The book publishing industry, especially on the lower end, has taken to outsourcing cheaper and smaller print runs to Communist China. While print-on-demand was supposed to revolutionize publishing, instead what we have tended to see are smaller presses, vanity presses and smaller-scale projects being routed through to China. Most of the big publishers still handle their big projects in America, but some have begun moving children’s books offshore to China. And when you do that, China gets to decide what can be printed.
This particular story involves an Orthodox Jewish woman’s memoir, but could just as easily happen to any small press printing any books or materials that China disapproves of.
And as commercial book printing moves offshore to China, the risk is that, much as with a lot of manufacturing, the capability will effectively vanish in the United States leaving China in charge. If you think that’s implausible, try finding consumer silverware made in America. Or a long list of other products. Industrial capabilities can and do disappear if they’re no longer economical or used.
And the cultural consequences of losing access to the printed word are incomprehensible.
Hasidic book publisher Dovid Zaklikowski was looking forward to getting his latest title — the memoir of a Jewish woman who immigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States — printed and shipped off to customers.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan. In mid-August, a Chinese printing company he regularly worked with told Zaklikowski that local government censors had approved the content of “The Queen of Cleveland” and that the job would likely be completed in less than a month.
If you print books in China, Communist censors have to approve them.
Chinese companies tell western customers (when they bother to even inform them that this might be an issue) that this is just a “formality”. Mostly it is, until suddenly it’s not.
Almost a month later, China’s General Administration of Press and Publication handed down its final decision about “The Queen of Cleveland,” a memoir written by Shula Kazen, who died in 2019 at 96, about the challenges of living as a Jew under Soviet communist rule.
“Unfortunately this book is not approved to print in China as content involves anti-communist,” a 1010 Printing representative told Zaklikowski by email. “Now the only option is printing outside of China.”
The rejection offers a rare window into the collision of Western book production, Chinese limits on free speech, and geopolitics. All content printed or published in any medium in China has to secure the approval of the Chinese Community Party-controlled government, even if, as in this case, the book is in English and destined for distribution abroad.
The publisher probably didn’t expect any problems since its previous books had come through.
Perseverance in the face of Soviet persecution is a theme that Zaklikowski’s publishing house, Hasidic Archives, has often tackled because it resonates with his target audience in the Chabad community and the wider Jewish world. From 2021, there is “My Gulag Life: Stories of a Soviet Prisoner,” and earlier this year, Zaklikowski published “In the Trenches: Stories from the Front Lines of Jewish Life in Russia.”
But the issue is also impacting more mainstream books being printed in Communist China.
Picture-book publisher Quarto deleted references to Taiwan and Ai Weiwei, a dissident artist from Hong Kong, in two different publications. Another book was changed to refer to East Asian people in place of Taiwanese.
The same publisher in 2020 released a New York Times bestseller titled This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How To Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work.
Quarto is owned by Hachette which is a huge mega-publisher and responsible for a lot of the woke content in America.
Last year US printing company RR Donnelley & Sons distributed a memo seen by the FT, saying that its Chinese printers were unable to produce books mentioning human rights abuses in Xinjiang and suggestions that Covid-19 originated in China.
That’s no longer just an issue for small presses. But it’s all about the money.
“We have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of our shareholders and in the illustrated non-fiction market, Quarto, alongside many other publishers, often prints books in China where we work with reliable suppliers who can consistently deliver high quality and value for money. We have been fortunate that our suppliers in China – and elsewhere across the globe – have been able to continue to achieve this during a period of unprecedented challenges.”
What’s that Lenin line about the capitalists selling us the rope with which we’ll hang them?
Lenin could not have foreseen that we’d be buying the rope for the Communists to hang our own culture with.