I guess they noticed that if you take the first word on every seventeenth page, it spells out “Death to the Shah”

I received the following in email from our publisher:

I write with regards to the project to publish a China Edition of your book “Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models” (ISBN-13: 9780521686891) for the mainland Chinese market. I regret to inform you that we have been notified by our partner in China, Posts & Telecommunications Press (PTP), that due to various politically sensitive materials in the text, the China Edition has not met with the approval of the publishing authorities in China, and as such PTP will not be able to proceed with the publication of this edition. We will therefore have to cancel plans for the China Edition of your book. Please accept my apologies for this unforeseen development. If you have any queries regarding this, do feel free to let me know.

Oooh, it makes me feel so . . . subversive. It reminds me how, in Sunday school, they told us that if we were ever visiting Russia, we should smuggle Bibles in our luggage because the people there weren’t allowed to worship.

Xiao-Li Meng told me once that in China they didn’t teach Bayesian statistics because the idea of a prior distribution was contrary to Communism (since the “prior” represented the overthrown traditions, I suppose).

And then there’s this.

I think that the next printing of our book should have “Banned in China” slapped on the cover. That should be good for sales, right?

P.S. Update here.

63 thoughts on “I guess they noticed that if you take the first word on every seventeenth page, it spells out “Death to the Shah”

  1. It might just be that the book's chinese publisher has been targeted by the political elite or failed to bribe someone important, or that the book is in competition with a well-connected local author's opus, etc. Plenty of good old corruption and graft reasons that have nothing to do with the book per se.*

    Taking the presented reason (aka the excuse) to be the underlying reason (aka the motive) probably shouldn't be your only working hypothesis. :-)



    * Nothing particularly Chinese about these reasons, btw. One of Feynman's most dispiriting experiences was reviewing textbooks for California High Schools. (It's in one of his popular books.)

  2. That's hilarious! However, I think you can count on Iran's market, if the "slogan" is really spelled out there frequently, I'd say there would even be a serious chance to get extra fundings for it. Furthermore, priors are well consistent with the Islamic philosophy about human beings! Pejman

  3. Do you ever wonder if they just stole your work and plan on publishing it themselves and taking all the profits?? I know it *may* seem far fetched, but it does make you wonder.

  4. I don't remember the subject, but I recall reading a biography of a statistician that described an uproar in a meeting of Soviet scientists after another famous statistician said that sometimes it was appropriate to use the mean. The median was the only politically acceptable measure of central tendency.

  5. I've only read half of Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel Modeling, and now I'm planning to overthrow the government. What nefarious plans will I hatch if I ever finish it?

  6. At least I learnt Bayesian stat in my undergrad in China, not so sure about grad school, but it is very unlikely that they ban the book just for prior distribution. My guess would be some examples used in the book that piss off the government

  7. Another hypothetical reason could be that the book happened to be reviewed by an extra dumb guy who just needed to make a quick and safe decision in order to save some time for chatting as well as reading the daily newspaper.

  8. Must be the Bayesian section with Bugs and R. I believe they are hardcore frequentists who oppose any open source software. Else they might believe that the connection with Bayesian stats is based on religion (I apologize to all intelligent Chinese nationals for my comments, not directed toward you) :) .

  9. I heard from a student that one can download bootleg Chinese translations of at least one of your books (BDA?). So maybe the subversive material will still end up in the hands of impressionable young minds.

  10. Just to clarify:

    I'm just telling you what I know. Xiao-Li's story is from when he was in college, 30 years ago. I'm sure things have changed by now.

    I have no idea why my book "has not met with the approval of the publishing authorities." I emailed Cambridge University Press to ask, but they haven't gotten back to me on it.

    My first guess was that this has nothing to do with politics, that it's a simple shakedown, where someone in the chain of command is expected to be paid some sort of kickback to let the book go through.

    An email commenter had a different theory. He wrote: "Just guessing that the many examples with actual data related to public health or welfare policy show that the data are available to the public here. Doubt that is the case in China."

    I have no idea what's going on, but . . . Hey, I've never been banned before, and I'm gonna milk this one for all it's worth.

  11. An email commenter had a different theory. He wrote: "Just guessing that the many examples with actual data related to public health or welfare policy show that the data are available to the public here. Doubt that is the case in China."
    This is really reasonable in China.

