-2010s, Beijing-based publisher James Wu, who worked with Citic Press Group, China’s largest publisher of business and non-fiction books, said the companies would translate “almost every title” on The New into Chinese. Will acquire publication rights. York Times Best Seller List.

“There was so much interest in the best-selling American author that CPG was willing to pay the price of thousands of copies in advance,” Wu said.

A former CPG editor said the bonanza ended abruptly in 2019 with the US trade war, when the propaganda department stopped issuing serial numbers — needed for publication — for about six months.

Only 2,777 US-themed titles were published that year, down from 4,213 in 2018. “At one point you couldn’t even publish the works of Mark Twain,” Wu said.

Although the authority has since lifted the ban, it now takes two months for the regulator to authorize the publication of US-themed books, which is about four times longer than for titles from other countries, according to a former CPG editor.

Publishers have also become cautious about publishing US-related titles written by Chinese citizens. Wu, a fan of Pulitzer Prize-winning history books, said he would not consider publishing these titles because they reflected American values ​​that did not “fit China”.

Non-political books have also been victims of self-imposed censorship. A Shanghai scholar said he could not find a local publisher willing to accept his book about the US financial services industry.

“My book is technical,” said the scholar, who plans to release his book in Hong Kong, where regulation is looser, “but domestic publishers still say no for fear [the regulator] May not like US related topics”.

Several book editors noted that the propaganda department refrained from defining the red line in order to allow more room to crack it. “To control risks and manage uncertainties,” said the former CPG editor, “publishers chose to work on fewer American titles.”

As well as banning US titles, the regulator has pushed to promote titles important to Beijing’s biggest rival. Recently it has recommended Timothy D. Snyder Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary and Roger L. Martin When More Isn’t Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession With Economic Efficiency, The regulator did not respond to requests for comment.

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The publishers said the change in tone began four years ago when CPGs received backing from the authority to publish the american trap, a book about “America’s Secret Economic War Against the Rest of the World”. It was written by a former Alston executive who was arrested by the FBI on corruption charges.

“This is a milestone in the collaboration between the book authority and publishers when it comes to American titles,” Wu said.

Despite the challenges, the publisher still has some U.S. Let’s look at the possibilities for titles. Pixie B’s Lusby explains Tara Westover’s huge success Educated, which had sold over 1 million copies since its launch in China in late 2019, suggested the titles could be successful “despite being American”.

“If a certain [US] The title sits inside that sweet spot that the government is concerned publishers will stay away from,” he said.

“Otherwise there are still going to be a lot of books coming out of America that are very interesting and politically acceptable, and they will work in China.”