Peer Review Boycott: Say No to Political Censorship

By: Charlene Makley and Carole McGranahan

Would you peer review manuscripts for a journal or press that politically censors its content? If your answer is no, then please join us in making your statement public by signing this petition.

Why the need for what seems like such an obvious defense of academic freedom? Several weeks ago, the People’s Republic of China pressured Cambridge University Press to restrict access in China to articles and book reviews in two major journals: China Quarterly and Journal of Asian Studies (the flagship journal of the US-based Association of Asian Studies). The Press agreed to censor content in China Quarterly, but then changed this decision after international scholarly protest.

The content to be censored was scholarship the Chinese government considered sensitive or dangerous, including works by anthropologists of China, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Content requested to be censored is extensive and dates back to 1952 as you can see on the censorship list for each journal (list of the 300 articles China Quarterly initially blocked, then reversed decision on, and list of content Journal of Asian Studies refused to block).

Not a scholar of this part of the world? Your support of this peer review boycott still matters. It matters for broad support of intellectual freedom and access to scholarship. Your expertise matters as a peer reviewer on manuscripts with topical and theoretical overlaps with your specialties.

Your free labor already supports the work of journals. It should not also support government censorship in exchange for market access.

Ironically, this week is “Peer Review Week” for publishers around the world. Cambridge University Press claims they are celebrating peer review and “the vital role it plays in helping us to publish the most rigorous and ground-breaking research across books and journals.” But what is the point of publishing “rigorous” or “ground-breaking research” if you are going to censor it for some readers?


This petition was spearheaded by anthropologist Charlene Makley (Reed College), with the help of Robbie Barnett (Tibetan studies, Columbia University), Kevin Carrico (international studies, Macquarie University), Ralph Litzinger (anthropology, Duke University), Carole McGranahan (anthropology, University of Colorado), and Emily Yeh (geography, University of Colorado). Please join us in signing. Strength in numbers is particularly important for this effort; it puts bottom-up pressure on academic publications and publishing companies to stand against Chinese government pressure to censor content. The petition currently has almost 600 signatories. It would be great to get to 1000 scholars signed on — thanks for standing with us, regardless of where you conduct research or work in the world!

Carole McGranahan

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.