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Should authors allow their books to be censored for publication in China?

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Greg Baker/AP

(Read caption) Customers browse copies of the 'Harry Potter' books in a Beijing bookstore.

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To censor or not to sell?

For authors trying to sell their books in China, that is the question. 

According to a recent piece in The New York Times, authors attempting to access the massive audience in China are increasingly facing a difficult decision: To allow their books to be censored for sale there, or not to sell there at all.

“Many writers say they are torn by their desire to protect their work and the need to make a living in an era of shrinking advances,” writes the Times. “For others, it is simply about cultivating an audience in the world’s most populous country, a rising superpower that cannot be summarily ignored.”

Ezra F. Vogel, whose biography of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was published in China after passing through censors, put it this way:

“To me the choice was easy,” he told the paper. “I thought it was better to have 90 of the book available here than zero.”

What’s behind this “deal with the devil”? Thanks to a huge and highly literate readership hungry for foreign books, China is becoming an increasingly lucrative market for American authors and publishers. Consider this: Chinese publishers bought 1,664 titles from abroad in 1995, according to the NYT; in 2012, they bought more than 16,000.

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