Chinese Censorship Agency Launches Campaign Against "Fraudulent Books"

March 13, 2005

On February 18, China's General Administration of Press and Publication ("GAPP") issued the Urgent Notice Regarding Carrying Out a Directed Investigation into Books Containing False Propaganda Information. The following week the Notice and its implementation began receiving extensive coverage in China's state-run media:

The People's Daily's Web site has also set up an entire Web page devoted to coverage of the campaign.

Although the GAPP is presenting its campaign against fraudulent books as a consumer protection measure, rather than as censorship, discussions in China's state-run media indicate that ideological control is one of the motivations behind it.

See below to read additional analysis and summaries of media coverage.



China's state-run media cited GAPP official Wu Shang as saying the Notice was intended to address three types of publications:

  • Books falsely claiming to have been authored by foreign writers, or have positive reviews by foreign persons or media outlets;
  • Books with titles identical to foreign best-sellers, but with contents that were written entirely by the Chinese publisher; and
  • Books falsely claiming to have been authored by well-known Chinese writers.

The Notice mandates that, prior to March 10, all provincial level Press and Publications Offices must undertake a one-time investigation of all books published by publishing units in their jurisdiction. They are then required to destroy books "containing false information" and sanction the publishers of those books.

The Notice is not, on its face, a censorship measure. For example, according to the Notice, the publications that are the target of this campaign have primarily been in the areas of business administration, inspiration, and self-help. It makes no mention of political or religious publications, which are most typically the targets of GAPP censorship. Except for the use of the term "propaganda information" in its title, the Notice does not make reference to ideological issues, and instead cites several anti-fraud laws, including the "Advertising Law," "Anti-Unfair Competition Law," and the "Consumer Protection Law," as the basis for the campaign.

Coverage in China's state-run media has also focused on fraud prevention. For example, in "There are Only Two Reasons for Publishing Fraudulent Books," the People's Daily cites Zhang Zhiqiang, director of the Nanjing University Publishing Institute, as saying: "Fraudulent books have been around for a long time. There are only two reasons to publish a fraudulent book. One is use famous people to be able to sell the book for a good price. The other is to harm third parties for political or other such reasons." According to Zhang, most fraudulent books today are published for the former reason.

There are indications, however, that this campaign is also an attempt by the Chinese government to strengthen its control over the loyalties and ideology of China's readers. State-run media coverage reflects a particular concern about business management books that emphasize loyalty to one's employer. For example, Jiang Youxiang, whom the People's Daily dubbed the "foremost expert on fraudulent books," and invited to field question from readers about the campaign, said in an article entitled "Fraudulent Medicines Harm the Health, Fraudulent Books Destroy Ideology":

[Another reason that there is a market for fraudulent books] is that some pander to the points of view that are incorrectly demanded by some businessmen. In China many businessmen have a strong sense of entitlement, and a desire to control, and at times like this books like "There are No Excuses" come along and pander to businessmen's ideas. They emphasize subordinating oneself and unconditional obedience, and this is in fact a very erroneous idea. . . . As a result, books like "There are No Excuses" are adopted by businessmen as training materials for employees, with the purpose of strengthening their employees' unconditional obedience to them.

In another interview, this time published on the web site of the Beijing News, a joint venture two newspapers operated by the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang also expresses concerns that fraudulent books may be filling Chinese readers with "feudalistic" ideas in the guise of "scientific" and "foreign" thinking:

For example, some fraudulent books use numerous case studies to express Chinese matters, which on the surface is scientific, but in fact are fundamentally feudalistic. It is similar to what we used to say about the planned economy-on its surface it is Marxist, but at its core it is a feudalistic ideology. On this point I believe their reasoning is identical-fraudulent books are always discussing foreign matters, but at their core they are very Chinese, and many of the things are out-of-date, but they lead readers to believe that they are the same as other countries.

The Notice appears to represent an attempt by the GAPP to fill a hole in its otherwise comprehensive censorship system. Fraudulent books are published by government authorized publishing houses using legally allocated book numbers. Because the books are not technically "foreign," they are not subject to China's import controls on publishing. Finally, because they do not deal with topics that fall under the definition of "important," they are not required to be approved by the GAPP for ideological correctness.