  12. There are just so many Bayesian statistics books in China. Don't you feel stupid you are trying to judge even when you never been to China or don't know any Chinese. Thinking yourself superior, could be the "the best" solution to any problems you met.

  13. Chris:

    All I'm doing is reporting what happened. I never said anything about anybody feeling stupid or thinking themselves superior or whatever. I just think it's funny that somebody, somewhere, is claiming that "Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models" has politically sensitive materials.

    If my own government were doing this, it would make me angry rather than amused. I remain curious to hear the explanation of what the politically sensitive material is.

  14. You didn't say if it was a Chinese-translated or original English version. If an English version, there could be an unofficial quota on how many foreign books are officially let in, owing to nationalists in the hierarchy wanting to protect the Chinese language, or guarantee jobs for translators.

    If it was a Chinese version rejected, you could be lucky. The translations of foreign books in China seem to be done very quickly, without the usual quality control Western publishers use. I've often looked inside translated books in the bookshops here in China, and, even though my Chinese reading isn't really that good, have still noticed errors, which seem to be in the translation rather than the original. Did you want your book to be loaded with translation mistakes?

  15. Just to clarify two things (some people already mentioned):

    1) there are a lot of Bayesian books in China now. Meng's story is quite old. Worth joking but irrelevant now.

    2) the failure of not translating your book into Chinese is their loss. Many reasons are possible. Political reasons are possible since there are some political examples in your book that may be somewhat sensitive.

    However,I guess it is more likely due to financial reasons. Your book sold cheap in the US and it is quite accessible to Chinese scholars (I am not talking about the pirate book which exists already). The profit margin may be too small. Besides, many Chinese students can and are more willing to read tech books in English version.

  16. it is easy to guess why prior distribution was banned fundamentalism and marxism.


    prior is somewhat similar to idealism, especially after it is translated into chinese and explained to layman. Marxism agrees with materialism and disagrees with idealism.

    You can follow the link in the wiki article to find the definitions of these terms, but materialism sounds very like the likelihood principle in statistics.

  17. I believe the anecdote about Soviets objecting to the mean comes from

    Reid, Constance, Jerzy Neyman—From Life, Springer Verlag, (1982), ISBN 0387907475

  18. "Yeah, yeah, China is a terrible place" under the censorship and dictatorship of the evil Chinese Communist Party. People in China are oppressed.

    "Xiao-Li's story is from when he was in college, 30 years ago." I'm sure things have NOT changed significantly.

  19. As long as you didn't overtly suggest that the communist party should be overthrown, i don't think your book is really "banned". The scope of free speech and publication has significantly expanded over the years—take a look at Chinese web forums and you'll be surprised at what kind of stuff people are discussing. More likely the local publisher did not want to go on with the book for mundane economic reasons and wanted a way out. Blaming the government is the easiest way to do.

  20. Just don’t understand why a statistics professor is so interested in political material. Instead of using Chinese material to do statistics research, which may not be appreciated by Chinese people, why not study the statistics of the native Indian population? Really feel disgusting and bored by those western people pretend to care about human right of other countries. Don’t you feel pathetic about this? Looking back hundreds of years, anything you did is really good to other human races? Genocide of Native Americans? Enslaving African? Or colonizing Asian? Come on, give me a break!

  21. Random:

    Yes, that makes sense. I could well believe they have better things to do than republish my book–as I recall, it wasn't even a translation, it was just supposed to be a cheaper copy for the Chinese market, but at $40 our book is already cheap compared to most technical books.

    A. Sun:

    As my co-blogger Phil might say, I don't know if you're trying to irritate me but you've definitely succeeded. My book doesn't have any "Chinese material," nor does it have anything on "the native Indian population."

    I guess that's the point, though. Here I am joking about censorship and ignorance, but it's no joke at all. There really are people who are eager to condemn a book they've never read, based on material that's not in the book. This attitude indeed disgusts me, whether it's coming from China, America, India, or wherever. It's hard for me to imagine that people could act this way, but that surely reflects my sheltered upbringing more than anything else. Blogging is a way to bring myself into contact with people whom I would otherwise avoid.

