Cambridge University Press (CUP) has removed more than 300 academic articles from its website in China over concerns that the site would otherwise be shut down, according to an editor.

An email to the editorial board of the academic journal China Quarterly sent by editor Tim Pringle said that CUP was given a list of more than 300 articles and book reviews to remove from its Chinese website by the mainland’s General Administration of Press and Publication. The move came a few months after a similar request was made for the publisher to remove 1,000 of its e-books from the site, but Pringle said that journals had not previously been targeted.

The interdisciplinary journal covers all aspects of contemporary China, including Taiwan. Pringle stated that most of the articles and reviews included in the list of removed items pertain to sensitive topics on the mainland, such as the Tiananmen Massacre, the Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The list had items ranging from recent publications to those dating back to the 1960s.

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According to the email, CUP told China Quarterly that it had blocked the material in order to prevent its site from being shut down completely. Pringle said in the email that China Quarterly and CUP will issue a statement in the coming weeks with a more detailed response to the incident.

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cambridge university press
Pitt Building, Cambridge University Press. Photo: Chris Huang/Flickr.

Users on Twitter have criticised the move as an act of censorship and suppression of academic freedom. Thorsten Benner, co-founder and director of the Global Public Policy Institute said: “The ever so gentle hand of Chinese state censorship takes aim at ‘China quarterly’ and Cambridge University Press.”

Others criticised Cambridge University Press for giving into government pressure. Award-winning journalist and author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited Louisa Lim said: “This is appalling. A clear example of the profit motive being valued over academic freedom, and by an academic publisher as well.”

Associate Professor at La Trobe University James Leibold said: “What a shameful act by Cambridge UP! Yet another example of the CCP’s efforts to censor information & shut down academic freedom globally.”

HKFP has contacted Pringle for comment.

Update 20:55: Cambridge University Press said in a statement on Twitter that it only considers blocking items when the wider availability of content is at risk. It said it has meetings planned to discuss its position at next week’s Beijing Book Fair.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.