Blog by Richard Heagy
The scene is the four-storey building which houses the almost 500-year old Cambridge University Press, the building itself not being anywhere near that old. Two middle-aged gentlemen are engaged in a serious discussion as to whether or not the Press should publish a recently submitted manuscript. The older gentleman has the look of a worn out professor with his out-of-date suit (frayed at the elbows), red bow tie and rows of wrinkles above his thick framed glasses. He speaks with authority and conviction. His associate, a few years younger, is more casually dressed and has been with the Press almost as long. They have learned long ago to roll with the punches and adjust to changing times in the world and at the Press. Their names were Mr Kow and Mr Tow, respectively. Mr Kow and Mr Tow were both distantly related to former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, although they did not advertise the fact.
“I say, Tow”, what do you think of this book”? Kow said.
“Well, the Press has never published that type of book before”, Tow said.
“Can’t be too careful”, Kow said. “Taking chances is not the motto of the Press”.
“Not at all”, Tow said.
“Nor the way to keep one’s job”, Kow said.
“Wouldn’t be easy to find other employment at our age”, Tow said. “Not that it’s easy for anyone these days”.
Kow looked at his pocket watch, then at Tow, about to suggest that they go to lunch, but was interrupted by a loud rap on the door. “Enter,” he said, instead of come in—something he had picked up from a play in the West End Theatre District of London decades ago.
A deliveryman in a UPS uniform came in and handed a package to Tow, who was closer to the door. “It’s not addressed to me”, Tow said.
“Nobody here except you guys”, said the UPS driver. “I just need a signature so I can get rid of this package and go on my way. I got a schedule to keep. Don’t matter to me who signs”.
While Tow was thinking over the responsibility involved, Kow said, “I’ll sign for it”, and Tow expressed a sign of relief. Making decisions was not his first love.
Tow quickly handed the package to Kow, who said, “It’s from Beijing”. Tow looked puzzled and Kow said, “That’s in China”.
“I know Beijing is in China”, Tow said, “but we don’t know anyone in China and the package is not addressed to either of us”.
“I think we’re stuck with it”, Kow said. He held the package to his ear and shook it gently.
“Be careful, it might be a bomb”, Tow said as he backed away.
“Nonsense”, said Kow. “The package is very light and I don’t hear anything moving around inside. I’m going to open it right now or else we will be staring at a Chinese puzzle all day”.
The package was wrapped in brown paper, sealed with brown mailing tape and was securely tied with string. It appeared to be from some official Chinese government agency. Kow found a pair of scissors and cut the string, then peeled off the outer brown wrapping and opened the box. Under the cushioning material he found a much smaller box, bright red in colour and made of sturdy material.
“Anything inside explaining what this is all about”? Tow asked.
Kow rummaged through the cushioning material before shaking his head no.
“That’s a beautiful box”, Tow said. “It would be a shame to rip it apart just to find out what’s inside”.
“You do want to know what’s inside, don’t you”. Kow asked.
“Yes, and then we need to get back to work”, Tow said.
“You mean after lunch”, Kow said, as he pulled the top off the small red box to find its contents wrapped in tissue paper. Kow unwrapped the tissue paper very carefully and found a Chinese fortune cookie.
“Is this a joke”, Tow asked.
“If it is, it’s a very expense one”, Kow said, looking at his watch. “If we want lunch, we had better hurry before they stop serving”.
“Bring the fortune cookie along. Today is Thursday so they should have Chinese food, but they never have fortune cookies”, Tow said. “How fortuitous that is”.
“Are you trying to impress me with fancy sounding words”, Kow asked.
“Just a bad habit from University to make my essays longer and sound more academic”, Tow said.
Kow and Tow rushed to order their food and then ate at a leisurely pace. They ordered sandwiches as no Chinese food was available. They pushed their empty plates aside and pulled their cups of tea closer. Kow placed the red box on the table, removed the fortune cookie and placed it on a paper napkin.
“They only sent one”, Kow said. “Do you want to toss a shilling for it or split it in two”?
“It’s kind of small to share”, said Tow. “Why don’t you eat it and give me the fortune inside”?
“You’re not allowed to bring your own food”, said the voice of a passing student who was obviously not familiar with the word diet.
The student took a few steps, then turned and stared at Kow and Tow, so they took the fortune cookie back to their office.
Back in the office, Kow removed the fortune cookie from the red box, broke it in half and handed the fortune to Tow, who unravelled it—an extremely long, narrow piece of paper.
“I’ve never seen one that long”, Kow said. “Read it to me”.
“One side merely says ‘A SUGGESTION’ and the other side is quite lengthy”, Tow said, who then read it aloud.
IT WOULD BE AN EXCELLENT IDEA AS A FRIEND OF CHINA TO BLOCK ACCESS ON THE CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS WEBSITE TO OBJECTIONABLE ARTICLES FROM THE CHINA QUARTERLY. ENCLOSED IS A LIST OF APPROXIMATELY 300 SUCH ARTICLES.
Kow looked puzzled; then took a closer look inside the small red box. With the help of a letter opener he scraped a piece of paper from the bottom of the box and unfolded it over and over until it became the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Printed on both sides, it no doubt contained the names of over 300 articles.
“What do we do now”? Tow asked. “It said it was only a suggestion”.
“Bollocks. It did not say it was only a suggestion; it said it was a suggestion”, Kow said. “The meaning is rather obvious and we want continued access to the internet in China. Either we comply or suffer the consequences”.
“We’ll get a backlash from the academic community and be accused of enforcing censorship on behalf of Communist China if we agree to this,” Tow said.
“Look, Apple, Bloomberg and Facebook are accommodating China in order to maintain access to the Chinese market,” Kow said.
“Yes, but that’s all about money,” Tow said. “Who is responsible for making such an important decision anyway”?
“Unfortunately, we are,” Kow said, “or rather, I am.”
“I suppose you are right,” Tow said, “but I am going to protest in my own small way”.
“What are you going to do?” asked Kow.
“I am going to stop eating General Tso’s chicken and egg foo young for one month,” Tow said.
“Those are not really authentic Chinese dishes,” Kow said.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Tow. “One month”.
“Call the IT Department and have them send someone over straightaway to start removing access to the objectionable articles”.