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Banned books in China


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  • Added on: July 27th, 2006
I wanted to bring books about china to read while there, but I've heard a few that we were going to bring are banned, Wild Swans by Jung Chang being one.
So are these bans strictly enforced and is there any way to get around them, by putting a cover on the book or something?
What is the punishment for carrying a banned book, is it simply taken off you or are you at risk of getting yourself in actual trouble? Is it possible to just feign tourist ignorance?

If it is pretty serious, is there anywhere I could get a list of banned books/authors?

Going on monday, so would appreciaty any quick replies!


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  • Added on: July 27th, 2006
Do not know how serious it would be for visitors but if you Google China banned books there is some pretty interesting stuff there, more about the underground for printing and sales within China in regard to the restrictions on various personal freedoms and rights etc.

This list is one of the sites - could not see your Wild Swans there.

But I would suspect that they will hardly be searching every visitor that arrives with a view to what books they may be carrying, so if a smaller one can it be in a pocket of a jacket you could be wearing.

Just in case, I would not try to have it concealed or with a different cover because that would indicate knowledge of what you are doing rather than ignorance - if it is in the pack or whatever you are taking, on Xray a book will show up and maybe you get asked what it is.

Could be an interesting twist to the adventure.
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  • Added on: July 29th, 2006
I entered China with Wild Swans, no problem -- and I actually saw it for sale at hostels selling used English-language books. We left our copy at a hotel when we were done with it -- I'm sure it ended up for sale somewhere.

Definitely take books with you b/c it's hard to find shops selling English-language books, but we did find one in Chengdu. The hostels all have used books for sale, though, but sometimes the selection is paltry.

As far as the reprecussions for carrying around a banned book -- I imagine you could bribe whoever it is with a little money... but I really wouldn't worry about getting 'caught'. The police don't really pay attention to tourists -- just don't read anything questionable in public spaces if you're worried...


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  • Added on: July 31st, 2006
And when you leave to go home, “accidentally” leave your book somewhere where a young person will find it.

I used to bring a bunch of books on democracy and civil disobedience on a CD with me whenever I was in Burma, then cook them onto floppy disks so I could “accidentally” leave them laying around in the bathrooms around colleges.

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comrade jason

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  • Added on: August 8th, 2006
Like everyone else said, don't worry about it. For the most part, as long as you don't go around bad-mouthing the government, you can do pretty much whatever you want (in my experience.) Also, I don't think they care as much about English language books--I'm guessing the assumption is that anyone who knows English that well is going to find a way to read whatever they want, thanks to the Internet. A lot of the English language bookstores in Shanghai actually carry books like 1984, F. 451, etc. Not sure if those are banned, but it's pretty funny.

Anyway, as long as you don't bring like 20 copies of the Dali Lama's life story, you'll probably be okay. And even if you do, you'll probably be okay, because I've never seen a foreigner get searched at customs on the way into the country, so no worries.
Me and Chairman Mao: The funniest book about life in China that you've ever read. Also possibly the only one.


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  • Added on: August 13th, 2006
Wild Swans is no problem , many foriegner enter China with that book. We also exchange this book in our cafe before.For the punishment to carring a banded book, i do not think it is pretty serious. I just heard some foriegner's book was took off at board station.
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  • Added on: August 13th, 2006
Don't get paranoid about China (as others hinted as well). My experience, too, is that as long as you don't do it with Chinese and act in a 'subversive' way, you can basically do whatever you want. Politically speaking anyway. You'd have to be importing and distributing banned books to get into trouble. Chinese friends also told me, that it would be safe to smoke the pot that grows wild on the side of the street - as long as it wouldn't involve any Chinese. I wasn't too convinced of that theory and let it go bad. Darth Mavis

Take it easy. I've never had ANY problem with officials in China. As a matter of fact, police man and women usually have been fairly helpful and friendly. As long as you don't have a political agenda when you go to China, you should be fine.

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  • Added on: August 13th, 2006
Yeah am here at the moment, and all book related worries pretty unjustified. We've had no problems at all, everyone more than helpful, doubt it would be a major issue even if we did get stopped. Was in hospital (dehydrated and needed a drip, have to drink more!) reading what turned out to be a seriously anti-mao book, and loads of people kept taking the book off me to look at the letters, but none of them read (or spoke) english so it was all ok!

Thanks everyone!

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