Censored Book Incidents at NYU Shanghai

A textbook was found to be censored in an NYU Shanghai classroom. Although resolved, this was not the first incident of censored books on campus.

On Feb. 15, NYU Shanghai students enrolled in Chinese Migrant and Diasporic Networks were alerted to the fact that their core textbook, The Chinese Overseas by Wang Gungwu, had been censored. Professor Tzu-hui Celina Hung, who teaches the course, was told by various students that the last chapter of the textbook featured blacked out lines drawn over various phrases. 

The incident was subsequently reported to John Robertson, the Head of Academic Affairs, who proceeded to announce to the class that the censored book was a mistake conducted by Chinese customs and delivery services. In apologizing for the censored textbook, Robertson asserted that this was a standalone incident and Academic Affairs would collect and redistribute the books. Another incident occurred at the beginning of the academic year, where an Advanced Chinese textbook was also censored. According to a student of the class, parts detailing Xi Jinping’s history and cross-strait relations had been blacked out.

Professor Hung, who had taught the course in the Fall 2015 semester, stated that this issue had never occurred before. “The textbook we use is not available electronically, so we had to order a print version. Unfortunately, this means that the censors could have made a mistake and give us a censored version,” Professor Hung said. When books are imported into China, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China must screen all books to ensure that content meets Chinese censorship standards.

Despite China’s recent crackdown on Western textbooks, NYU Shanghai policy still maintains that all textbooks, both in print and electronic versions, must be uncensored. Thus, any book that is imported into China and is to be delivered to NYU Shanghai must bypass all censors. According to John Robertson, “[NYU Shanghai] had always made it possible for faculty to use textbooks of their choice,” Robertson stated in correspondence with On Century Avenue, regardless of whether the textbooks are available in print or online.

Robertson also assured that this incident was “just an altered book which slipped through our usually effective procurement process.”

NYU Shanghai made the move to use online textbooks in 2015, as according to Academic Affairs, online purchasing of textbooks was procedurally easier than ordering physical, uncensored copies and have them delivered to campus. These censored books arriving on campus was thus the first example of a procedural issue that Academic Affairs perhaps anticipated. 

However, according to Professor Hung, Academic Affairs worked to ensure that the books were dealt with accordingly. “Administration responded extremely quickly and effectively – they acknowledged it was a mistake,” Hung stated. For students of the class, the incident did not upset their learning or the flow of the class.

It just seemed like a fluke and the administration did everything they could do to right the mistake that was made,” sophomore student Annie Seaman. Seaman also stated that the uncensored versions of the books were redistributed among the class. In the Advanced Chinese class, Academic Affairs ordered and redistributed online copies of the book, rather than ordering new physical copies. 

The author of the textbook, Wang Gungwu, will be coming to give a lecture at NYU Shanghai in April.

This article was written by Isabella Farr. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Images

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