• Readers browse books in Sanlian Taofen Bookstore in Beijing on April 22, 2015. The bookstore is the first in the Chinese capital that operates 24 hours a day.

Readers browse books in Sanlian Taofen Bookstore in Beijing on April 22, 2015. The bookstore is the first in the Chinese capital that operates 24 hours a day. (Photo : www.chinanews.com)

China is seeing an increased influx in foreign books in recent years, but its authors tend to face a common dilemma: should they allow Chinese publishers to change the content of their books to comply with China's strict publishing regulations. Different publishing firms and authors deal with this issue in a myriad of ways, and their differing choices affect the number and content of foreign books that Chinese readers have access to.

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One good example is "The Dictator's Handbook," which topped the bestseller lists in China in 2011. Its authors, New York University professors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, said that they were not aware of the changes made in the Chinese version of the book, which omitted 20 sentences and paragraphs mentioning China and its leaders.

The book, which explained how autocrats work and why, was first published in China in May the previous year by the Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House and Hantang Sunshine, a Beijing-based publishing company. It soon gained praise from liberal Chinese critics and was included in the "recommended reading" sections of many mainstream bookstores in the country.

However, many Chinese readers pointed out that some of the text was missing in the Chinese translation, including the words "China" and "Chinese." Other changes include North Korea simply being referred to as "a country in Northeast Asia."

"I probably would not have agreed to the publication had the publisher told me the book would be censored," Bueno de Mesquita told the Global Times in an email interview.

Smith, who co-authored the book, said that the edits did not change the sense of the book but it was "clumsily censored."

"Any mentions of Chinese proper nouns were de facto removed independent of what it said," he added.

"If you ask me if I want people in China to read my book with all references to China removed, or just not be able to read it at all, I would probably go for the former."

Hantang Sunshine, the publisher which owns the right to publish the book in the Chinese mainland, declined to comment.

While the Internet has enabled Chinese readers to access digital versions of books not published in China, Chinese translations published by a local publisher is still the way for many monolingual readers, from students to white-collar workers, to read and discuss foreign books.

The number of books imported to China has been increasing steadily over the past decade. In 2013, 16,625 foreign books were published in China, a 33-percent increase from the 12,516 books published in 2003, according to the National Copyright Administration of China.

Chinese publishers, however, have their own standards in fear of crossing China's publishing laws, which ban obscenities and require publishing houses to seek approval to print works that discuss politics, religion and other sensitive issues.

Some foreign authors are cool with publishing censorship in China. Ezra Vogel, an award-winning Harvard University professor and author of the 2011 book "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China," said that he was initially hesitant at the censorship of his book when it was published in China in 2013. However, he was later satisfied with the editing done by the publisher, Sanlian Publishing House.

"Sanlian and I had an agreement that any changes to the Hong Kong Chinese translation would require my approval or I would have to disown the translation. A Sanlian staff member worked with me very closely and sent me all the proposed changes so that the book could be published in China," said Vogel, a professor emeritus of social sciences in Harvard.

"In the cases in which I disapproved of the changes to the ideas I wanted to get across, my editor at Sanlian tried to find a way that my ideas could be expressed and be acceptable to those officials who might check over my work. Sanlian did an excellent job in keeping my original meaning, deleting only about 5 percent of things that might have caused a problem with censors," he said.

The final Chinese mainland edition omitted 27,000 characters from the main text and parts of the appendix, according to media reports, but preserved considerable sections discussing the Tiananmen Square incident and Tibetan issues.

Evan Osnos, a former China correspondent for the New Yorker, however, refused to let his book "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China" be published by Chinese mainland publishing houses after one of them asked him if he would approve a "special copy" for China, which would see considerable parts of the book dealing with political activists removed. He chose to publish his book in Taiwan instead.

"It is tempting to accept censorship as a matter of the margins--a pruning that leaves the core of the story intact--but altering the proportions of a portrait of China gives a false reflection of how China appears to the world at a moment when it is making fundamental choices about what kind of country it will become," Osnos wrote in an opinion piece published in the New York Times in May.

Peter Hessler, a former China correspondent with three popular books about China published in the country, has recently refused to publish his fourth book, "Oracle Bones," as he believes it would require changes that would harm the essential meaning of the book.

"In writing about certain topics where publication is difficult in China, we Westerners have no choice but not to publish in the mainland. But we still have the opportunity to publish in Hong Kong. In other cases, we can often find ways to publish in the mainland while keeping our original meaning," said Vogel.

But while the consensus seems to be that the decision on whether or not to publish in China depends on the content of the book, some authors are optimistic that introducing more books and ideas to China will benefit its citizens.

"I see my publication in China in more positive terms, as a reflection of my belief in the importance of education and access to information," said Hessler.