Wednesday, September 24, 2003

September 24, 2003
Clinton 'History' Doesn't Repeat Itself in China

BEIJING, Sept. 23 — In her autobiography, "Living History," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton recounts how China's imprisonment of a prominent human rights activist, Harry Wu, caused a sensation in the United States and nearly derailed her plans to attend a United Nations women's conference held in Beijing in 1995.

In the officially licensed Chinese edition of Mrs. Clinton's book, though, Mr. Wu makes just a cameo appearance. While named, he is otherwise identified only as a person who was "prosecuted for espionage and detained awaiting trial."

Mrs. Clinton's book has become a major best seller in China, as it has in the United States, and her smiling likeness decorates bookstores and airport shops nationwide. Yilin Press, the government-owned publisher of the mainland version of the book, says it has become the most popular foreign political memoir in Chinese history, with 200,000 copies sold in just over a month.

But nearly everything Mrs. Clinton had to say about China, including descriptions of her own visits here, former President Bill Clinton's meetings with Chinese leaders and her criticisms of Communist Party social controls and human rights policies, has been shortened or selectively excerpted to remove commentary deemed offensive by Beijing.

The Chinese publisher has acknowledged making changes in the text but said they were "minor, technical" alternations that did not affect the integrity of the book.

Mrs. Clinton and Simon & Schuster, her American publisher, dispute that. "I was amazed and outraged to hear about this," Senator Clinton said in Washington today. "They censored my book, just like they tried to censor me."

In a statement issued today, a day after Mrs. Clinton was alerted to the editing changes by The New York Times, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton said Simon & Schuster had sent a letter to the Chinese publishing house demanding that it recall the Chinese edition and provide a new translation that faithfully adheres to the original.

Robert Barnett, a lawyer for the Clintons who has overseen the book's domestic and international release, said the changes had been made without consultation, adding, "The senator will do everything she can to make sure that her readers in China get an accurate translation of her book."

Simon & Schuster prepared a new translation of passages dealing with China and posted them on its Web site today.

China often censors political content in its newspapers, television broadcasts, films, books and many of the arts, as well as the Internet. The authorities also routinely ban the publication or screening of foreign books or films that depict China in a negative light.

But the publication of books like "Living History" is part of an effort to show that China is becoming a more open society. China has been publishing more foreign titles and screening more imported films recently, at least partly fulfilling commitments to loosen media controls that it made as a condition of entering the World Trade Organization.

The heavy promotion of Mrs. Clinton's book initially seemed to signal new tolerance, given that the English version refers repeatedly, and in some cases pointedly, to Chinese political repression, the status of Tibet and other topics that are not generally discussed here.

In fact, the publisher has advertised the book — titled "Qinli Lishi," which translates to something like "Personal History" — as the most unabridged foreign political memoir in Chinese publishing history.

"In the past, translated books always had some cuts," an official of Yilin Press told the Beijing Evening News after the book's release last month. "But the Chinese translation of this keeps 99.9 percent of the original's content."

What the official did not mention is that the other one-tenth of 1 percent, if the edited passages indeed constitute such a tiny fraction of the total, involve most references to China itself.

The manuscript appears to have been combed for even stray mentions of China or its leaders, though the Chinese editors did not mark or otherwise indicate where they had made changes or elisions in the 466-page text.

For example, while Mrs. Clinton's English text discusses her concerns about China's treatment of the women's groups that attended the 1995 United Nations conference on women, the Chinese version leaves that part out. It also deletes a paragraph in which she criticizes the Chinese for not allowing a speech she made to be broadcast, in effect censoring references to censorship.

Though the Chinese edition includes much of Mrs. Clinton's account of her visit to China in 1998 with President Clinton, it selectively strikes out sensitive passages, including her statement that she was "haunted by the events at Tiananmen," the violent crackdown on a student-led pro-democracy demonstration in 1989.

The Chinese version says Mrs. Clinton attended a Protestant religious service in Beijing but omits a line that religious freedom was still "a right forbidden to many."

Mrs. Clinton's original version included a lighthearted story that needled the Chinese for making extensive preparations for a visit by foreign dignitaries.

She wrote that before she had stopped for an informal lunch in Shanghai, the police had replaced the staff in nearby stores with "attractive young people wearing Western clothes." That anecdote did not make the cut in the Chinese book.

Mr. Barnett said the changes constituted a breach of contract. The agreement between Simon & Schuster and Yilin Press, he said, allows only modifications that are essential "to achieve a competent and idiomatic translation."

When first asked about the editing, Liu Feng, the deputy editor in chief of Yilin Press, said that any changes were minor and that allegations of a breach of contract were "at the very least inappropriate."

But later today, after Mr. Liu said officials at the company had reviewed a letter from Simon & Schuster complaining about the changes, he described the American publisher's concerns as understandable.

He said Mrs. Clinton's book had been translated hurriedly because Yilin as the official publisher had to compete against China's vigorous black market in unauthorized versions of best-selling books. As such, he said, Yilin had no time to discuss changes with Simon & Schuster.

Despite competition from pirate publishers, Mrs. Clinton's book appears to have been a financial windfall for Yilin, which paid $20,000 for the publishing rights and has so far sold 200,000 copies at a cover price of $3.60.

Mr. Liu said the changes had been made by Yilin alone, without government consultation. Most state-owned media companies are not subject to advance censorship, though they can be held responsible if they publish something deemed offensive to the leadership.

The same company has already purchased the Chinese rights to sell Mr. Clinton's forthcoming autobiography. "You can bet that translation will be carefully scrutinized," Mr. Barnett said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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