Self-censoring the used book market

JDM100812kongfz.jpg is a website devoted to the used book trade. Founded in 2002, it provides a convenient platform for book buyers to search for titles among hundreds of listed vendors who sell everything from latest releases to ancient texts to photocopied reprints, as well as other ink-and-paper material such as newspapers, magazines, letters, and calligraphy. The website includes an auction house and a marketplace, and offers simple blogging and forum tools to members.

Last week, the website released a notice that reminded sellers of its policy on contraband material and announced an upcoming purge of contraband titles. The timing of the message, which alludes to problems with the authorities, connects it to the current campaign against vulgarity in the cultural sector.

An Announcement Concerning the Strict Prohibition of Contraband Books and the Self-Examination of Booksellers

This website has always attached great importance to removing contraband books and other materials and has devoted substantial resources and manpower to this task. However, recent problems have resulted in strict investigation and punishment by state agencies. In particular, some sellers remain unaware of the serious nature of the problems and have used various means of uploading contraband books. These violations of the country’s criminal law have caused enormous problems for the website and have the potential to bring personal catastrophe to these individuals.

To protect the interests of the vast majority of buyers and sellers, and to further cooperate with the work of state agencies, this website will resolutely ban the uploading of contraband books. To this end, the website will work on a number of fronts, the first being to request that sellers perform a self-inspection of their titles. Specifics follow:

I. The present examination will focus especially on two types of content:


1. Post-liberation printed books, documents, and other materials with “top secret” “secret” and “confidential” lettering on the front or back cover or inside pages.

2. All post-liberation printed unofficial publications and other public material concerning military affairs and public security, including military materials and internal teaching materials from the operations, intelligence, and military training departments as well as the military academies of all branches and area commands.

3. Post-liberation printed books and materials for internal circulation concerning military affairs and public security, including those with “For Internal Circulation” lettering on the front or back cover or inside pages.

4. Other books and materials deemed confidential by the state.

Banned politics:

1. All post-Cultural Revolution unofficial printed publications and other materials that involve attacks on the party and state leaders of the People’s Republic of China and the present government, as well as publications and materials banned from circulation by the state following proper publication.

2. Publications and materials from China’s Hong Kong and Taiwan or other countries and regions that slanders the party and state leaders of the People’s Republic of China.

3. Publications and materials that incite ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination, undermine national unity, and infringe upon ethnic customs.

II. Four Additional Types of Banned Content

Illegal religion and superstition

1. Post-liberation publications and materials that promote religion and superstition banned by the government, such as Fаlun Gοng material.

2. Qi Gong books banned by the state, such as the manuals of Chan Mi Gong, Bodhi Gong (Di Yuming), Kunlun Goddess Yoga, Zhong Gong (Zhang Hongbao, Hongbao), Internal Force One-Finger Zen (Zhang Xiangyu), Zhang Xiaoping, and Luo Kunsheng.

Sex, gambling, and violent crime

1. Post-revolutionary unofficial publications and materials that involve sex, gambling, and the glorification of violent crime.

2. Pornographic publications banned by the state.

3. Publications promoting gambling that are banned by the state.

4. Publications that abet crimes or promote violent crime that are banned by the state.

Bootlegs and copyright violations

Redistribution by copying, ripping, making backups, photocopying, or bootlegging a work without the consent or authorization of the rights-holder. Pirated publications typically includes copied works, scanned documents, electronic editions, pirated books, pirated software, pirated A/V works, and pirated online intellectual property.

Other contraband categories

1. Any form of government document, certificate, or bill prohibited from sale by the state.

2. Counterfeit or altered goods, such as counterfeit IDs, bills, coins, licenses, and permits.

3. Books, documents, and materials prohibited by law.

4. All illegally-obtained goods, such as those obtained through smuggling, theft, or robbery.

5. Cultural relics and documents whose trade is prohibited by the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Preservation of Cultural Relics.

6. Those which insult or libel others, or infringe on others’ rights.

7. Those which harm national security or damage the reputation and interests of the state.

8. Those which harm social mores or outstanding ethnic cultural traditions.

9. Apart from those listed above, all books and materials banned by the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China.

