Thomas Piketty refuses to censor latest book for sale in China | Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty refuses to censor latest book for sale in China | Thomas Piketty

The latest book by the French economist Thomas Piketty appears unlikely to be sold in mainland China after he refused requests to censor it.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has expressed admiration for Piketty’s work, but Capital and Ideology, which was published last year, has not made it to the mainland China market due to sections on inequality in the country.

Piketty told the Guardian the Chinese publisher Citic Press had sent his French publisher a list of 10 pages of requested cuts in June from the French edition of the book, and a further list in August related to the English edition.

“I refused these conditions and told them that I would only accept a translation with no cut of any sort. They basically wanted to cut almost all parts referring to contemporary China, and in particular to inequality and opacity in China,” he said.

“Other Chinese publishers who have been in touch with my French publisher Le Seuil also said there would be cuts, so at this stage it looks as if the book will not be published in mainland China.”

Citic Press told the South China Morning Post that negotiations on the copyright of the book were still under way.

Censorship in China is widespread and applies to books, news websites (including the Guardian), pop culture, and huge swathes of the internet and online platforms.

Xi has previously referenced Piketty’s work, including his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. As recently as this month, Xi wrote in an essay that Piketty’s work on US inequality was “worthy of our consideration”.

“Just because Xi has personally cited Piketty’s last book doesn’t mean Piketty’s not subject to vetting,” said Dali L Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, who focuses on modern Chinese politics.

“It’s even more so that he must abide by [the politics].”

Xi has vowed to eradicate rural poverty by the end of 2020 – an ambitious goal even before the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic – but also seeks to present China as a prosperous society.

“One of the challenges for China today is many people live in a bubble – in Shanghai it’s hard to imagine life in the poorer areas,” said Yang. “On the one hand the official message of Xi is that no one would be left behind in this category of being very poor, but at the same time [he is] presenting this image of China moving up and all people benefiting.”

The passages highlighted by the Chinese publishers include one referring to the post-communism societies of regions including China becoming “hypercapitalism’s staunchest allies”, as a direct consequence of “the disasters of Stalinism and Maoism”.

“So great was the communist disaster that it overshadowed even the damage done by the ideologies of slavery, colonialism, and racialism and obscured the strong ties between those ideologies and the ideologies of ownership and hypercapitalism – no mean feat,” Piketty writes in the book.

Other sections reference the opacity of Chinese income and wealth data, capital flight and corruption. Piketty writes that China’s wealth distribution to the top 10% and bottom 50% is “only slightly less inegalitarian than the United States and significantly more so than Europe”.

Yang said Piketty’s high profile meant he was probably under even more scrutiny by censors.

“Chinese publishers are fairly used to having authors agree to take out certain sections or modify their work for the Chinese language, but in this case [Piketty] decided not to,” said Yang.

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