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Published: Friday, 10/24/2003

Hillary and the censors

Hillary Clinton is finding that east is east and west is west, and the censor gets in the way. Her best-selling book has done relatively well in China, as it has here. Purchasers have snapped up 200,000 copies of the book, which is on sale there for $3.60.

However, there are some differences. Although her Chinese publisher says that 99.9 percent of the book appeared in the Chinese edition - the deletions were said to have been made for technical reasons - most of the omissions were references to China, including a statement that she was “haunted by the events at Tiananmen,” the violent crackdown in 1989 on young dissidents in the main square of Beijing.

Also dropped were nearly all her references to Harry Wu, a prominent human-rights advocate whose arrest almost caused her to drop plans to attend a 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing. Mr. Wu is referred to in only one passage stating that he was “prosecuted for espionage and detained awaiting trial.”

China was supposed to open up its market to western literature as a concession in exchange for World Trade Organization membership. But openness means something different in China. The Chinese publisher, an artful dodger, said the book had to be translated in a hurry to forestall literary piracy which runs rampant in China and other parts of the world.

Mrs. Clinton cried foul, noting that the Chinese had censored her book as they had earlier tried to censor her personally. The humorless censors even cut out a reference to Chinese police substituting “attractive young people wearing western clothes” at nearby stores for regular staff members when she was about to stop for an informal lunch in Shanghai.

Perhaps even the bowdlerized version of the book will have some impact on young people who are attracted to western customs and mores. But a spokesman for Simon & Schuster, which is publishing former President Bill Clinton's book, said the Chinese version of his opus, also to be published by Yilin Press, would be “carefully scrutinized.”

Given China's notion of what constitutes a “new tolerance” for commentary critical of the government, that's a wise precaution.

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