Hong Kong Economic Journal
19th July 2013
Censored Version of “A Concise History of Hong Kong” Available at Book Fair
One of Hong Kong’s most treasured core values is facing serious threat: our freedom of press.
Written by scholars from Hong Kong University, A Concise History of Hong Kong is recent translated in Traditional Chinese (title: A Concise History of Hong Kong – From Colony to SAR) and published by Sino United Publishing owned Chung Hwa Books, a well-known Pro-Peking publisher. This book should have been able to add help the visitors of the Book Fair understand the real history of Hong Kong, but it is now the proof of Sinicization in Hong Kong’s freedom of press.
There are two versions of the Traditional Chinese translation of this book: one of them contain strong criticisms, and the other version is completely censored. I contacted the author of the book and it seems that the author is not aware of this. One would never imagined the censorship system in China could have occupied the publishing industry in Hong Kong. This all started from an English language history book…
“A Concise History of Hong Kong” written by John Mark Carroll was published by HKU Press in 2007. Carroll holds a PhD from Harvard University and used to teach at University of Taxes and Saint Louis University. He is now the Deputy Dean and Professor of History at Hong Kong University. He focuses on modern Chinese history, Hong Kong history, and Colonialism and Imperialism in Asia. When I spoke to an academia friend of mine, he said that Carroll’s A Concise History of Hong Kong is often the book he’d quote from and refer to. In fact, A Concise History of Hong Kong enjoys some fame in the academic space, and one of the reference books in the Legislative Council’s library. These endorse the authority of the author and his book.
Chung Hwa Books recently published the Traditional Chinese version of this book and named it “A Concise History of Hong Kong – From Colony to SAR”, and the author wrote an extra chapter for the book. I was tipped off that the original edition of Traditional Chinese version was urgently recalled, “Joint Publishing, Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Books recalled the books immediately. But this edition is still available at Page One and Eslite”, said this friend. The most peculiar thing is that the “new edition” is already available in Chung Hwa Books’ booth at the Book Fair.
I purchased a copy at Eslite in Causeway Bay and bought one from the Chung Hwa Book’s booth at the Book Fair. As I compared the two editions, I saw massive differences between the two. In a nutshell, the one acquired from Eslite is the “sensitive” edition, which includes a lot of harsh criticisms on the Chinese government; the one purchased from the Book Fair is the “censored” edition, all the “sensitive words” are “harmonised”.
To find out the truth, I went to the book store to buy the original English version and compare the Traditional Chinese versions: the “sensitive” edition matches the English original version completely. For example, the original version said that “(Chinese government is) a more autocratic government than the colonial government”, and that most of the people of Hong Kong “would prefer the British colonial regime than the China regime”. Such “politically incorrect” content is removed from the “harmonised (censored) Traditional Chinese edition”. All comments and criticisms on former Premier Li Peng, Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Lu Ping, and former head of Xinhua news agency Xu Jiatun, were removed as well.
Some edits are specific (on key leaders), for example “Premier Li Peng issued the order of martial law on 20th May” is changed to “Peking issued the order of martial law on 20th May”. This seems that the name Li Peng is a taboo to the Traditional Chinese version’s publisher. A lot of surveys that are unfavorable to the HKSAR and China governments quoted in the English edition were removed from the new Traditional Chinese edition as well.
Column 1: original English edition
Column 2: translation in the uncensored Traditional Chinese edition
Column 3: translation in the censored edition – all says “completely removed”, except the one example detailed in the above paragraph
Another key thing is, there is only one English language version of this book, which means the author did not make any substantial changes to his book. This means that the censored edition would well be “created” in thin air.
I emailed Professor Carroll who’s currently travelling. He said “I have not seen the Chinese edition (or editions)” so he could not comment. I also scanned and sent the relevant pages to Professor Carroll, who replied that “As I’m sure you can imagine, I cannot say much more at this stage. What I can say, however, is that the original version corresponds to the proofs that I received from Chung Hwa several weeks ago.” Based on what Professor Carroll said, one can believe that he thought the “sensitive edition” is the version that’s available in the market. He also seemed to have no knowledge about two different Traditional Chinese versions available in the market either. Quite possibly, he has not seen the censored edition.
An important thing is A Concise History of Hong Kong is a book written by a scholar with certain degree of authority. No one could be qualified to nor should alter the content, especially such a substantial amount of edits.
The cover of both uncensored and censored editions of the Traditional Chinese version are identical, both are attributed to the same translator and editor. The only difference is the printing companies -uncensored edition was printed by Sun Light Printing & Bookbinding Factory and the censored edition was printed by Elegance Printing & Book Binding Co. Both editions says they are the first edition published in July 2013 and neither of them is marked as “second edition” or “revised edition”.
There are folding flaps on both the front and back covers of the “sensitive” version which include a brief introduction of the author and translator. The censored version, however, do not have any folding flaps, making it impossible for readers to understand the background of the author and translator which is not reasonable. It occurs to me that the censored edition was printed in a rush and did not have sufficient time to print the folding flaps. The most bizarre thing is that the ISBNs of the two different editions of the Traditional Chinese books are different – the ISBN of the “sensitive” edition is 978-988-8263-20-2, whilst that of the censored edition is 978-988-8263-34-9. Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, head of Subculture Ltd, said that it is very rare to have two different ISBNs for one book. Even if a revised edition is published, the ISBN will remain unchanged. Even if the ISBN has to be changed, it would not have jumped from 20-2 to 31-9. Whenever a revised version is produced, the publishers would always remark in the book saying that it’s a revised version, “this is very sneaky. What the publisher did was deceiving.”
Base on the fact that the publisher did not mention about the “revised edition” and changed the book’s ISBN, the logical deduction is someone does not wish people to know that there are two different editions of the same book but at the same time wishes to know the distribution number of both the censored and uncensored editions. Given that the massive recall of the “sensitive” edition is still in progress, there are only very limited copies of the “sensitive” edition available in the market. I went to a bookshop yesterday and the “sensitive” edition was hidden at the remote corner of the shop.
Chung Hwa Books has over a hundred years of history. However, ever since the establishment of the CCP it started to change and was eventually acquired by Sino United Publishing in 1988. According to the website of Sino United Publishing, the group has numerous businesses in China. Chan Man-hung, deputy direction and chief executive of the group, is a NPCC member. Jackson Leung Siu-yin, assistant president of the group, is a director of the Chinese Manufacturers Association of Hong Kong, a Pro-Peking association. Chairman Wen Hong-wu and directors He Lu-ming and Li Ji-ping are from China. These three graduated in China and hold senior positions at the group. This shows that the Sino United group has a strong red-China background. Jimmy Pang said that people in the industry knew this all along, the management of Chung Hwa are “sent by China”.
I tried to reach Chung Hwa Books twice yesterday, both times the individual said he/she would contact later. However, no answer has been given before my editorial cut off time. I also rang the mobile number of the deputy manager of Chung Hwa Books’ marketing department, but there was no answer.
We must understand that this incident is not a small quarrel between a publisher and an author, but invovles the freedom of press in Hong Kong. This certainly deserves public concerns. Willy Lam Wo-lap, a public affairs commentator familiar with China issues, said that this could involve internal personnel struggle within the group – those who are more open-minded wanted the uncensored version to be published, and when the senior management found out it was too late. So the company launched a new censored edition in a rush. Lam thinks that the conflicts between Hong Kong and China recently escalate and Peking worries that sensitive content in books could intensify the issue.
By Gei Hiu-fung
(columnist, this name is allegedly a pseudonym used by a group of writers)