  22. The scope of free speech and publication has significantly expanded over the years—really???

    Take a look at Liu Xiaobo (Charter 08), and the famous "empty chair" at Oslo, which become sensitive words under the stringent censorship in China now. Also recently, Han Han's magazine died:

    But sometimes, Chinese netizens can won war against the Great FireWall, cheers!!!

    As a student from China, I would say that the Chinese government is a shame. However, some people just cannot differentiate the concept of "country" to that of "state" so as to keep flattering the communist regime and criticizing other's interest in using Chinese material as examples in the book, though not the case here.

    P.S. My MLM professor thought that the ban must be because competing predictors in a regression equation contradict Mao's dictum "Fighting is unpleasant, and the people of China would prefer not to do it at all." Also, he loved that "zombies" is listed as one of the keywords for this post.

  23. I have noticed that Chinese citizens tend to use a nationalistic argument whenever they find people criticizing their government or country.

    "Why are you talking bad things about my country? Look at how you western people did all these bad things!" It's a very effective way to divert attention rather than talk about whether there was any merit in the criticisms originally.

    More on topic, I haven't read your book, but how about the word "Hierarchical"? Think that pissed off some communist party person? "THERE ARE NO HIERARCHIES IN CHINA! We are all comrades!"

  24. Just to give you a sense, guys, there is no way Gelman's book is more political than books like Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom". Such books are translated into Chinese and widely available in Chinese book stores. Here is Dangdang, China's Amazon.com: http://product.dangdang.com/product.aspx?product_… . Again, as long as Prof. Gelman did not openly endorse the demise of the communist party in China, or things like Taiwan independence, I doubt the book is really banned for political reasons. (Of course, I cannot completely guarantee Chinese bureaucrats' sanity either— some bureaucrats sometimes do make crazy decisions.)

    Fei Gu, you clearly have an attitude and I am sympathetic with your views. But I hope you're not a statistician. If you judge a situation by extreme cases rather than the overall situation, then you miss the picture. I hope you're old enough to have visited Chinese web forums 10 years ago. Compare what was said then and what is being said now, say in Tianya, Mop, or Sina's microblogs.

    Doppy, that's a good joke. With the remote possibility that you were serious, though, you can use any web translator to translate "hierarchy" into Chinese, and then do a google search to see how many Chinese books contain that word in the title.

  25. @Doppy

    It's probably inappropriate to generalize and say “Chinese citizens tend to…". As you can see, Fei Gu is (or was) a Chinese citizen too.

    @ Fei Gu

    It's probably not very meaningful to precede your argument with statements like "As a student from China, I would say". There are other students from China and they may see things a bit differently from you (see the review by Doppy 2011 for example). So statements "as a student from China" do not really enhance the persuasiveness of your arguments.

    Have a nice day, guys. And don't be too upset, Prof. Gelman. Sh*t happens sometimes.

  26. Andy,
    Have a stack of "Banned in China" stickers available at JSM so we can paste them on our copies of your book.

  27. Would love to hear reactions from the rest of the department! Maybe one of your colleagues has some connections that could help?

  28. If you are curious to find our the reasons why your book is not published. You should contact the press. If they don't have interest in a book or if there is no profit, THE PRESS MAY JUST USE THE GOVERNMENT AS AN EXCUSE.
    However, we all know what a press said is not representative of Chinese government. The fact that there are so many Bayesian books out there in China, is contradictory to "China banned Bayesian Books". Don't over thinking just accept the fact and be calm.

  29. Chris:

    As I remarked in one of my comments above, I did contact the press for clarification but got no response. I am not over thinking anything. As noted above, it's not often that I get a book banned, so I'm planning to milk this one for all its worth. Finally, I think it's pretty funny that you would use all caps in your comment and then write, "be calm." All caps is not generally considered to be a sign of calmness.

  30. @random:

    Thanks for your concern about my career. Whether attention should be paid to extreme cases depends on the research question, e.g., the Cannikin Law. In fact, outliers are of great influential effect in many cases.

    By comparing the currnt Chinese web forums to those 10 years ago, I would conclude that the CCP is less competent to restrict the freedom instead of praising the pseudo-improvement it made. Take such an analogy, when we compare Adolf Hitler to Joseph Stalin, should we say one is better than the other, or should we criticize both, though one may be less worse/evil than the other.

