Chinese Censors Prohibit Printing of U.S. Pot Writer's Book

Meanwhile the booming publishing industry in freewheeling Hong Kong means delays

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The Seattle Weekly employs a columnist who reviews marijuana dispensaries. That's the first surprising thing in this strange tale of Chinese censorship. That columnist, Steve Elliott, has a book coming out called The Little Black Book of Marijuana, which was supposed to launch on Aug. 1. But the launch has been pushed back to Sept. 15 because the Chinese printing house with which his publisher contracted has reportedly been told not to print it. In fact, the Chinese government won't allow the book to be printed anywhere on the mainland, Elliot wrote in his blog, Toke of the Town. So the printer had to move production to a bindery in Hong Kong, which means the book will be delayed because the Hong Kong production facility has quite the backup. Elliott talked to Ginny Reynolds, of Peter Pauper Press, which is publishing his book.

Chinese censorship is extremely tight," Reynolds told Toke of the Town. "Any content deemed 'sensitive' or 'controversial' by their standards is banned." 

"We have the same problem with our books on sexuality," she told me. "The printer has to arrange for binding in Hong Kong, and facilities there are limited and overbooked in the summer season."

Which brings up an odd detail about life in China: China's notoriously strict censors ban books constantly. "On the mainland, most non-state-sanctioned literary works about Chinese politics, Chinese society, Chinese eroticism and Chinese leaders – dead or alive – cannot be bought, read or sold," Time Out Hong Kong reported in a July 18 story. And that has led to a major trade in banned books in Hong Kong and Taiwan, a special administrative region and a disputed territory of China, respectively. "Due to their respective levels of autonomy, [Hong Kong and Taiwan] each enjoy the right of a free press," according to a July 4 report by CNN's Jason Beerman. That freedom has led to an explosion in the banned-book business in both provinces. "Thanks to historical circumstance, newfound mobility, and a thriving market economy, it is now easier than ever for curious mainlanders to get their hands on the entire back catalog of banned books," Beerman wrote. The Time Out report has this from one of Hong Kong's most well-known bookstores.

This pressing demand is keenly felt at People’s Recreation Community [bookstore]. “We’ve increased the volume,” says Tang. “Mainlanders are buying stacks of books. They bring them back to China in private cars which are licenced to drive in both Hong Kong and China. These cars are seldom searched.” He adds that many more people are willing to risk the airport customs, at least for smaller quantities.

Unfortunately for Elliott, that popularity means his book about pot is going to be late, which the Seattle Weekly was funny about: "Folks who pre-ordered Elliott's book may be left wondering whether someone got stoned and forgot about their order." Nope, they just need to get the censors to mellow out.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.