'Black Swan' Author Exposes Chinese Censorship over Taiwan in US

'Black Swan' Author Exposes Chinese Censorship over Taiwan in US

What you need to know

Most Taiwanese commenting on the issue via social media appear to support the author’s efforts.

Nassim Taleb, author of the international bestseller "Black Swan," has exposed what he says was attempted Chinese censorship of one of his books to be sold in the United States.

The Chinese company printing a U.S.-bound edition of his 2012 book, “Antifragile,” sought to change a reference to "Taiwan" so that it included "China," the author said in series of comments on Twitter.

“I (angrily) said ‘No censorship!’,” Taleb says. He has also has posted photos of the manuscript with suggested changes, which he says are from the Chinese printing company.

Taleb’s publisher Random House was supportive of his decision and has changed to a new printer, he says.

Taleb’s tweets have caused a stir in Taiwan after the story was picked up by Chinese-language news media and the country’s most popular online forum, PTT. Most Taiwanese commenting on the issue via social media appear to support the author’s efforts.

The Taleb incident follows a case in October, when it was revealed a state-run foreign language bookstore in Shanghai was removing pages with entries on Taiwan in the English dictionaries that it sells.

Taylor Wang, a software engineer, posted on Twitter pictures of the Merriam-Webster dictionary with pages torn. “When I was buying the dictionary I noticed the plastic wrapping on all the copies had been torn out. I asked an assistant about it and they told me they opened the packaging to take care of ‘problems inside.’ After inspection it seems some words have angered the authorities.”

Other Twitter users said they had seen various versions of these "censored" dictionaries. One user, @zuola posted photos showing a dictionary with tape over “Taiwan.”

Under its “Taiwan” entry, the Merriam-Webster currently lists the island-nation’s geographic location, as well as a definition which reads that Taiwan is, “since 1949, seat of (Nationalist) Republic of China.”

China’s expanding censorship efforts

China has had tight controls on all forms of media for decades. There are more than 12 different government organizations reviewing and enforcing laws related to information flowing in and out of the country, according to the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations. Topics relating to the sovereignty of Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong and the authority of the Chinese Communist Party are among the most sensitive issues.

While most of China’s censorship measures are internal, there are signs it is increasingly focused on controlling information outside the country, too.

A report by Toronto-based Citizen Lab investigated issues related to censorship in China’s popular messaging service WeChat, which is used by more than 800 million people. The report, published in late November, found that users may face difficulties sending messages or accessing information related to sensitive topics, even if they are based overseas.

The service, Weixin (微信), controls content by passing all messages through a remote server that contains rules for implementing censorship, Citizen Lab details.

“If the message includes a keyword that has been targeted for blocking, the message will not be sent,” the report says.

While researchers found that keyword filtering on WeChat is only enabled for users with accounts registered to phone numbers in China, they discovered that filtering persists even if these users later link the account to an international number.

“Whether the motive is intentional or accidental, the outcome is the same: mainland China WeChat users face censorship regardless of where they are in the world,” the Citizen Lab report says.

The report also found, “more keywords are blocked on group chat, where messages can reach a larger audience, than one-to-one chat.”

Users in and out of China are also blocked from accessing websites deemed sensitive by authorities.

“In addition to keyword censorship, WeChat implements a URL filtering system in its built-in browser, which uses different lists of blacklisted and whitelisted websites for China and international accounts,” the report says. “WeChat’s internal browser blocks China-based accounts from accessing a range of websites including gambling, Falun Gong, and media that report critically on China.”

Last year, five men who worked who worked at a Hong Kong bookshop known for selling material that criticized China suddenly disappeared. The men all reappeared on Chinese television saying they were collaborating in an investigation voluntarily. One of the men, Lam Wing-Kee (林榮基), returned to Hong Kong in June and told media he had been detained at the border at Shenzhen in October, traveled through southern China blindfolded, and later held under close watch for months.

Editor: Olivia Yang