Peter Hessler’s trip with his censor

5 Apr

The great Peter Hessler, author of three fine nonfiction books about China and a New Yorker writer, returned to China to do a book tour. Accompanying him was his Chinese censor from the company that publishes the Chinese versions of his books. Hessler wrote about this experience for the New Yorker in an attempt to show that things are a little more open than before despite censorship. The actual cuts to his work are not that substantial. His censor seems to be a reasonable guy who discusses with Hessler the things that may be out of bounds – for instance, Hessler’s second book Oracle Bones was not published on the mainland because part of it is about Xinjiang, a big no-no for the authorities; the censor says he is not interested in publishing it. Hessler senses growing confidence among Chinese in reading about the world, such as a book by a Japanese journalist comparing the Palace Museums in Taipei, Taiwan and Beijing that was “well-received.” Hessler believes that censorship is a necessary pain to bear in order to have his books available to people in China, as long as the cuts do not take out the core of the book and weaken its content substantially, which contrasts with his fellow New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, who Hessler specifically brings up, who refused to allow his book Age of Ambition to be published in the mainland since it would have had to undergo some censorship.

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