10. Publications and materials which Kongfz deems inappropriate for publication on the website.

III. Seller Self-Inspection (through 3 September):

IV. Overall Website Inspection:


V. Punishment Format and Rules:

[punishments depend on the number of contraband books and the seller’s track record, and vary from a warning to suspensions of one week to three months, to closure]

4. Rules for punishing malicious uploads of contraband books

a) Sellers whom the website believes to be uploading maliciously may receive a one-week suspension as punishment. Once they have rectified themselves and re-opened, if they continue to maliciously upload contraband books, the website will impose a three-month suspension or will shut them down permanently. During the suspension, the seller must perform a self-inspection according to the website’s public notices concerning contraband books, and must pass a review before reopening. Reopened stores that continue to maliciously upload books will have their seller’s identity on the website permanently shut down.

The website reserves the right to define what constitutes willful uploads of contraband books, including but not limited to the following acts:

>> Those who repeatedly upload titles they know to be banned even after being warned by an inspector;

>> Where an applicable field is available, failing to fill in or who fill in “unknown” when “secret” or “top secret” are marked;

>> Titles not corresponding to the book’s actual contents or image, when the image has been found to show a contraband book;

>> Uploading textual information, waiting for review, and then adding an image which shows a contraband book;

>> Willfully shortening or altering the name of a contraband book (for example, writing in traditional characters, adding special symbols, or eliding key words) to avoid the website inspectors.

b) Sellers who have uploaded maliciously, and sellers previously found to have contraband books whose insufficiently thorough self-inspection missed certain contraband books, and whose contraband books fall into the serious categories (secrets, contraband politics), shall be subject to a one-week suspension by the website as punishment.

VI. Other Measures for Standardizing Book Listings:


The above rules go into effect the date of this publication and apply to all areas of the website: bookshops (stores, publishers, and vendors), the auction house, and the marketplace.

As the influence of the Internet has grown and the general public has begun to experience its conveniences, criminals at home and abroad have taken advantage of the Internet to engage in criminal activity of all kinds. National law and government agencies are attaching increased importance to oversight and inspection in this area. Sellers on Kongfz ought to be fully aware that information on the Internet is completely open and easily inspected, and should not play games with their own personal safety in the pursuit of a pittance of profit. We hope that all book-lovers will consider the bigger picture and work together to build a safe, civilized Kongfz. Thank you all for your support.

Kongfz Used Book Net


Although the comment thread attached to this announcement is largely supportive of the self-inspection, sellers have expressed some reservations about certain categories of contraband.

The prohibition on photocopies is one point of contention. Some vendors do business in nothing but copies of out-of-print books. Many of these titles are out-of-copyright, but some are simply unobtainable, having vanished from the market shortly after selling out tiny print runs.

A number of sellers also brought up the fact that the rules about books and documents marked “confidential” or “secret” do not specify a time limit. Confidentiality expires eventually, but as the rules are currently stated, even a declassified document could get a vendor suspended.

But the biggest concern for book vendors is the difficulty in identifying precisely which titles are contraband. Apart from a brief list of banned yoga manuals, Kongfz has provided no indication whatsoever of how to tell if a book is forbidden.

The hedging language of the website’s existing rules on banned material (which form the basis of the announcement translated above) reveals that Kongfz’s management is also in the dark about the legality of borderline cases:


5. The website believes that internal publications, so long as they are not of the military politics category, may be sold. For example: the vast numbers of political books and materials published during the Cultural Revolution, and the quotations of Chairman Mao, may be sold. Internal publications history, literature, economics, and law from the 1970s may be sold.

Sex, gambling, and violent crime

5. Properly published works of politics and sexual literature which the state has not formally banned may be sold. However, informal publications in those categories may not be sold. For example, internal publications of Jin Ping Mei.


11. The sale of maps published in the United States and various types of internally-published reference standards ought to be permissible.

“It would be much better if there were a database of banned books, then we’d have a reference,” writes a commenter named Lanfeng (蓝枫), whose wish is echoed by dozens of other commenters.

Unfortunately, the authorities have not been forthcoming with lists of banned books: see Chen Xiwo’s fight against Fujian Customs over the seizure of an anthology of his short stories released in Taiwan, and Feng Chongyi’s lawsuit against a Guangzhou customs office over books confiscated at the Hong Kong border.

Perhaps, as some vendors propose, Kongfz could set up an index of banned titles, but in most cases, it seems like the only way to tell if a book is banned is to be punished for selling it.

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