January 23, 2014

Chinese censors are cracking down on astrology books


A threat to the state if I've ever seen one.

A threat to the state if I’ve ever seen one.

Censors in China quietly tightened restrictions late last year, particularly on books from Hong Kong and Taiwan, beginning with books about astrology.

In the South China Morning Post, Oliver Chou cites anonymous sources in the industry, writing

The directive was sent to all chief editors of major Chinese publishers in early December and came with immediate effect.

The move was to weed out content deemed “vulgar” or “politically harmful” by the authorities, sources familiar with the situation said. The tightening was never publicised.

It was first brought to public attention after several fung shui masters in Hong Kong complained this month that they could not get their books of predictions for the Year of the Horse registered for publication on the mainland.

That’s right: books about MAGIC STAR HORSES are dangerous enough that they warrant extra censorship in one of the most powerful nations on earth. While it’s true that stamping out formal religion was always a part of the Maoist campaign, one might think that by now books about TELLING THE FUTURE BASED ON A SWEET CALENDAR FULL OF DRAGONS AND MONKEYS might not be seen as such a danger to the state.

And though all books are undergoing heightened scrutiny, those from Hong Kong and Taiwan are reportedly being singled out. The reasons for this focused attention are unmentioned: it’s tempting to attribute it to the increasingly fraught political atmosphere in the South China Sea as China places greater emphasis on its claims to territorial sovereignty and regional hegemony. According to Chou’s source, foreign language books are facing less scrutiny, whether or not they are about ENERGY HORSES FROM SPACE.

China’s culture of extreme censorship is in the news seemingly every day—earlier this week The Guardian was blocked on the mainland for their story about party officials’ offshore wealth—and we’ve discussed various instances of absurd overreach here many times before. Clearly they are a bureaucracy looking for grist on which to bear down. And while every instance of censorship is wrong, at least in their ban on books about astrology they’ve happened on one small truth: horses are incredibly vulgar. But only because they wear no pants.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.