Peer Review Boycott of Academic Publications that Censor Content in China

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In recent weeks, the prestigious academic publishing house Cambridge University Press came under unprecedented pressure from the Chinese government to restrict access in China to hundreds of articles and book reviews and thousands of e-books in two of its flagship Chinese and Asian studies journals, China Quarterly and The Journal of Asian Studies. While Cambridge University Press initially agreed to censor articles in China Quarterly, it reversed that decision after outcry from the international academic community. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Chinese government's increasing efforts to tighten controls on academic institutions, other international academic publishers have admitted to quietly censoring their content in order to gain access to Chinese markets, and at least one database company, LexisNexis, pulled two of its products from China after pressure from authorities.

As members of the international academic community, we confirm the fundamental value of academic freedom, which should override – in every instance – consideration of governments' demands or market access. We also confirm the right of our colleagues who are citizens of China to unfettered access to international scholarship in all fields.

Academic publications are sustained through the social contract they enter into with their authors as well as with the larger academic community. That academic community provides the free peer review service and unpaid contributions of authors that uphold the integrity of publications' brands. As such, academic publications should honor their commitment to broadly disseminate the knowledge they produce without acceding to governments' demands.

While we acknowledge that it can be difficult to discern which publications or their holding companies are censoring in China, we call for a peer review boycott of any non-PRC-based academic publication known to be censoring its content in the People's Republic of China. From now on, we will not agree to provide peer review service until editors confirm that their publications do not censor content in the PRC, and we call on all others to do so as well.

With a large number of signatories, we can send a strong message to major academic publishers and/or their holding companies. This petition will be sent to the five major publishing companies that control over half of international peer-reviewed academic work (Reed-Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis and Sage); to all the major university presses in Asian studies in the U.S., Europe and Australia; as well as to the major academic databases (like LexisNexis and Web of Science)

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