Hillary Clinton's 'Hard Choices' is 'effectively banned' in China

Chinese publishers have declined to purchase translation rights for Clinton's bestseller, said publisher Simon & Schuster, and China's major import agency will not import the book in English.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Hillary Clinton's book 'Hard Choices' has been 'effectively banned' in China, said her publisher Simon & Schuster.

It’s a bestseller in the US, but Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices” has effectively been banned in the world’s most populous country, China.

According to publisher Simon & Schuster, Chinese publishers have declined to purchase translation rights for the book and it will not be imported in English by China’s major import agency. It is, said Simon & Schuster president Jonathan Karp, an “effective ban.”

“It’s outrageous and unfortunate,” Karp said, according to an interview with Buzzfeed. “And it’s a pretty clear indication of the low level of intellectual freedom in China right now.”

As China is the world’s most populous nation – and one in which Clinton is popular – the ban also spells hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales, if not more.

Why the dramatic move?

In “Hard Choices,” Clinton recounts her role as secretary of state, including many anecdotes that paint China as oppressive. She criticizes the Chinese government for multiple offenses, including censorship and anti-democratic actions.

“It’s not a secret that the epicenter of the anti-democratic movement in Asia is China,” she writes in the book. 

Clinton dedicated a chapter in “Hard Choices” to blind activist Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese dissident who sought asylum in the U.S. after facing persecution in China.

Another chapter is dedicated to democratization in Myanmar, to which China is opposed.

She also blasted the Chinese government for censoring a broadcast of a speech Clinton made to the UN conference on women in Beijing in 1995. 

Clinton writes that she “felt the heavy hand of Chinese censorship when the government blocked the broadcast of my speech.”

It’s not the first book to face such scrutiny in that country. China sought to ban works by Japanese writers, including bestselling Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, after a scuffle with Japan.

And scores of authors have considered whether or not to allow their books to be censored by the Chinese government in order to gain entrée into that lucrative market, as we reported in an October 2013 post, “Should authors allow their books to be censored for publication in China?”

According to reports, China’s publishing industry is tightly controlled by authorities there and “foreign books typically undergo a strict screening process before they are allowed on Chinese shelves.”

Even so, “Clinton enjoys celebrity status in China despite Beijing's clear displeasure,” notes the Guardian. “Chinese fans and media reports refer to Clinton by her first name in Mandarin, Xilali. Articles in the state press usually revolve around her personality and reputation but skim over her politics.”

As such, we wouldn’t be surprised if Chinese readers – used to finding ways around frequent government’s bans – find another way to get their hands on a copy of “Hard Choices.” 

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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