Piketty blasts ‘academic freedom violation’ as book pulled in China

Actions by publishers could contribute to Chinese students having more one-sided views, economist tells THE

September 5, 2020

French economist Thomas Piketty has said requests to remove sections from the Chinese translation of his latest book reflect “growing anxiety” about expressing “any kind of critique” of contemporary Chinese politics.

Professor Piketty said that a Chinese publisher, Citic Press, requested to his French publisher, Le Seuil, that several sections be cut from Capital and Ideology. He clarified that the publisher did not say if the requests were explicitly due to the government or laws. However, other Chinese publishers also said that cuts would be needed, “so at this stage it looks as if the book will not be published in mainland China”.

“I refused these conditions and told them that I would only accept a translation with no cut of any sort. They basically wanted to cut almost all parts referring to contemporary China, and in particular to inequality and opacity in China,” said Professor Piketty, who is a professor at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, the Paris School of Economics and the London School of Economics.

The request “reflects the growing anxiety of the region with respect to any kind of critique, especially when it comes to inequality and opacity, and their inability to accept an open discussion about competing economic systems”, Professor Piketty told Times Higher Education.

The English version of Capital and Ideology was published this spring by an imprint of Harvard University Press.

Professor Piketty’s previous book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), had been lauded in China, including by President Xi Jinping.

“I was surprised by their reaction, in the sense that I did my best to be fair, constructive and respectful with every country and civilisation,” Professor Piketty said. “This is a clear case of violation of academic freedom, and this does indeed contribute to providing Chinese students with a one-sided view of the world, which is very sad.”

He described the book as offering “a critical but constructive perspective on inequality regimes and their hypocrisies: in China, but also in the US, Europe, India, Brazil and the Middle East”.

“The system of participatory, decentralised and democratic socialism that I propose at the end of my book is obviously very different from ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, but I still think there is a lot to learn from the dialogue between the various models,” he added.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

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