China bans social sciences journal

January 5, 1996

China has ordered a new magazine, allied to the Academy of Social Sciences, to cease publishing.

The magazine, which summarises some of the most up-to-date research under way in China's social science circles, has "stopped publication", a spokeswoman for Joint Publishing, a Beijing publishing company, said.

She declined to comment on the reasons for the sudden ban slapped on one of China's most academically progressive publications.

The journal - Collected Writings on Social Science in China - was a quarterly, produced as a co-operative venture between the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing and the Joint Publishing bookseller and publishing company.

Joint Publishing is also based in the capital Beijing and is one of China's best-known publishing and distribution houses. The company was subject to severe political pressure in the aftermath of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre because many of its staff supported the students' demands at the time.

Reasons for the ban are unclear but appear to be related to an undefined but powerful rule in China that has claimed many other publications recently.

The regulation relates to a grey area of definition between what qualifies in China as a "book" and what counts as a "magazine", but in practice is widely believed to be applied indiscriminately to publications headed for the chop for other, unrelated reasons.

Chief among those incurring the wrath of the censors are publications allegedly containing excessively violent or pornographic material.

But a demure academic journal such as the Collected Writings on Social Science in China was unlikely to have been judged obscene. Observers said the journal might have transgressed unwritten rules regarding censorship of socially sensitive material.

Cecilia Chan, senior lecturer in social sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said: "One possible reason for the closure could be a political tightening up."

She added: "Of course, it could also be that the government is cutting back on academic budgets. It is more and more common for academic institutions in China and Hong Kong to have to find their own funds without any government help. Most magazines now being published in China are popular, commercial magazines and not academic journals that don't sell many copies. Relatively few resources are going into scholarly writings."

Although news of banned publications seldom reaches the rest of the world, the practice is thought to be widespread in China. In June, seven newspapers in the northern province of Heilongjiang were closed.

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