In order to test the always-fluid limits of academic freedom of expression in China, my co-authors and I submitted the Chinese version of an article about Chinese student demonstrations overseas “to protect the Olympic torch” in 2008 to the Shenzhen-based journal Open Times (开放时代), which is, indeed, one of the most open academic publications. We thought that, what with a number of foreign academics now being hired by Chinese universities and the article approaching the phenomenon from a non-conventional perspective, we might stand a chance.
The peer review came back with a rejection. When I asked the editor whether we could read reviewers’ reports, I received the reply that reports that recommend to reject a submission are not usually sent on to authors to avoid contention. But he (or she) added that “this year, debates in China are strictly controlled; ‘Tibetan separatism’ and other ethnic and religious issues are rather sensitive; we cannot but take this seriously” (今年国内对舆论的控制很严，“藏独” 等民族宗教问题比较敏感，我们不得不慎重对待).