Economist Thomas Piketty Refuses to Censor Book for Chinese Market

By September 7, 2020Authors, News

French economist Thomas Picketty’s latest book, Capital and Ideology, was published last year and was met with a strong response from both readers and critics alike. Despite Chinese president Xi Jinping previously showing respect for Picketty’s work, it seems unlikely the book will see a release in mainland China anytime soon, as Picketty refuses to censor the book to appease Chinese publishers.

Picketty has told The Guardian that the Chinese publisher Citic Press has asked his original publisher to cut at least 10 pages from the original book in June, and further cuts were then requested from the English translation in August.

“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,” Picketty said.

“Other Chinese publishers who have been in touch with my French publisher Le Seuil also said there would be cuts, so at this stage it looks as if the book will not be published in mainland China.” However, Citic Press told the South China Morning Post that negotiations are ongoing. Censorship is commonplace in China, and applies to all mediums from books, films, and even online platforms.

Despite being asked to censor parts of his book, Thomas Picketty seems to be well regarded by the Chinese president., Just last month, Xi wrote in an essay that Piketty’s previous book about US inequality was “worthy of our consideration”. Still, that hasn’t saved Picketty from censorship.

“Just because Xi has personally cited Piketty’s last book doesn’t mean Piketty’s not subject to vetting,” said the professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Dali L Yang, who focuses on modern Chinese politics.

“It’s even more so that he must abide by [the politics].”

One of the parts of the book that Citic Press wants removing refers to the post-communism societies of regions including China becoming “hypercapitalism’s staunchest allies”, as a result of “the disasters of Stalinism and Maoism”.

“So great was the communist disaster that it overshadowed even the damage done by the ideologies of slavery, colonialism, and racialism and obscured the strong ties between those ideologies and the ideologies of ownership and hypercapitalism – no mean feat,” writes Picketty.

Other parts highlight Chinese income and wealth dnumbers, as well as capital flight and corruption. Piketty notes that China’s wealth distribution for the top 10% and bottom 50% is “only slightly less inegalitarian than the United States and significantly more so than Europe”.

Yang noted that Picketty’s fame and reference by the Chinese president, likely results in him being even more scrutinised by censors. He went on to say that Western authors and publishers tend to bow to the demands of Chinese censors, though it looks like that isn’t the case this time.

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