    By using "As a student from China", I am only representing myself, not all Chinese, the entire Asia, or the world, as this Chinese did to President Obama:
    Please do not over-interpret. The notorious "3-watch" ideology is not applicable here. I would admit that "There are other students from China and they may see things a bit differently from" me. But it is legitimate to doubt that the attitude they express is not what they genuinely think because of the potential risk or even persecution imposed by the Chinese government. Actually, you have also implicitly indicated the same point that Chinese citizen may not dare to criticize the Chinese government. (I was a Chinese citizen, huh? Well, I am holding the F1 visa here in the US, and criticizing the Chinese government is my favorite entertainment, which may also bridge the gap of some westerners' understanding of some ridiculous Chinese characteristics.)


    Can you explain why THE PRESS MAY JUST USE THE GOVERNMENT AS AN EXCUSE? Are those people working for the press irrational or insane? Why do those Chinese press people become so habitual to lie? dual personality? What is the f**king underlying reason?

  31. Actually,we do study Bayesian method,and often use it .
    But there is much banned imformation except the copies without copyright.

  32. Skreader:

    Sure, but "Banned in China" sounds so much cooler than "Banned from being reprinted in China." It fits better on a sticker, too.

  33. I'm a Chinese lurker here (and a statistician too). It's really amazing to see that this post has become one of the hottest on Dr. Gelman's blog probably because it touches some Chinese nerves. Or using the propaganda machine's language, Dr. Gelman may have unintentionally hurt the feelings of the Chinese people (at least some Chinese). Maybe they should have a black list of individuals in addition to countries that hurt the "sensitive" feelings of the Chinese people:


  34. I am not a fan of Chinese government, but as researchers, should we be truthful rather than sensational? Are we going to massage the data and statistical results to be "cooler" in our research?

  35. "My children are banned from smoking in my room by me and I said everyone shouldn't smoke" does not necessarily mean cigarettes are prohibited in the entire world nor people outside my family have to listen to me. The thing is the same that the single publisher is not the cop of the universal either.

    You only said your book are banned by a single publisher for publishing from them for whatever reasons. This does not indicate people in China are not allowed to read your book. It's too early to use the sticker "banned in China".

  36. As someone growing up in China, here's my ranking of the likelihoods of possible explanations:

    1. excuse of the press, possibly due to corruption reasons or market concern;
    2. the book contains examples that has political implications (I admit that I never read it)

    I find it rather unlikely that the ban is due to Bayesian statistics. — 20 years ago, maybe; but not now.

    There is definitely a positive trend in enjoying more freedom in publishing in China, although admittedly there are still much, much more restrictions than in for example the United States. But that's because we started at a really low level (virtually no foreign books were allowed at all during 1960s and 1970s), not because the improvement isn't sizable.

    To skreader: that Nanjing University library has this book has nothing to do with the ban. A library does not need to go through the same censorship as a publishing house does.

    To Andrew: FYI, there are people who are hired by Chinese authority to post online for propaganda purposes. So you may consider ignoring some comments that are obviously illogical and/or uninformative.

  37. Except for the vague expression in the email, I can't see anything that is able to substantially prove that there is politically sensitive materials in Prof. Gelman's book. I have to say I really admire they some elites 'hint and direct' the audience towards their views. No need to use any proof, just throw the dirty stuff to Chinese government with some vague words, some ppl will buy it anyway. The truth, however, always remains unknown.

    Prof. Gelman, if you don't have any pre-judgement about Chinese government, why don't you wait for the press to give you details about this matter? Why do you attach the story, which happened 30 years ago even though it was true, with this matter?

  38. Andrea:

    Nobody has yet told me what the "politically sensitive materials" are. But if I ever find out, I promise I'll post it on this blog!

  39. According to my experience, it may be possible that your data were different from the ones they made up.

    Cencorship has become very strict and irrational since 1990, especially in the new century.

  40. It's understandable you reacted like this when they gave it a blind examine and provided no reason just denial. First impression is they banned it for 'communism' or for 'politics'. But please just take it back a little bit, may there be something else? Or even, if they did something you do not agree, try to think it twice. Culture differences are sometimes more complicated than we think, as I experienced.

