In this report, PEN American Center (PEN) examines how foreign authors in particular are navigating the heavily censored Chinese book industry. China is one of the largest book publishing markets in the world, with total revenue projected to exceed $16 billion in 2015 and a growth rate of roughly 10% per year. The Chinese are buying more books and have a growing hunger for works by foreign authors. In 2013, China’s retail book sales topped $8.2 billion, a ten percent increase from 2012. Translated works account for a small but growing portion of that total. Chinese publishers acquired 16,115 foreign titles in 2012, a jump of more than 60 percent from 2004 when the rights to just over 10,000 were bought. American and British books are among the most popular. The question of whether and to what extent an author should consent to proposed censorship of his or her work is a question of conscience. As the Chinese market grows and Chinese publishers and readers become more important to foreign writers and publishers, it is essential to establish principles to ensure that growing interplay between the Chinese and the global literary communities does not result in routinized, ever-increasing, and scarcely acknowledged acceptance of censorship. On the basis of this report’s findings, PEN has identified a set of core principles that foreign authors and their colleagues should take into consideration when preparing to publish in mainland China. These include assessing the likelihood that a book will be censored, working with the Chinese publisher to negotiate any proposed changes to the text, vetting the final translation to identify any unauthorized changes, and refusing to permit changes that would fundamentally alter the book’s core arguments or diminish its literary merit, or that delete or distort references to major historical, political, and human rights concerns in China. PEN encourages authors, editors, publishers, agents, and translators to carefully consider these principles before entering into contracts or other arrangements that relate to publication on the mainland. To avoid being unwitting accessories to the world’s most powerful and repressive censorship regime, participants in the global publishing industry must inform themselves and consider carefully the questions of conscience raised by publishing in China.
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