    For example, I also think the Nobel prizes to Xiaobo and Dalai is a shame and I personally would guess plotted by some western funded agency. Also, among many Chinese, 'you are so CNN' equals to 'you are such shameless lier', whereas CNN is a credited information resource in west…it may as difficult for you to understand these as you reaction and opinions on China for Chinese people to understand.

    Let's say they did ban your book for 'bad' example data which do not match with the Chinese official version of them, but where did you get the data? How reliable? How you say which is more accurate? Just for example how things may be 'gray' other than black and white. I support some kind of hasher control in a hectic and also huge society like China, of course it should be reasonable some how, in a Chinese way.

    I believe some of the Chinese guys may misunderstood you as part of the 'China bashing' movement, which I think you were just joking and not very much serious.

    Anyway, take a breath, fingers crosses, best wishes to you and your book. But do not make any conclusion tactlessly, since we are all scholars, who need solid proof for a serious argument like this. Just 'heard from others', 'every body says so', or merely emotions, are not enough to judge a government / society of a population of 1.3 billion, with more than 5000 years history of ruling themselves independently, besides influences to other parts of the world.

  41. @ Yingrui Shang:

    Did you ever collect information about Liu Xiaobo and Dalai Lama from resources other than from the propaganda of the Chinese government? If not, I would say "You are so CCTV".

  42. Actually, I am now in US and have been here for almost 7 years. Moreover, the fact that I have heard the stories from both sides (Chinese version and the Western versions) made me believe all of these are just political, or somewhat in that sense.

    In fact, people staying inside the GFW (Great Fire Wall of China) with higher education may act against the gov more than people like me, ironically. Some of my friends in China are followers of Xiaobo, or very curious of what he really did to win the prize (none as i heard are supporters of Dalai Lama, since he is going after splitting china). But I know none youth here think the same. Elder Chinese are more aggressive in these kind of issues, to my experiences.

    Anyways, in general all of these china bashing guys are more welcome by the west than they are by Chinese.

    I do not watch CNN/BBC from TV much, but youtube.

    <a href="http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dalai+cia&aq=f&quot; rel="nofollow"&gt <a href="http://;http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dalai+cia&aq=f” target=”_blank”>;http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dalai+cia&aq=f

    <a href="http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/Liu-Xiaobo_NED_CIA.html&quot; rel="nofollow"&gt <a href="http://;http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/Liu-Xiaobo_NED_CIA.html” target=”_blank”>;http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/Liu-Xiaobo_NED_CIA.html

    <a href="http://www.ned.org/publications/annual-reports/2007-annual-report/asia/description-of-2007-grants/china&quot; rel="nofollow"&gt <a href="http://;http://www.ned.org/publications/annual-reports/2007-annual-report/asia/description-of-2007-grants/china” target=”_blank”>;http://www.ned.org/publications/annual-reports/2007-annual-report/asia/description-of-2007-grants/china

    and there is a website by young volunteers, established in 2008, when the Tibet riots rose.
    <a href="http://bbs.anti-cnn.com/&quot; rel="nofollow"&gt <a href="http://;http://bbs.anti-cnn.com/” target=”_blank”>;http://bbs.anti-cnn.com/

    I really think China gov should lift the ban on youtube. This may do more goods than bads to them.

    BTW, to your question, I watch CCTV, CNN, and youtube. So it's kind of difficult to say which one I AM. :)

  43. @ Yingrui Shang:

    How do you conclude that "in general all of these china bashing guys are more welcome by the west than they are by Chinese" ??? Any documented statistics? Or do you often "represent" the opinion of the westerners, "represent" the Chinese, and even "represent" the entire world, as bastard Rui did?

    Those young "volunteers" are stupid, and it is highly likely that they get paid by the Chinese government, which is similar to those "volunteers" who are expressing their warm welcome to Hu Jintao in DC now.

    Lastly, my conclusion from your comment is that you are one of those Chinese who cannot tell the difference between country and state/regime. Criticizing the government has nothing to do with humiliating the country, though the Chinese government is quite successful in brain-washing many Chinese people.

    P.S. This is my 5th year in the US.

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